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October 30, 2003

Oh, Say Can You See?

At the pep rally today, the principal had a group of singers sing the National Anthem a second time because the students refused to be respectful.

That's gutsy.

It's also sad.

Posted by tat at 02:49 PM | Comments (0)

Low-Level Hiss

Iraq for me has officially become ambient noise. The daily reports of American deaths and suicide bombings has taken its place beside Palestinian-Israeli hostilities as just so much more crap to tolerate in the world and fodder for the evening news.

I've given myself over to despair and just hope that somehow, someday, we'll get to the end of this insane foreign policy charade.

I've accepted the fact that money--big, international money--is in charge, and my country is no longer pretending to live up to its ideals.

I've embraced my fellow man's propensity to choose ignorance over responsibility in voting for "leaders."

I've learned to find humor in our unilateral fracturing of world peace and unity and laugh at the idea that anyone but the U.S. can be right about something.

Come to me, ignorant bliss.

Posted by tat at 11:51 AM | Comments (1)

October 26, 2003

Ballpark Tour

Oftentimes, we live in an area and never really get out to see what tourist drive hundreds of miles just to visit. Today, we took a tour of the Ballpark at Arlington, where the Texas Rangers play. I highly recommend going into any major league ballpark stadium without the crowd just for the feeling of being there. They are our modern-day versions of cathedrals, where man demonstrates mastery of a vast space by enclosing and ordering it. Pics

Posted by tat at 05:33 PM | Comments (0)

White Stripes Recommendation

I casually pay attention to what young people are listening to and occasionally will find a band that is truly impressive. White Stripes is one of those bands. I just d/l two of their albums, Elephant and their self-titled CD. Wow. These guys (or more accurately, this brother and sister) are raw and real. Bluesy, simple, and visceral, their music feels immediate and heart-felt like very few over-produced bands do today.

The only other band that's lit my fire this year has been Audioslave, a marriage of the Rage Against the Machine band with Soundgarden's lead singer, Chris Cornell. One of the best albums ever for me.

And, being a good rock-n-roll citizen, I'll purchase the CD to support the artists. Yes, I actually do if the music's good. Sadly, I can say this will be only the second CD I've purchased this year; there's just not much worth paying for, is there?

Posted by tat at 09:25 AM | Comments (1)

New Car Blues

Denise has decided that she wants a "grown-up car" now that the Jeepster has become too costly to maintain. She's fallen for the VW Passat, which is a sweet car, but damn, it's expensive. The price has prompted me to look around a bit at what's available from American car manufacturers that's not an SUV or style-less econobox.

My findings: there's nada. Every car from Buick, Chevy, Ford, etc., just screams "Cheapo" to me. I can't get past the chintzy interiors or the unnecesarily cluttered exteriors. Why can't we design and build understated, tasteful cars in this country?

Look at edmunds.com in the $15k-$25k range at any American car and you'll find the phrase "some low-grade interior components" or similar in darn near every review. That means plastic dash bits that fade or fall off in two years and chrome on the radio. In a $25,000 car.

No wonder Detroit builds nothing but behemoth SUVs: it can't compete with Passats, Altimas, or Camrys in aesthetics and quality, so it super-sizes everything to distract you from the fact you're driving a truck with carpeting.

Posted by tat at 07:48 AM | Comments (4)

October 23, 2003

Civil Rights Legacy

I weep for those who gave up everything for the Civil Rights Movement. I think that, given today's educational climate, they might have died in vain.

Too many young minorities today are insulated and innoculated against any kind of cultural assimilation or educational opportunities. To be educated, to listen to the teacher, to dress appropriately, to speak and act civilly are signs of weakness and betrayal and done only by those with the strongest wills and homes. Peer pressure is exerting a strong downward force on the education of the very people who stand to gain the most from taking advantage of the education system in America. Somehow, the dream of sharing a common education and society has turned into ethnic isolation and distrust. Instead of raising up our fellow man out the squalor of oppression, we seem to be forming myriad sub-communities that only barely tolerate each other, all congealing at a lower common denominator of acceptable social behavior.

Are white kids immune or exceptional? No. There's plenty who could care less about an education. But then again, there's more at stake with the education of minority students, especially black students, and we as a nation need to take notice: it's not happening. An eye of mistrust is cast toward school and academic success by many, and it seems to originate from home. Why? I don't know. Education was supposed to be the vindication of our racist past. Once the battle over equal education was won things were supposed to change. But tis not so and I don't know how to fix it.

