Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sad State of Affairs

Every year, during the first few weeks, I ask my new students to write a letter of introduction to me. I get all kinds of letters about all kinds of things, but this year I got one of the sad ones. One of my kids is of "Persian" (as he puts it) decent, and he still has a large family including grandparents still living in Iran. This summer he went to visit them which was very exciting. He also got to bring home a kitten from a special line bred by the family, and that was even more exciting. However, the fun stopped when they landed back in the United States. His letter tells about how the family was immediately pulled aside for questioning, how he and his brother were taken away to separate rooms, and how the TSA people questioned him for more than three hours. He is TWELVE YEARS OLD! What the heck do these people think he is going to tell? The fact that he is a minor and an American citizen did not seem to make any difference. Later, he said they actually accused his brother of having a bomb. If he had a bomb wouldn't he have blown it up WHILE HE WAS ON THE AIRPLANE? I feel so much safer knowing that little boys are being separated from their mothers and grilled for hours. I'm certain that is making all the difference in the war on terror.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Flaming Chickens

We are studying The Middle Ages in our Humanities class. We are learning about the lack of hygiene, the importance of the church, the poor quality of the food and the healthcare, and the importance of loyalty in the feudal system. We are also learning about the dangers and potential military applications of flaming chickens. One of our books tells a story about a chicken scratching too close to the fire, setting her feathers alight, and then burning half the village as she ran madly around.

The piece is supposed to be funny and to illustrate the problems with sticks and daub as building materials. However, our discussion quickly veered off course when someone suggested that flaming chickens might be good for breaking a siege. Why not pitch them over the wall, and let them burn the enemy out. This, of course, caused outrage among the more tender-hearted girls in our class who feel that chicken abuse is not acceptable. How anyone could think that school is boring I will never understand.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Primary Update

Note: My purpose in the previous post was not to criticize people who did not have the chance to vote. I was merely pondering the question about different voting systems.

A friend of mine pointed out recently that many people do not vote in the primaries if they feel that their party is not really having a contest. Maria Cantwell's race is a good example of this because she was never really in danger from any of her challengers. Therefore, if you are a Democrat you might just decide to let the whole thing ride until Election Day when your vote will really be needed. This may be a fine theory but there is at least one big flaw. In this election we had several judgeships up for grabs as well as the other races. I was very surprised to discover that judgeships in Washington State (again according to my very clever friend) are often awarded in the primaries without any further contest in the November election. In our most recent primary we had four different judicial "races" and three of them were decided on that day (the last one went to a November run-off). Given the amount of power judges have been exercising lately these positions really do count for something significant. The tough part is in getting good info on which judges best represent your opinions. Endorsements are helpful, but hardly enough to feel you've made an informed decision.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Paltry Primaries

Earlier this week we had the primary elections in Washington State, and let me just say that the polls did not seem overly crowded when I stopped by. It turns out that a grand total of about 95,000 people cast votes in our state. This works out to about eleven percent of all registered voters. Eleven percent! And that is just of registered voters. Voter apathy is a major problem in the U.S. political system where even major races are considered "high turn-out" when only fifty or sixty percent of voters cast ballots. Of course, other countries face this problem too, and that has led some to impose a fine on all voters who don't show. In most cases this increases turn out dramatically, but many people argue that this is not always a good thing. If we force people to vote on subjects about which they are not informed, we may be surprised at what we get by way of results. The founding fathers thought they had solved this question by only allowing rich, white, male citizens to vote, but that philosophy had certain, ahem, flaws. What do you think? Is it better to "encourage" the masses to cast a vote, any vote, as a way of ensuring the health of democracy? Or should we let the few, the bored, the opinionated, the (hopefully) well-informed to make the choices?

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Wilde Rover

I am lucky enough to be a member of the world's most entertaining book group. Most recently we read The Importance of Being Earnest because we felt we should read some classics along with our more modern fare. One clever member of the group noticed a new pub in Kirkland that she thought would be just perfect for our September meeting. Why so perfect? Its name is The Wilde Rover. We all gathered there on a Sunday afternoon to chat, discuss our book, and try out the array of tasty pub treats. We were not remotely disappointed. In proper pub fashion "chips" were of the fried potato variety, and they will serve them either normal or curried. I think perhaps my new favorite evil indulgence is curried chips. Next we tried the vegetable pasty which was very tasty indeed, and finally we had the Irish Nachos. Now this last one was a little weird since it consisted of all the usual nacho toppings on, you guessed it, crispy American-style potato chips. I can't say I was a huge fan of this recipe, but two out of three really isn't bad. Another great feature of this pub is the smoke-free environment. Oh wait! That's right! All restaurants in Washington are now smoke free! Woo Hoo! Anyway, I highly recommend this place if you want a pleasant and very "pubby" experience.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Magazine Mania

