Friday, November 30, 2007

Classic Film Friday: His Girl Friday

I must admit, this 1940 classis took me by surprise. Its playful banter in corrupt government and a biased press is light and fluffy. But gloomy connotations stay at the forefront so much that you find yourself loathing certain characters’ wickedness while eagerly awaiting their next punch line.

"Hildy" Johnson (Rosalind Russell), former star reporter for the Morning Post, arrives at her old job to meet her ex- editor, ex-husband, and outright swindler Walter Burns (Cary Grant) and break off their failed working and personal relationship by revealing that she is engaged to Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), an insurance salesman from Albany. Walter then pulls a myriad of dirty tricks to keep Hildy in town and sparks the reporter in her into overdrive.

The film is a comedy and it is funny, but the dark undertones of manipulating the news to support various agendas hit a sour note of exaggerated realism. Other than the social connotations of a crooked press, the dialogue of the movie is lightning fast and razor sharp. Everyone should see this movie before they let anything within a newspaper sway them one way or the other.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

School Board Special Meeting Nov. 27, 2007

I’m a bit late on the draw with this one and I admit that I’ve only glanced over it, but according to the summary issued to BCSD employees recounting Tuesday’s School Board Meeting (that went untelevised by the way) Board member Laura Bush thinks “the public should appreciate that by using prototype schools, it will save taxpayers money and is an efficient way to conduct business” (FYI: I’m quoting the summary here, which is NOT considered meeting minutes).

Take that in for what it’s worth... “prototype school” and “efficient” in the same sentence. You’ve got to be kidding me. Using untried school construction techniques (i.e. prototype) is going to save us money and we the public should appreciate that.

I wonder if Laura Bush is being sarcastic or craftily using a double negative to fool us. I’m not falling for it. Now really isn’t the time to get fancy.

The rest of the summary basically glosses over things we already know... the district is probably going to break up the referendums, to make it more palatable and they promise taxes will only go up by $50 or so for a $200,000 home. If anyone wants a copy of the summary drop me a line. Just remember it’s not really “official” until the Board approves the minutes and hopefully they’ll then post them on their website (in about a month or so).

Still, nobody seems capable of adjusting attendance zones as a means to alleviate overcrowding; all they talk about is construction and needing money.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bumper Stickers

Maybe I’m still a bit miffed by some of the previous overdramatic religious hyperbole I’ve been exposed to lately, or maybe I’m just a little too cynical, but today I had an encounter that sums up my general feeling about most (not all) folks that proudly display their religion for all to see.

On my way to work this morning I looked up into my rearview only to see it full of white Lincoln Navigator riding my bumper. I quickly moved over to the right lane and as this whale of an SUV whooshed by I noticed a gigantic vinyl window sticker of 3 crosses centered on the back windshield, no doubt displaying this individual’s devotion to Jesus. As we traveled along on the highway the cross stamped Navigator zigzagged between lanes and tailgated until the other drivers yielded the right of way or an opening in the opposite lane presented itself. The Navigator, though aggressively trying to negotiate traffic wound up behind me yet again (I travel with cruise control as I find it to be much more efficient and effective than my analog and unreliable foot).

As the hulking white SUV flew by me again complete with an encore display of said crosses I wondered to myself, is this the Christian way to drive? Now I realize bad drivers come in all flavors, sizes, colors, and religions, but when one goes through the trouble to advertise something on their vehicle, the road manners of the driver automatically get lumped into one’s view of the business (or in this case religion) exhibited. How many of us have been cut off by a work truck, complete with phone number and a “How’s My Driving” sticker and at least made a mental note to not support that business?

Does that mean I’ll boycott church because some jerk with a Jesus fish on his trunk lid almost ran me off the road? No, but it does, over time and repeated experiences, help solidify my opinion that the majority of Christians are in fact no more divine and just as prone to bad behavior as anyone else, except of course for the fact that most religiously minded folks tend to push their morals and religious doctrine on the rest of us.