Maybe I'm old. Plato in his dialogues complained that the youth of Athens were running wild and ignoring their studies. Maybe it never ends. Maybe old people like me will always complain about young people. So be it.

But I know what I see, and I see militant apathy, a term I coined to label the aggressive nonchalance placed by many students, especially young black men, on even the most important tests and opportunities. We're squandering boundless human resources because of racial boundaries, and I feel helpless to change it.

Posted by tat at 02:48 PM | Comments (3)

October 21, 2003

Short Fiction

I participated in a writing workshop in 1994 that published the class's work in a booklet entitled "In Celebration Of," which was also the name of the conference.

I happened across that booklet today, and, at the risk of immodesty, thought I'd publish the admittedly juvenile piece of fiction I wrote on the blog.

It's trite, it's immature, but dagnabbit, I like it.

Late Night Thoughts

The taste of blood was still promient in my mouth as I sat in my favorite chair to watch Letterman. Funny guy. I can always depend on him to take my mind off the reality of my life. I needed him on a night like this, a night where time takes a breather and deserts its prisoners, consigning them to reflect on their lives and the futility of it all. I do not like what I do to survive, but I have no choice. It's in my blood.

I don't consider myself a bad person. I am just like the rest of humanity, doing what I have to do to survive. Only what I do to survive makes me different, makes me feared. If one looks at humans with a coldly rational eye, one sees only a single difference between us and the animals--we have a conscience. Unfortunately, I still retain mine in full working order even though I haven't been a human for over a hundered years.

I still remember the day I left behind my human existence and entered a world where time means little and hunger takes on an entirely new meaning. I was fighting for the South when I met a wonderfully enigmatic young woman living, by herself, in New Orleans, where my company had stopped for a few days on our way to Hattisburg. Strange things happen when one is young, and one of those strange things occurred when she offered me a drink of something warm that she said was a potion designed to keep us together forever. It was her blood. I didn't realize at the time what she meant by forever.

I realized what I had become shortly after my encounter with that girl. During one of the battles my company fought, I was shot in the right calf and could not summon for help. My position was overrun so I played dead (oh, the irony) and prepared to die. But I didn't die. Overnight the wound healed and I was able to walk as if nothing had happened. I explained to myself that what had happened was a miracle and went off to look for my company. They did not exist. Bodies were strewn about the field like so many discarded rag dolls. The stench was horrible but I was not repelled; I was--how can I say--attracted. I felt a kinship with the lifeless forms around me. I was scared.

That was over 100 years ago and I have long since accepted my fate. I eventually found my way back to the girl who did this to me. She helped me through the difficult times immediately after: the hunger pains, the first taste of blood, the first killing. I say killing because I don't consider taking the life of a human to survive murder any more than a lioness taking the life of a gazelle is murder. I am an animal, pure and simple, and this is life, survival of the fittest.

The face I see in the mirror hasn't changed since that first day with her. I look at the face of a 26-year-old through the eyes of a 156-year-old. I will never dies unless it be by accident or my own hand. Think about that; I can have no friends, stay no place for long or I come under suspicion because I do not age. The girl who gave me this fate was my only companion for 90 years afterward until I lost her to an automobile accident. Yes, we can die if the wounds are severe enough, but wooden stakes being the only sure way to kill us is the product of overactive imaginations and old wives' tales. In truth, almost anything that would kill an ordinary human can kill me. If I survive, the wound repairs itself quickly. It's part of the nature of immortality, I guess.

As for the killing I mentioned earlier, I am very selective about the lives I take. I only choose people who are close to death, who would otherwise die soon, such as the elderly or terminally ill. I suppose this compassion is a remnant of my former self that still feels that life is precious and doesn't wish to rob the young of what life they have. Sometimes I hate this unsolicited compassion and wish I could have shed my emotions when I gave up my mortality. It would make my life much easier. By the way, the fangs are another myth generated by the ignorant; I remove the blood I need through needles. After all, bite marks in the neck of a victim would raise suspicion and I would not last long in the blood-letting business.

Actually, there is not much about my life that would indicate anything out of the ordinary. Many accepted traits of my kind: hatred of the sun, fear of the cross, an aversion to garlic, and an inability to see a reflection in the mirror are all contrivances of the movies. The only traits that set me apart are my need for blood and my perpetual youth, both of which are easily concealed.