It's that time at school once again. The magazine drive is here. We only have one fundraiser at school all year long, and this is it. A few days ago we had the assembly where the incredibly-charming-yet-oily salesman made his pitch and showed off the FABULOUS prizes kids could earn if they sell enough magazine subscriptions. This is one loud assembly because the kids are allowed to show their enthusiasm for the prizes as they are announced. You are pretty close to deaf by the time it is over, but it does give you the chance to find out (based on noise level) which are the most exciting prizes. I do have to say that salesman guy does know his stuff. The kids are warm towards a box of caramel apple pops. They are yelling and clapping about a tiny refrigerator that cools six cans of soda. They are yelling and screaming over a stuffed hamster that sings "Kung fu Fighting" and wiggles to the tune. They are screaming and jumping out of their seats for, get this, a tiny version of an office water cooler. Yes, that's it, the kind that goes "glub, glub" when you fill the little paper cup. There is no sense behind the things they want. A cheap plastic bouncy ball that probably costs the magazine company less than a dime is worth major scrambling when thrown into the crowd of kids. At least they had the good sense to ohh and ahhh over one of the top prizes, and X-box 360 with several games. I hate watching (and listening) to their naked greed, but you can't blame them too much because the whole process is designed to capitalize on just those urges. I guess I should be happy that they earn money (A LOT of money usually about $90,000) for school activities such as clubs, sports, equipment, and so on, but it still is not my most favorite part of the school year. Next time I need to remember to borrow a pair of the good noise-canceling headphones from woodshop.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Early Autumn

Like a knife through a melon
autumn slices summer

This is a quote is from a poem by a Chinese poet of the eighth century. More than twelve hundred years later it still sums things up quite nicely. The rain is here, it can't be more than sixty degrees outside, and everyone is feeling the change. A few red leaves might make the situation easier to take, but they won't be out for some time yet. Even the squirrels seem sleepy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Educational Video Game is NOT an Oxymoron

As most everyone probably knows, we have new social studies curriculum this year. This means that all of us teachers are frantically trying to stay three jumps ahead of the students on information and activities. We all read the textbook over the summer, and most of us read some college-level texts for background, but we are still trying to fill in the gaps. Today I was looking up information on the tiny Russian enclave of Königsberg (German name, Russian possession, long story). This led me into a discussion of The Hanseatic League, and suddenly I was powerfully reminded of being twelve again. We used to have a video game called The Patrician which delt with trade and political intreague around the Baltic Sea. We loved this game and spent hours happily trading wool and wax and all sorts of other things between the cities. I can still remember the cities in the league and the trade goods on offer. I studied this stuff in college, but that is not what stuck in my memory. Now if only Halo and other games had this kind of benefit to offer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Dorking It Up a Notch

Someone suggested I add this as an addendum to my Devo post. It is the email I sent out to my fellow attendees to announce the successful purchase of the tickets. In case you are not familiar with Devo music, there are more than a dozen song references. My brother's reply to this message was that I needed more things to do with my time.

You know, I've got an uncontrollable urge to go to the Devo show. I have to say though it was like working in the coal mine to get these tickets, because the Paramount Theater does not offer much freedom of choice when buying tickets online. They only offer ticketbastard, and we all know that trying to get tickets from them is like trying to twist away some gates of steel. The website would not take my perfectly good credit card, so I was screaming "I can't get no satisfaction with this stupid thing!" Nevertheless, I said to myself "girl U want tickets so you've got to whip it into shape." Then I decided I was through being cool with the technology side of things, so I went with my gut feeling and turned to my mom. She is like some sort of secret agent man downtown, and she got us the tickets! It's a beautiful world we live in and this concert will be a sweet romantic place. You're all such beautiful people, and I think you should all go comb your hair.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Oh Yes It's Devo!

It took all kinds of effort to get the tickets, but it was entirely worth while. We actually got to see a Devo show. My older brother had been to one before, but for the rest of us it was a major first. Now, I know many people are not proud of their 80's music passions, but I am cheerful to admit mine. I love, love, love Devo. They have a quirky, addictive, synth-driven sound, and they have been described at different times as being punk, new punk, new wave, techno, and alternative. They also have a very strange sense of humor which happens to appeal to me. Therefore, the chance to go to this show could not be missed.

Other than being short, the show was everything I could have wished. The opening bad was called "The Punk Band" and they did a very entertaining mix of original songs that parody punk and techno. The line "I don't need no drummer cause I'm a mad programmer" got a good laugh, and the song "Fat girls on bicycles trying to lose some weight" was also pretty popular. We might need some of their CDs.

However, the opening band was really just a warm-up. The crowd went wild when Devo came onstage wearing their traditional yellow hasmet suits. They are certainly older and paunchier than they were thirty years ago, but they have not lost one bit of their goofy charm. They played an array of crowd pleasers such as Girl U Want, Whip It, and many others. Most of the audience was confined to seats, but there was still quite a bit of moving to the music when the classic songs came on. They did not play Beautiful World OR Through Being Cool, but I suppose there's not time for everything. My ears are still ringing, but it was such a great time.