I suppose the old “do as I say not as I do” line might apply here, but I think whenever anyone plasters an advertising across the back of their car it behooves the driver to remain cognizant of the fact that they are a representative of that signage every time they get behind the wheel.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Case Against Organized Religion

A recent discussion about a certain movie and the religious implications involved got the old gears in my head churning. Before I get into a full fledged rant, I should first make a declination of my religious background. I grew up with parents who were divorced and each of them struggled to find their way into a church that fit their spiritual needs. We started out Catholic (the divorce pretty much ended that rainbow ride) moved on to Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Assembly of God. Within those particular flavors of Jesus, you could find everything from the fire and brimstone pulpit thrashing to the crying on one knee to an all out rock concert. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot. And all of them, for the most part, were full of hypocrites, telling you how to live your life and how some sacrifice made now will pay off in heaven.

I guess that’s where “faith” enters the picture. Maybe I could blame my parents’ indecisive church hopping on my cynicism toward organized religion. That and my father was renowned for smoking pot on the way to church. And that in and of itself is enough to raise the cackles on any god fearing Christian. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) bother me at all. Now it does make my father a hypocrite (probably), but if you think about it many pagan religions used some form of mind altering drug to “elevate their awareness” (i.e. get high) in order to make contact with the spirits they worshiped. I could also turn this into a marijuana legalization thing but that’s not a direction I want to travel right now. Let’s just say while I think people should be free to do with their body whatever they please, I also respect the law enough (and my employment) that as long as something is against the law, I will not cross that line.

So what do pot smokin’, church jumping parents instill in their children? First and foremost, though probably unwittingly, they liberate one from the shackles of dogmatic principles. Suddenly (or not so suddenly in my case) burning a doob, or having a drink, responsibly, without losing employment or hurting others isn’t so taboo anymore. The church would never really stand for that, had they known what my parents did behind closed doors. Or maybe they would have overlooked it, provided their tithe was adequate, so long as they kept it under wraps. Neither of my parents smoke pot anymore, it’s simply not commensurate with employment laws, worker’s compensation insurance, or anything else really. Neither of them go to church much anymore either. My mother tries, now and again to find spirituality and acceptance in churches she visits… with the same unfulfilling result in the end.

Which brings it back to control. I don’t really care what form or flavor organized religion takes, it’s really about control… and I’m not just talking about Christianity. From what you can wear to what you can eat to what day you can/cannot do something or who you can associate with while doing it, organized religion is really only about propagating itself and the only way to do that is to control the thoughts, will, and decisions of its members.

I want to make clear, this isn’t a protest against God, it’s defiance toward those people who use God as a tool to subjugate the rest of us. You can’t scare me with damnation or lure me with deliverance. You could try to emulate the teachings of Jesus, by showing the same love, acceptance, and understanding that he supposedly wanted for all of us. That would certainly entice me. So far in 2,000 years of trying, he’s the only one that was any good at it. I won’t hold my breath while waiting.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sports are for Suckers (like me)

2007 will go down (for me) as one of the MOST CRAPPY sports years in history. It’s downright pathetic. In fact it’s so bad, I hardly ever watch anymore. That goes for pretty much everything, but more so toward the racing and football genres.

It’s so bad that the 2 football teams I follow could combine their wins and still not be close to the league juggernaut (AKA Patriots). So why bother? Don’t go calling me a fair-weather fan. I grew up in a town whose team didn’t even have a winning season (much less a playoff berth) until 20 years or so into its miserable existence. There are only so many ass whoopins a body can stand.

Seriously I’d rather spend my Sunday cutting grass or watching reruns of This Old House than witness my team get pummeled yet again. And there’s the rub. You can’t just give up on them, so you find yourself coming back, like a chump at the black jack table fishing another 20 out of his wallet, because maybe this time, it’ll be different. Not likely, but hope springs eternal and like they say, sometimes the sun will even shine on a dog’s ass.

Kind of like politics, I’m pining for next year, but in the back of my head I know the outcome will be the same. Is there any room on the bandwagon for one more? Never mind, Bob Vila is touring a beautiful Victorian estate in the historic district.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Travel Time

I’ve been mired down in work lately. You’d think with the holidays upon us that wouldn’t be the case, but for me it simply means fewer days to accomplish the same amount of work. In fact, I wouldn’t even have time to write here now if it weren’t for the fact that I’m waiting on an overnight package to arrive. While I’m thankful of the time off, there is definitely a price to pay for it.