I do not consider myself evil. Using the word evil to describe oneself denotes a belief in an entity of goodness. Neither goodness nor evil are powers that struggle for the soul of man; therefore, we are simply here and must live the life that fate gives us. I make no apologies for what I do. I have no feelings of remorse any more than one would have eating dinner--it is simply sustenance. I an my kind are survivors and are not part of the mass of humanity on this planet. I feel that my kind have always been and will always be. We evolved from the human race into something that is very close, yet worlds apart in our needs and pains. I am immortal, I am cursed, I am blessed, I am...hungry.

Posted by tat at 03:26 PM | Comments (4)

Baby Bun

Denise and I saw Bun today on ultrasound (pics). Bun (we couldn't call it it, ya know) was moving around inside the womb even at just 12+ weeks. I thought babies just kinda hung around like apples and grew for 9 months, but tis not so.

Miraculous is truly the only word worthy to describe the feeling that another human life--our new child--is on the way.

On a more serious note, we also talked to a genetic counselor. My brother, Dirk, had Marfan's syndrome (linky, linky), which affects the connective tissues of the body to an extent that many born with it don't live past infancy, although today's treatments are far superior to yesteryear. He eventually died at 21 of an aneurysm of the aorta, an undiagnosed symptom at the time. Connective tissue has a hand in developing eyes, skin, blood vessels, muscles, ligaments, and cartilage, as well as surrounding many major organs. We were concerned that I may be carrying some of the genes that Dirk was dealt, but the counselor doesn't think so.

So Bun looks healthy, mother looks healthy, and all systems are GO.

Posted by tat at 12:51 PM | Comments (3)

October 20, 2003

"I'm Sorry You're a Democrat" Followup

As a followup on the rather perturbed post about the teacher who chided me for my "Texas Democrat" sticker, I'd like to mention that in the same parking lot a week or so later, a teacher from another campus noticed my sticker and engaged me in a ten-minute conversation about how to get active politically to oust the Republican$ from Congress and the White House.

I recommended MoveOn.org, AlterNet.org, and WorkingForChange.org as starters. I admitted I don't do much locally because of the sheer futility of fighting the redneck tide in Texas, but that I do contribute money to MoveOn and participate every chance I get in their calls to action.

Nice person.

Posted by tat at 10:06 AM | Comments (1)

Benchmarking Today

This week is set aside for benchmarking our students. The state has mandated a two-week window in which to test student progress toward TAKS--Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills--standards.

The problem is, it takes two class periods--a total of four days--of possible instruction time to give this test. A whole week's worth of learning goes down the drain because we're testing to find out if they know what we should be teaching them anyway. To add fuel to the fire, other areas must do their testing at this time, too, which exhausts the kids and shuts 'em down quickly.

Now, a week may not sound like a lot. But add that to the pile of other reasons the instructional day gets cut or omitted, like athletics, the real TEKS test, UIL contests, and you end up with considerably less days than the already too brief 88 or so class days for the year (177 class days on an A-B schedule).

What truly irks me is that when schools, students, and teachers are judged by a simple two-digit percentage from the state indicating how many students passed how many objectives, there's no footnote to explain the obscene amount of peripheral distractions that must be overcome to get even the most miserable number of kids passing.

Posted by tat at 09:56 AM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2003

Progressive Taxation

One of the tenets of liberalism is progressive taxation: the more you make, the more proportionally you should pay in taxes. I've always kinda accepted that as reasonable. Take 35% from a poor family and they starve, but take 35% from a millionaire and he's still eating steaks. Simple.

But in the face of the persistent call for flat taxes from the talk-radio crowd, I started thinking about why rich folks should pay more and why progressive taxation intuitively seems correct to me.

In a nutshell, the generation of wealth places more of a burden on the infrastructure largely built with tax dollars. Plus, wealthy families tend to depend more on regulations and oversight provided again by government.

The typical middle-income family earns their income largely based on their labor, part of which goes to income taxes and Social Security. They'll use the roads to get to work, subsidized data infrastructure to communicate and manage information, regulated banks to pay for stuff, and various city services as they progress through their day.

