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, January 28, 2007

Skewed Perspective

I see the president and his advisors on education are working to tweek the No Child Left Behind Act because it really hasn't been all that successful. We're still behind a zillion countries in academia. Brain drain has affected us all in education. One proposal which I have seen in several places, including the NEA publication to members is that we end high school compulsory attendance after 10th grade. At that point, the college-bound student would have only other college-bound students in class so students could be ...well...learning. Technical school students would begin learning what THEY want at that point, and enter the work force with a higher degree of training in a shorter period of time. The others who really didn't want to be there anyway would then be free to go off, get a job and find out what the world is really like. While nobody is jumping on that bandwagon with both feet, I suspect there are many who are running alongside it waiting for the opportunity.
I am proposing something of a more radical plan: have schools place emphasis on academic areas and not athletics. Bold plan, I know, but here are some things recently that make me lean in that direction.
It occurred to me that our school, like many others, has at least four volunteers who help the basketball coaches. Legions of adults coach AAU teams, after-season all-star teams, etc. Just the other day, a man I know got a letter about a team being put together for 7th and 8th graders after the three-month season had ended. The letter stated that in no uncertain terms would any student be guaranteed playing time since this was a team put together for the sole purpose of winning as many sponsored tournaments as possible. His son got the message and didn't try out. Dad was somewhat mystified. Anyway, I counted the number of adult volunteers we had in my school who helped the math teachers, the science teachers, the history teachers, and, well, ANY teacher. You know how many there were, don't you? yep...none. At our high school we have sports booster clubs but no academic booster club. I read about coaches "marketing" players with skills when they have not finished grade school yet. Pages of every paper are devoted to school sports, but very few have anything to do with academics. Why? Because that's what we care about.
A private school in Milwaukee has been under the gun because six athletes transferred there prior to the beginning of the year. An investigation proved inconclusive, but the team is 12-2 and beating a lot of good teams. I guess the tipoff was that all six played together on a summer team, and, make no mistake about it, the summer teams are put together for marketing purposes only. Check out Sonny Vaccaro if you don't believe me.
Now, I read about this small school in Junction City, Kansas, that has allowed girls to play on the boys' varsity team. Believe me, this is not the latest version of the Hickory Huskers. These kids are getting killed by 80 points some nights. The thing that caught my eye was that the best player in school quit because he (or his parents or "marketers")didn't agree with the way the coach wanted to use him. Since there was a real paucity of players, two girls joined the team. How can the best player quit? What has he learned about anything? "If I can't have my way, I'll just quit, and then you can get beat by 80 every night instead of 50!"
Noting that Gilbert Arenas is still holding a grudge about the unfair Olympic treatment he feels that he got ("I'd score 80 on Coach K's Duke team") shows yet again that there MUST be an "I" in "team."
Given the number of professional or even Division 1 college athletes in this country, it would seem logical that we spend more of our energies on education and less on athletics.
Don't get me wrong. I have been deeply involved in athletics ever since my Uncles Al and John gave me a baseball or put up a hoop at Grandma's for me and my brother. I was fortunate enough to have a great deal of success in both high school and college. I've coached five or six different sports and officiated as well. But, it wasn't until I got out of active participation that my teaching quality improved to the point of getting state awards as a teacher. I am far more dedicated to my students now that I don't have practice to plan or competition to face. It just seems that we need more of a separation between the two and the focus to provide what will best serve our children and our future.
I guarantee, though, that you will see an end to compulsory education at the 10th grade level far sooner than you'll see my plan enacted. That's the problem with genius plans: few others recognize them as such!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Slow? You Bet!

There are times during the year when it seems that no matter how much I wish it were not so, time slows to an absolute crawl. While vacation time seems to zoom by at mach 9, other times feature a maple-syrup-in-February texture during which actual time ceases to exist. Remember "Groundhog Day" that movie in which Bill Murray lives the same day over and over? I've got that feeling. I noticed some things today which make me Superman flying backwards around the world in an attempt to slow or even stop time? I saw him do that once in a movie. Anyhow, here are some signs that time has slowed to a snail's pace.

1. I actually read all the bulletins on my My Space site. Perhaps this just means I never check it, but perhaps it means I am really looking for something to do.

2. I read Sunday's paper...on Tuesday. Actually, I missed the comics since our faithful delivery person whiffed on leaving the paper this week. Going an entire week without "Get Fuzzy" would have been unbearable. Sure, I could look it up online, but that would be work! I was willing to let it go, but my wife wanted the TV section...maybe SHE needs some stimulation, too! Turns out she needed the listing for "Dog: Bounty Hunter." Now THAT'S a sign of slow!

3. I finally completed a sudoku puzzle. Man, I HATE those things because they make me feel stupid...but here I was...working on one (and peeking at the answers). No telling if that's going to keep my brain going as I enter senility, but if it's good enough for AARP, it's good enough for me.