Speaking of paying a price, I can only look back at all of the people traveling back and forth for the holidays and wonder if it’s worth it. The last two years we traveled 800+ miles to spend Thanksgiving with family and while it was nice to visit with the folks, I’m not sure if the trek warranted the fuel cost, travel time, and vacation days spent to get there and back. That’s not even getting into travel snarls and the danger involved with such crowded roadways.

I love my family but I think a nice, quiet dinner at home and the ability to just relax traffic, no hurry-scurry hither and yon, no expenses... outweighs the small amount of time (time that often comes with great stress) spent with family. So I’m staying home this year. I realize that stance might lead others to consider me an ungrateful bastard, but honestly everyone is more than welcome to jump into the travel madness and stay at my house this year.

As usual, I got no takers.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hey Dumbass, Read Already.

On the way home I heard a NPR report state that 55% of people who read below the basic level are unemployed and only 3% of our prison population can read at a proficient level. Fun statistics that could probably be twisted around to show just about anything, but still when our schools are in the dumps it’s not much of a stretch to think reading more books certainly couldn’t hurt anything.

Our public schools have reading programs and initiatives throughout the year. Let’s not forget, it’s free to borrow books from the public library. Not that any of that matters, most kids and adults prefer the pictures they can see with their eyes (TV, video games, movies, etc) to ones they create in their heads.

Want your kids to do better in school and life in general? Buy them a book for Christmas.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Classic Film Friday: After the Thin Man

Due to some unforeseen family health issues I really don’t have a movie to review today. Unless you’d like to hear about After the Thin Man, the sequel (#2 of 7) to the Thin Man which has already been reviewed. These movies are great, but they typically follow the same premise. And that’s not a bad thing at all, but the review is going to be pretty much the same for all 7 movies.

Nick and Nora Powell get drug into yet another murder mystery, with sarcasm and one liners and the consummate Clue-like ending, where all suspects are put into a room together and eventually the culprit is identified. Some say After the Thin Man is the best of the series. A minor side note: Mrs. Asta (the dog) apparently has a touch of infidelity as a litter of puppies is displayed, one puppy looks exactly like the neighbor's dog... scandalous by today’s standards, but maybe folks back then knew how to take joke. So I managed to get a movie review in anyway. Enjoy!

Good News? Bad News? Who's to Say?

I can’t help but comment on yesterday’s newspaper articles concerning our public schools. The Island Packet presented a glass half empty story, while The Bluffton Today presented a glass half full piece. Both periodicals presented the same information and yet both twisted the government data to tell their own story. What gives?

From the IP: Bad grades: Majority of county's schools post below average academic ratings on state report cards

From BT: Elementary schools close achievement gap, pull district up to average on report cards (page 8, Nov 15th edition)

You could read either report and make your own judgment call, but I have to give the nod to the IP here. Though both pieces were near vacant of named sources, the IP listed both BCSD Superintendent Truesdale and State Education Superintendent Jim Rex, while BT only quoted Truesdale and honestly came off more as a propaganda tool for the school district.

I think those requisite 5 named sources really could have made a difference here. What’s the school board got to say about these report cards? Or local government representatives? Parents, teachers, and/or principles of failing/excelling schools?

Lazy reporting only leaves me wondering.

DIY journalism anyone?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Darwin vs. Jesus Phreaks

I watched the 2 hour Nova documentary Judgment Day, Intelligent Design on Trial last night. Darwin’s theory of evolution never seems to fail at firing up the emotional pressure cooker to “nuclear”. I should start out by saying I want nothing more than for there to be more to life than the bleak, cold, scientific explanation of how we got here. I can understand how unnerving it must be for those devout in their faith to reconcile with the theory of evolution. After watching last night’s program however, I can also say, without a doubt, that the religious sect just got slam dunked so hard not even Pat Robertson’s hurricane diverting prayer power can save them.

Oh that wicked thing called knowledge, such an insensitive liberator. I’ll never look at Intelligent Design as anything more than religious whack-jobs with a religion agenda to push. The real kicker is the death threats toward the judge, parents, and teachers that only wanted to uphold the establishment clause of the Constitution. Death Threats (and lying)... How very un-Christian of them.