That family's boss, however, will put more of demand on the almost invisible services and regulation provided by government tax dollars. For instance, the MBA that helped put him in his management position was earned at a public school; the stock market from which a large portion of his income derives is heavily regulated by the federal government; the small-business loans and tax exemptions he enjoys as a business owner are provided by the government to stimulate business; the public schools educate his workers; and almost everything his business uses to make money--roads, phones, airways, postal services, electricity, water, vehicles, the clean environment, commerce laws, and business subsidization--all derive from the government. Add that to the fact that he earns his profit from the work of each of his employees, who in turn are using the infrastructure, and the boss can be seen as being on the top of a pyramid of services and franchisement provided by tax dollars.

The more wealth a person obtains, the higher up the pyramid of demand he finds himself. The uber-wealthy depend on international treaties, tariffs, and other government intervention to guarantee America's dominance in markets outside the U.S. The U.N. and World Trade Organization--subsidized by the federal government--come into play for those at the top of Bechtel and Halliburton's food chain, for instance, in Iraq.

The average family doesn't directly benefit from such things, and in some cases, like NAFTA, they may suffer while the wealthy still prosper. So, while a flat tax would draw more money from the wealthy simply because they earn more, it wouldn't properly reflect the amount to which the wealthy have used the system put in place by the government to earn money.

Plus, it's not well-known that Social Security taxes end on money earned past around $85,000. In other words, someone earning $500,000 a year pays the same into Social Security as someone earning $85,000.

In my mind, progressive taxation works the way it's supposed to: the wealthy "owe" more of a debt to the society from which their wealth is created and should therefore help sustain those who don't directly benefit from the myriad benefits and opportunities government provides.

Posted by tat at 08:30 PM | Comments (2)

October 14, 2003

Stabbing, Sociologically Speaking

A kid got stabbed today at school, but that's not what I want to talk about.

It's amazing to watch the sociological experiement that is public school handle big stories like the stabbing today. I can literally watch the rumor mill at work grinding out more and more far-fetched stories about what happened.

Like the public, the kids are fascinated by drama, true or not. During the course of the first class after the incident, the stabbing grew from an actual small wound in the belly to "bleeding from his mouth" and "unconscious" although no new information reached the class. By the end of class, the kids had decided that school was cancelled the next day and everybody's mother was going to sue.

The next things that develops are the jokes and ritualizing. Adolescents think they're bulletproof and will live forever, so they must reconcile that self-image with the fact that one of their own was hurt bad enough for an ambulance. They commence to belittle the incident and dehumanize the victim by saying silly lines like, "Well, if that woulda been me I'd a kung-fu chopped him" and, "I guess he didn't like the food in the cafeteria." Then the "Joey stabbed me" and "I'm gonna stab you" lines start ad nauseum as they pick back and forth, recreating and ritualizing the event until they make it digestible and understandable.

Watching this miniature version of society gives one insight into many of the structures and myths of our own society. In order to deal with the sheer injustice and chaos of our existence, we package things we don't understand, like love, anger, and violence, into trite observations and tired humor that give us something--anything--to do other than face ourselves as we truly are: bearers of an accidental consciousness we are too feeble to control and too primitive to understand.

I'm amazed we've made it this far.

Posted by tat at 03:50 PM | Comments (2)

October 08, 2003

I'm Sorry You're a Democrat

Today, as I was leaving school, I walked past the practicing band to my truck, which has a "Texas Democrat" sticker on the back. One of the assistant band directors, a woman and a fellow teacher, commented, "So you're the Texas Democrat?"

I said, "Yes, I'm the Democrat."

She replied, mockingly, "I'm sorry."

I simply replied, "Thank you."

She offered, "I'm just kidding."

I said, "Thank you" again and just got in my truck.


Posted by tat at 06:02 PM | Comments (2)

October 07, 2003

Bush Re-election Strategy: War in Israel?

The increasingly aggressive moves by Israel to "defend" itself against "terrorism" could be a hint at how far Rove and the Republican hordes are willing to go to maintain power. With support for Bush steadily declining and the American public apparently unwilling to invade another country, what better way of creating a war than encouraging Israel to smack its neighbors?

That way, the country would be in another crisis--a sure way to re-election--and the lefty Jewish vote would patriotically swing behind Bush. What's a few thousand more dead Arabs, eh?

If you haven't read "The Prince" by Machiavelli, I'd highly recommend it. I know Rove has.