4. I wished I had homework to do, if for no other reason than I could put it off. With the new semester rapidly approaching, this will change in a hurry.

5. I practiced shovelling just in case we get some actual snow this year. Mostly, this involves spraying cooking oil on the shovel so that the snow will glide off smoothly and not give me a hernia when I try to lift it the next time. I coated the snowblower, too, but when I turned it on, the garage smelled like somebody was baking brownies, though that could also be remnants of yesterday's burritos.

6. I actually wrote a letter using real paper and a pen. How do those stamp things work again? Mother B...only for you would I do this.

7. I charged my iPod and my camera battery and my flashlight and my electric toothbrush and my cordless shaver and Christopher Moore's new book: You Suck--A Love Story It's actually a sequel to Blood-Sucking Fiends: A Love Story. (check it out!)

All in all, it was a slow evening. Even the news that the Texas Rangers were thinking of signing Sammy Sosa to a minor league contract was not enough to energize me (Though I hear that the cork industry is excited). I couldn't quite bring myself to watch "Dog" which has attained cult status I hear. I missed the early Simpsons' episode because I was taking a nap, and I'll miss the late "South Park" because I'm going to bed. Maybe tomorrow the pace will pick up.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Donald Trump: Divine?

Lee Meriwether

You know the old saying about erring being human and forgiving being a sign of divinity? Rosie O'Donnell notwithstanding, one has to wonder how forgiving Donald Trump actually IS! Ever since he "forgave" the current Miss America after she was outed as an acohol-swilling party animal loose on the streets of the Big Apple, contestants have been surrendering state-won titles in record numbers...well, one was stripped (so to speak) of her title for appearing au natural on the internet in a variety of provocative poses. No word yet that she was "young and needed the money" a la Eric Cartman's mom.
Now comes word that another contestant has given up her state title because of the increasingly obvious inconvenience of her pregnancy. Is this what the idols of America's young women have come to represent? Where is Lee Meriwether, I want to know? Back to her in a moment.
These young women are not the first to sully the crown. While there may have been earlier transgressions, I still remember when Vanessa Williams (1984 Miss America) had to return the jewels after she posed nude in Playboy. Gee, ya think? The fact that she became something of a moderately poular singer is only slightly less astounding than reports that Beyonce was a star in "adult" films prior to making it (so to speak) big in the music biz.
Miss America has been around since 1921 when Margaret Gorman won the first title. Was there a swimsuit contest? Was the talent portion cooking? sewing? I don't know. I know that in 1922 and 1923 the same person won: Mary K. Campbell (makeup or soup?) And I know that between 1928 and 1932 there was no pageant, and in 1950 there was no winner...ah, the luxury of idle time spent on the internet. However, my money is and always has been on Lee Meriwether...though Phyllis George was a close second.
Lee Meriwether made her mark in my mind as Barnaby Jones' daughter Betty on the private detective show that ran for years. From 1973 through 1980, I probably missed very few episodes...something about Buddy Ebsen from the Beverly Hillbillies turned crime fighter with a Miss America as a sidekick. Anyway, as far as I know, there was never a scandal about Meriwether, unless you count starring on a soap opera (Ruth Martin: "All My Children") reprising the role of Lily on "The Munsters Today" and/or being part of the original IM Force on "Mission Impossible." None of those is likely to cause an uproar. Maybe reporters had something else to do in the days before the report real news. When Time indicates that it is going to relegate ONLY ONE reporter to the Britney Spears saga, you KNOW there is too little news.
Even though Lee Meriwether predated the internet, she's still my ideal Miss America. I'll bet Donald Trump longs for the "good old days," too.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

So Long So-Cal! (Burp!)