These are probably the same people who balk when an Islamic extremist blows something up. What’s that saying about let he without sin cast the first stone? We’re not all that far from the same level of religious fanaticism we seem to abhor.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Busy, busy, busy

The official “run around like a crazed idiot” season kicked off last weekend. Between now and Christmas the family and I have no less than 10 (probably more like 15) dinners, parties, or social gatherings to attend, host, or cook for. I’m not really sure why it’s common place to have half a dozen Thanksgiving dinners before the ACTUAL Thanksgiving. Lord knows I eat so much turkey on that day alone that I can’t stand the smell of it 11 months out of the year. By the time I get to Thanksgiving this year, I might resort to hot dogs or pizza. Ok, not really, but still I can’t help but feel the myriad of holiday inspired get-togethers, however well intentioned, take away from the official day of celebration.

It wouldn’t be polite to say anything like that out loud. Some of our friends go to great lengths to put on a spread. So I’ll hide my wincing acknowledgment of yet another holiday party behind a genuine smile and graciously accept. Being nice this year is bound to take a toll on my poor taste buds… and waistline. Let the good times roll.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Classic Film Friday: A Place in the Sun

George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) is a down and out young man looking for a leg up in life and hitchhikes his way out to work for his well to do uncle, Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes) at his bathing suit factory. The only catch is it’s is strictly verboten to date employees. Enter Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). The two work on the assembly line together and one thing leads to another and the inevitable happens.

Meanwhile rich Uncle Charles wants to reward George’s hard work and gives him a promotion. George starts to get a taste of the high society and the beautiful and out of reach Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), suddenly becomes attainable. Except for one minor snag… George’s extra curricular work policy violation with Alice has led to a rather sticky situation. Watch as a man starts with nothing, works himself up to more than he ever dreamed, and losses EVERYTHING. A true tragedy that every hormonal, sex crazy teenager should be made to watch.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Attendance Policies

There’s a dark undercurrent at the school district. It seems the upper-management isn’t happy with teacher absenteeism in our schools lately. I can’t say as I blame them, any day a teacher isn’t there is pretty much a day lost for the class and I understand the district has spent thousands on substitutes this year already.

So word is going round and principles are beginning to come down on teachers skipping school… except this is only going to cause discontent because teachers and staff have been allocated sick days. You can’t give something to someone and expect them not to take it. That HR approach (at least everywhere I’ve ever worked) only pisses people off, and does absolutely nothing to promote better attendance. Instead of focused instructors, we open the door to have disgruntled employees that feel they can’t use a benefit given, and that will never make test scores higher.

This really isn’t all that hard. Instead of haranguing all teachers and staff because of a few bad apples, why not make a policy that affects the most grievous offenders without giving truckloads of crap to the folks who honestly got sick (probably from so snot nosed kid) and need a day of rest? Set the bar at 2-4 absences in a 90 day period and encourage those with good attendance records with some kind of reward.

This isn’t Human Resources Rocket Science. Seriously, “more flies with sugar than vinegar” fits the situation aptly.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

We Will Rock You

Do you like the rock and roll music? Do you wish that you could pick up a guitar and jam like an old pro, yet never really had the time or fortitude to actually practice? Now you can rock like a hurricane without really knowing the first thing about music.

I picked up Guitar Hero III this weekend and I’ve already had the cops called on me twice. Ok, not really, but this game is so infectious, everybody in my house, from toddler to adult is throwing their fist in the air and banging their head.

The game is awesome. It’s loaded with great songs, most of them by the original bands (from Black Sabbath to Rage Against the Machine, and everywhere in between). It’s fun, we’re still conquering easy mode at the moment but everyone can play and hitting the notes to a great rock and roll song totally immerses you into the game by blurring the line between listening to music and being a part of it.

All of that is wonderful, and as I started writing this post, that’s all I had on my mind, until I looked up at my wife, rocking out with the guitar to “Welcome to the Jungle” and that’s when I realized how truly lucky I am. I’ve been around the block a few times and for the life of me I can’t think of another woman that would not only play a game with me, but pump her fist into the air and high kick as if she were in a Van Halen video. And that to me is simply amazing.

She’s all about flare and showmanship, spinning around and moving her hips to the beat of the music (who cares if she misses a few notes), while I’m biting my lip, almost stiff as a board trying to meticulously nail every strum to the proverbial cross. Ironically we swap roles in real life, she’s the perfect one, always by the book, patiently and persistently accomplishing what must be done, while I’m the party guy, the jokester, that guy embarrassing the lady of his life by grabbing her ass in public.