Posted by tat at 03:05 PM | Comments (0)

October 05, 2003

Thanks to Dad

I didn't have an easy time with my parents as a teenager, which was exacerbated by moving a dozen or so times before I graduated high school. My father was an ambitious head football coach, so we moved around a lot as he sought (and found) success over much of East and Southeast Texas, where football is king of sports. I went to three high schools, which was adventurous, but not very conducive to long-term friendships. My mother is bitter about moving, but I think I understand what drove him now. I wrote this to him in a birthday card and wanted to save it for posterity here in the blog:

"As I grow older, I appreciate more and more how public your job was and how much of a man it takes to be the focus of an entire community's affection and, too often, their ire. I also know now that the drive to compete and win that a coach instills in a young man is a way of living without which the human spirit would be incomplete. You exemplify that spirit that is lacking in so many today, and I thank you for showing me the way."

Posted by tat at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2003

Nesting, too

I swear to gawd there's something genetic going on here. I, an overweight couch-potato geek, installed a new dishwasher today. The old one was original to the house (about 25 years old) and in pitiful shape, so we dropped some bucks and I invested about four hours and voila, new dishwasher.

I didn't even know they had food disposals in 'em now. Wow, technology, eh?

I almost feel like I'm getting the house ready for a new guest, albeit a little one. It's a neat feeling.

Posted by tat at 07:43 PM | Comments (2)

October 02, 2003

Cracks in the Foundation

Something is fundamentally, horribly wrong with public schools. I'm not talking about teacher competency or math scores or anything else tangible; I'm talking about a systemic misalignment that goes to the core.

I'm talking about kids who pack a gymnasium for a pep rally and don't pay any attention to the events. I'm talking about militant apathy in students who don't want to be at school but are as part of *parole*. I'm talking about students who spend more time wasting away in detention than in class. Weeks, months, whatever. I'm talking *documented* 4th grade reading and writing levels in my 10th grade English classes.

We are trying to use antiquated, small-school techniques, like pep rallies and detention, to teach and motivate a breed of child that is way more prevalent than 20 years ago: kids who have children; who have a criminal record; who have had four or five sets of foster parents; kids who have deep-seated emotional demons; kids whose self-hatred and loathing run so deep they'd rather jump off balconies than go another day to school.

What needs to happen? Small schools would be a nice start. Any large, urban, industrialized school is a breeding ground for apathy, mischief, disillusion, and crime. Personalize the schools. Build a community of teachers and students rather than a production line of education. End the money-saving but soulless urban mega-schools and replace them with schools where everybody knows everybody and kids get attention that means something. Maybe even create focused, goal-oriented schools, like Art and...

Trade schools. We aspire to teach everybody in this country, but by doing so we're holding back the average-skilled student who's going to college but not motivated enough for advanced classes. The kids who should be learning Shakespeare and honing their writing skills are suffering in classes where restless knuckleheads eat up class time with discipline issues. Give those knuckleheads the opportunity to work with their hands as well as their minds. Teach writing skills in the context of manufacturing environments or industrial design. Let's not waste any more time teaching tone and attitude to kids who don't care.

It's almost sacreligious to say this, but, end mainstreaming. Kids with boatloads of emotional problems and learning disabilities are placed in regular classrooms with the noble goal of raising their abilities by exposing them to quality education and regular students. But it's not working. These kids--and I love them--sap the energy out of a teacher and draw time away from the class with discipline and learning problems that require extra teacher time at the expense of regular students. I support the goal; I suffer with the result.

Apathy is the worst enemy. I can't make a kid want to learn, but I can teach those who do if given the chance. Let's expand the options for our youth and provide real-world solutions to real-world problems.

Remember, we can teach them now or we can incarcerate them later.

Posted by tat at 03:29 PM | Comments (1)

Finally, supplies!

Our department budget came in, so I finally got the transparencies I need to teach!

I asked for a box of 100, which would probably last till December.

I got 8.

Posted by tat at 11:00 AM | Comments (1)

October 01, 2003

Rush's True Colors

I told you so. Rush's true colors shine through with his comment on NFL Countdown that McNabb starts in the NFL because he's black.

This is the same bigot that once told a black caller "take that bone out of your nose and call me back" and also said "Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?" (same linky as above)

Let ESPN know what you think.

Posted by tat at 05:59 PM | Comments (2)