Warren Zevon had it right...he was just a few years too early. "When California slides into the ocean like the mystics and statistics say it will..." Well, Zevon didn't live to see it, but I guarantee you it will happen this summer, and the fault line will be somewhere near the right field bleachers at Chavez Ravine. Think I'm nuts? Not so fast. There's more than song lyrics which lead me to the Nostradamus-type prediction. You'll see.
The Los Angeles Dodgers announced today that they will open the right field bleacher seats, some 3,000 in all, as an "all-you-can-eat" section for Dodger home games. For a one-time fee of $35 advance and $40 game day, any fan can belly up to the buffet ninety minutes before game time and continue to gorge until two hours after the game starts or until he or she explodes. This is a veritable bonanza for eaters...or ponderosa, however you want to take it.
As a point of reference, left field bleacher seats will go for ten bucks. Heck, five Dodger Dogs and a soda will equal the $35 I'd spend for the buffet line. The risk is, of course, that all the heavy hitters and wannabes from Nathan's contest in Atlantic City will be hogging all the seats AND eating all the dogs, peanuts, popcorn, and nachos while guzzling more soft drinks than I could put away in a year. Naturally, the lines for the bathrooms will be super-sized as well! Of course, you realize that soon the weight will pile up in that section of the stadium, and Southern California will fall right into the ocean. Since I am a true blue Dodger hater, I've never been to the park, and the right field stands might be on the east side of the stadium...making my argument indefensible; nonetheless, when Dodger Stadium allowed itself to be passed off as the home of the then-Anaheim Anglels in the first "Naked Gun" movie, I lost all respect for the tradition it might have had.
Of course, there are those in Brooklyn who would gladly see the place do a belly flop into the ocean.
Anyway, before you get all excited and get out MapQuest for a road trip, I must tell you that beer, ice cream and candy items are NOT part of the deal. They sell at regular stadium prices. If you have to ask, you can't afford 'em.
Leave it to the Dodgers to ruin a perfectly good idea. If you want a road trip idea, though, find that minor league ballpark near St. Louis that last year promoted the burger deep-fried with bacon and cheese inside a Krispy Kreme doughnut (3,000 cal.)...$4.50 and only on Thursdays, if I recall. AND...there was little risk of falling into the ocean.
"Grub up!" as my friend Karl used to say.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

All the News... That's all I have to say.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

This, Bud's, For You

There's one thing you gotta say about folks in Wisconsin: we take our beer seriously, more seriously than Fischers takes their nuts. I mean, we even have a professional sports team named after the brewmeisters (given many years ago to a minor league team in Milwaukee by a guy with the name of Veeck...go figure). Bernie Brewer is always the most popular mascot at the annual Sports Mascot Convention and Undress Cotillion, too. Probably second on the list of seriously-taken items here in the brew state (or first, depending...) are the Green Bay Packers. This was a fact even BEFORE Johnny "Blood" McNally married one of the Leinenkugel girls 'way back. (If you don't get that reference, it's because you are not a highly-trained tour guide at Lambeau Field--genuflect) Putting the two of them together in a news story means instant readership on a par with...say...BS getting out of a car sans underwear. Anyway, this ever-newswothy coupling has Titletown with a buzz on again. Editorial pages are awash with the news...countless straw polls (well, hops polls, to be exact)have been conducted, and readership to the Press-Gazette has skyrocketed. And all because of Eric Anderson.
Anderson, a real estate investor from Old Milwaukee, does/did yearly duty as a beer vendor at Lambeau Field--genuflect here--at least he did until recently. Here's a 47-year-old guy who loves the Pack as we all do and is willing to schlep up and down 60 rows of Lambeau Field--genuflect again--during every home game dispensing heady heidy-hos and frothy draft beer to fans for a mere $6.50 (I think). He figures that on any given Sunday (there's a movie in there somewhere) he'll pass out approximately 13 cases of beer for which he'll be comnpensated about $150 in tips. I have no idea whether or not an actual salary is/was involved. Suffice to say, this was not a high-paying gig unlike being a stadium tour guide. Anyway, tips are a part of the regular service, it seems. This is where things went horribly wrong for Anderson.
On November 19, 2006, the Packers were playing the Pats, and, as usual, the place was sold out (and still there are 0ver 72,000 on the waiting list). Prior to game time, Anderson was hopping around with his product, and two Packers fans, in a gesture of bonhomie which is part of the Lambeau faithful--unlike the Raider Nation or the Dawg Pound--offered him a $12 tip for NOT selling beer to a couple of Patriot fans sitting in that section. Going along with the good-natured ribbing, Anderson pocketed the bills and went about his business. Another trip up, another trip down, and he accepted a $7 gratuity for refusing service to the fans from New England. The ante had risen to $20 by the third quarter, but this time, Anderson refused the tip and fans provided the visitors with beer. No harm, no foul, right? Uh, not exactly.
Having no sense of humor, the local fans who had invited friends of a New England persuasion to attend the game with them took umbrage at the slight and refused to accept Anderson's apology. They reported him to the Packers' organization who, in turn, reported the incident to the Levy Corporation (from Chicago) which operates the concessions at Lambeau Field--genuflect a third time.
Anderson's supervisor told him to expect a one-game suspension (a lite reprimand, if you will)...instead, he got the boot, pink-slipped, shown the door, fired. Not exactly a Pabst on the wrist, but not what he expected, either. He was so upset about the decision that he cried, then bought a ticket to the next game (after all, the Lions were in town)and returned to his section of 20 years to beg the fans for their support. To this point, Anderson is still persona non grata as far as the Levy Corporation is concerned.
We don't mess around with beer here in Wisconsin.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Warped Christmas Toys, Version 2006