Friday, September 08, 2006

How Old Do You Think I Am?!

The most unsettling thing has happened. A few days ago I went to the mailbox in my usual fashion, and what should I find there? An invitation to join the AARP! Those letters used* to stand for American Association of RETIRED persons! Just how old do they think I am?! I checked to see if maybe it was addressed to the former resident, but no, there was my name printed in the little window. Add to that the letter they included that assured me I was "fully qualified" to be a member and receive their "powerful assistance" on all kinds of things. Yeah, I can imagine the kinds of things they are thinking of: power chairs, prescription drugs, long term care insurance, and so on. Now I am trying very hard to imagine how they got the idea that I was "fully qualified." Is it the magazines I subscribe to? My political affiliation? The way I drive (oh god I hope I'm not THAT bad)? Some form I filled out and accidentally put 1938 for DOB instead of 1978? I really don't remember doing that, but I guess when you get to be my age memory just starts to go.

*A few years ago, the group decided to keep AARP as their name, but stop having it be an acronym because too many of their members were still working.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

First Day of School

Wheew! That was the first day of school for the students, and I am exhausted! Even though we ran a short day it still seemed like a marathon. My voice is not used to doing all that talking, and my feet are not used to doing all that standing. The kids were VERY excited to be back. We always hand out their schedules in the gym before class begins, and they get their first look at their classes, their teachers, which electives they got, and (most importantly if you ask them) which lunch they have. To get a lunch different from your best friend is a heartbreaking travesty that needs correcting RIGHT NOW! I do not envy the councilors and the front office in these first few days. They have the task of dealing with all the kids who are certain that serious mistakes have been made. Fortunately, by the time they released us to our classrooms at least a little of the shrill quality was starting to wear off. Well, that or I had just gone a little deaf from being in the huge echoing gym with all of them.

My first class (actually two because humanities is a block of language arts and social studies together) is a "highly capable" humanities class with thirty students. These are the kids who actually had trouble deciding when I asked them to write down five good books they read last year. They are very dedicated, very sweet, and also very highly strung. My job with them is to present interesting challenges, but also to help them keep a sense of perspective. Neither perfection nor ulcers are required to get into a great college.

My next class is a study skills class for kids who have had serious problems being successful in school. There are only nine kids in this class, and the idea behind it is that they get some serious one-on-one attention. I will be teaching them some organizational skills, some basic editing, some reading strategies, and other goodies. However, I think my primary job is to sit on their heads and make sure they do the work.

My last class is made up almost entirely of squirrels. I'm not sure if they are of the native or invasive variety, but they are definitely going to climb the walls. This is another humanities block, and its purpose is to help kids who have demonstrated problems with reading, writing, and other skills. This is supposed to be a class for kids who try hard, but have difficulty with the subject matter and the pace at which it is normally presented. In reality, I also get saddled with a few knuckleheads who just don't want to work. I can handle both types of kids, but the knuckleheads do take up an unfair portion of the time. Luckily, I have an assistant in this class, so I get some help with all the head sitting.

One kid in my afternoon class said "one day down and 179 to go" when the bell rang today. I try not to think about it that way. I can't say I'm ever overjoyed when my vacation is over (who is?), but there are many good and exciting things about being back in school. For example, life is never boring when you are teaching a class full of squirrels.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Oscar Peterson

I was feeling very lucky a few nights ago when we went to see the jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson. He is veeeery old, has suffered a stroke, and has had to learn to play the piano all over again. Not only that, he has only limited use of his left hand. You would think that all of this would impact his ability to put on a good show, but this is not at all the case. They wheel him up to the stage, he teeters over to the bench, and you worry that he may slip as he tries to sit down. Then he starts to play and you know why they call him an international treasure. I do not have the correct vocabulary to describe his playing, but let's just say that when he plays "Love Ballad" it is impossible to think about anything else. I must confess that I frequently find lighter jazz to fade into the background, but I was very impressed by this show. I think I may need to go CD shopping.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Would You Like Kim chi With That?

Today on the radio they had the French chef from a locally famous restaurant. He is a very entertaining guy, and he clearly LOVES food in many forms. Since he is a semi-regular guest on the show they have a segment wherein people call and list the contents of their fridge. His challenge is to figure out some tasty recipes to use up the ingredients Of course the people who call in are usually "foodies" so they say things like "I have five Vidalia onions, a leg of lamb on the bone, and three heads of radicchio, and some nice fresh duck fat." He is normally very good at this, but today there was a special list. A man called in with a very strange and limited collection of ingredients that included (if I'm remembering correctly) some "older" Kim chi, eight cups of uncooked white rice, packaged lunch meat, red bell pepper, shredded cheese, and mustard. Instead of just saying "ewww" go shopping he made up a recipe for rice cakes made with little bits of lunchmeat, cheese, and mustard. He suggested the Kim chi would make a nice bed for this concoction and warned the caller not to let the rice get over-done. I don't think any amount of cooking could save this one. Yuck.