One of us always picks up where the other leaves off. In my mind we are the perfect team; similar enough to have common goals, different enough to travel different paths to achieve them. And while hearing Barracuda in a video game is incredible, watching the love of your life become a guitar god(des) beside you is just that much better. To coin a much marketed phrase around here, life is good.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Kids and Music

The other day I was perusing through my iTunes play list. I got to the newish Finger Eleven song “Paralyzer” (anything less than a decade old is new to me by the way). Anyway it’s a catchy little tune, in a rock-pop "of the now" kind of way, so I crank it up, because I’m not so old that I can’t kick out a jam or even shake what I got now and again... I’m just cool like that. About mid way through the song my eldest (and almost teenage) offspring bebops into the room and stares at me, mouth agape and utterly mortified.

She bemoaned that I’m not supposed to like that song as it is played often on what I’ve dubbed the “ghetto” radio station she listens to and that SHE likes it, which is somehow supposed to magically exclude me from ever even listening to this song, much less liking it. I don’t ever recall hearing “Paralyzer” on said “ghetto” radio station while cruising down Simmonsville in my hip minivan (complete with factory 16’s… alloys dawg), but keeping up with the new music only gets harder with age. Something about mortgage payments and work and laundry etc. pushes the importance of the latest groove hurtling down the priority ladder. Growing up sucks like that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know a catchy tune when I hear it. The mind might be older and crustier, but the ears still work (mostly).

Anyway the song is about a man in a bar that really wants to be in a “dark lit place or your place or my place” with a woman he sees there (that’s the gist of it anyway). Not exactly what I’d like my young impressionable child to listen to, but I’ve learned long ago to pick my battles, and this one isn’t winnable. She gets to listen but she doesn’t get to participate. Know what I mean?

But I do have more influence over my emerging independent tweenage child than even she would like to admit. I’ve caught her in my ELO stash, and she’ll never admit it, but she even knows all the words too. Here’s hoping she listens to more than just dad’s not so funky-fresh “antique” music collection.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Non Classic Film Friday, or... Adventures in YouTube)

I have no film for this Friday, sorry, but I did post a classic film review two days ago. You can check it out here.

The new Snickers "FEAST" ad campaign has me rolling. It's not often that a commercial gets that kind of rise out of me, but this one in particular is hysterical.

And through the magic of the internet and the prevalence of Amazon-ish "if you like this, you'll love ____" I came across this:

Which then led to this:

And finally this:

Behold the power of the internet!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

My Case Against No Child Left Behind

A report was released recently that reveals all but 7 schools in Beaufort County are not meeting federally mandated adequate yearly progress. In fact the report mentions that many schools in the state and even the country didn’t meet AYP.

What the hell?

Since NCLB’s inception professional educators have been warning that the program sets unrealistic goals that are impossible to meet. But those people were generally scoffed at as being too liberal or defeatists, meanwhile schools continue to focus on the bottom of the barrel (NCLB’s Achilles’ heel) sinking ever scarce resources into a segment doomed to fail no matter how much money is thrown at them.

You’ll notice that many schools not meeting AYP missed it because one particular ethnic or socio-economic group failed a certain criteria. Next year more money, more time, and more energy will be devoted to these chronically failing kids and since all of these resources are finite, that much more is taken away from the “regular” kids.

Self-serve education anyone?

No Child Left Behind is tunnel-vision at its worst, but saying that doesn’t let our schools off the hook in my opinion. Room for improvement abounds even in our overcrowded classrooms. There's a lot of dead weight within the district and it needs to be jettisoned ASAP. In fact I'd go so far to say if you got rid of the slackers, bumped up teacher pay a bit, and brought in some new (more qualified, motivated, and/or mission driven) blood, you'd likely see across the board improvement, even amongst the usual low performing suspects.

That's not to take the onus away from parents either. But you can't control the uncontrollable. Manage it? Maybe... Minimize it? Perhaps. The environment a child comes from will always be an X factor for educators.

We have to start somewhere, but NCLB isn't the answer. Not only is No Child Left Behind "feel good" rhetoric that'll never fulfill the promises it makes, it gives lazy parents an easy excuse to defer blame when their kids fail and that's a losing situation for schools, teachers, and kids.