Dominic Luciano, Jr

People find outrageous things in Christmas gifts...not at all what they might have expected. My son wanted computer games and got socks. I wanted tasty treats and got a know the drill. Reality bites. Take the kid in Utah who was playing EA Sports "Madden NFL '07" only to be interrupted by hard-core pornographic images. Wow! In Utah, of all places. Needless to say, EA Sports is investigating.
What if your youngster has just gotten an "Oozinator"? This new product is basically a Super Soaker which spurts globs of a gooey substance instead of water. I can see parents going nuts as their kids create the StayPuft marshmallow guy scene from "Ghostbusters" in the living room. Howdy-hoo! That'll be some fun.
These two items make the Bratz dolls a lot more tame. The knock on these little cuties is that many parents find them to be suggestively dressed, and one mother swears that the doll named "Jade" actually sings obscene lyrics...just what your average five-year-old needs to hear.
My favorite SNAFU from the toy department this year comes in the form of the "Elite Operations Role Play Set" which is designed to emulate riot gear for a police officer. Tek Nek toys has sold more than 100,000 of these through Toys 'R' Us in the past three years. The set includes a helmet, binoculars, a radio, a flashlight, handcuffs, a badge and a night stick. For $16.99, I think it's a great buy...but there's more. A child can push buttons on the utility belt and hear a siren, a call for help and a confirmation that the streets are safe. Very realistic. When the night stick is taken from the belt, a voice says, "Stop! I don't want to have to use my night stick!" All very cool...definitely nothing like I had. Dominic Luciano of the Chicago area thought it was cool, too, so he got one for his 2-year-old son for Christmas. (Luciano Sr., by the way, is a police officer). His buddies at the precinct loved the realistic way the toy was made. However...
As Dominic Jr. played with the set to which he had become immediately enthralled, his mom thought she heard a...uh, shall we say..."discouraging" word when he pulled the night stick. Instead of "Stop," she thought she heard the F-bomb drop. Would Geoffrey really say something like that? (I suppose it depends on how brisk holiday sales were!)
The first few times she convinced herself that it couldn't be true...but it was. Upon hearing her son say, "F@#*! I don't want to have to use my night stick," she found herself in a serious quandry. You and I both know the kid will continue to say the word, and if she takes the toys away, there will be heck to pay. What to do? Toys 'R' Us referred her to a phone number which probably took her to Malaysia or China where the chips were made for that particular toy.
No word at this point what will happen, but I'll bet the neighbors are getting a charge out of it. The streets in his neighborhood are definitely clear now.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Brett and I Are On the Clock

We're mere hours into 2007, and the question of the year seems to have been asked already and gotten a non-committal reply. Now that Saddam Hussein is probably, really, once-and-for-all dead, weapons of mass destruction will not be found and Britney is back to wearing underwear (we hope), there remains only one burning question. Will Brett Favre retire or not this year?
The memorable experience that was my New Year's Eve celebration involved watching the Packers beat da Bears on TV, but the zenith really came during the Favre interview after the game in which he tearfully admitted that "This was a great way to go out." Riveting. Better than any reality show (except for "Janet Dickinson Modeling Agency", perhaps).
It is fascinating to me that a couple of million or so Muslims were given permission to start throwing rocks early at the end of their hajj in Mecca this year to avoid being trampled by the crowd. Knowing that Britney Spears fell asleep in a night club in Vegas just after midnight becasue she was too worn out from motherhood is newsworthy for a second or so. I'd put it right up there with updating my queue on NetFlix. But the Brett retirement story...that will get bigger and bigger until the final pronouncement is made.
Brett has said it's not about the money or the stats...sports writers say different, but then, they've never had money OR stats! He has plenty of both.
Retirement is never an easy thing to consider. Thomas Wolfe probably said it most succinctly with the "You can never go home again" line. Once you're out, you're out. If Brett quits, he won't be able to come back, in spite of what we're hearing from Sammy Sosa these days. As I ponder retirement myself, I understand the issue: once I walk out of the school where I teach(no doubt amid great rejoicing among everyone involved, especially those who count cash), I can never return. I will be replaced by someone MUCH less costly in world-record time ("Don't let the door hit you," etc.), and life will go on as if I never existed...with extra money for the Fund 10 balance. There will be no opportunity for second thoughts, no do-overs and no opportunities for me to ever stand in front of a classroom again. So, one can see why making that final decision isn't as easy as the arm-chair quarterbacks and board members would make it seem.
Brett said that the three hours on Sundays were the best, but the rest was a pain. I can relate. Classroom interaction is fabulous and ennervating, but the politics of money and quality education (the definition of which is WIDELY disputed where I teach) are quite dispiriting at times.
So, this year promises to be an interesting, on-the-edge-of-my-seat one while we await Brett's decision. So far, no reporters have called to ask me about mine.
What a great way to begin the new year!