Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Obama's Proposed Budget "Cuts"

President Obama has promised that his administration would make cuts in spending totaling $100 million. Overlooking the fact that this announcement wasn't made until after the President's administration proposed a budget nearly double of President George W. Bush's budget during his last year in office, what is $100 million from out of a $3.5 trillion budget? As this video illustrates, not much. Not much at all.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Education in the U.S.

In an interview entitled "The Apostle of Reform" in the Apr. 27, 2009 edition of TIME magazine, U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan says in response to the question, 'Should students be going to school longer?' that,

" I think the school day is too short, the school week is too short, and the school year is too short."

I realize that Duncan was the head of the Chicago Public School system, but Sec. Duncan is an idiot. This statement, and others in the interview, illustrate that Duncan really has no understanding about the history of education in the United States (for example, mandatory schooling largely came into effect because of unions who wanted to cut the work force) nor the way that youth, particularly high school students, think and behave.

In all honesty we do a pretty good job of educating the students in our country until about 8th grade. Examine the statistics and you'll find that the majority of our students in the elementary grades do really well on comparative tests with students from other countries. Scores for U.S. middle school-aged students drop some, but are about the same. This is actually quite remarkable considering that the U.S. is still the only country on the planet that strives to provide a basic education to all children. We have one of the top-five populations on the Earth and we try to make sure all of our children get an excellent basic education. Also, unlike other countries which only allow testers to test "select" (aka their best) students, we allow all of our students to be tested. Sure there are problems and issues, but all things considered we are doing a decent job at the elementary to middle-school levels.

It's when students get to high school that things get all fucked up. That's because our society really doesn't want to recognize the fact that most high school students are adults and our high school system is set up to treat those individuals more as children who are prisoners in a system in which they aren't supposed to escape. Most countries in the world will not teach students beyond the 6th-8th grades unless they show aptitude and a desire to continue their education. If they show aptitude and desire for a different education than the traditional course (college prep), such as learning a trade, they are allowed to take that route or drop out of school to do so. I realize that because of those standards many students aren't allowed to have any schooling beyond 6th-8th grade. I still think we should have the opportunity for students to continue their education beyond the 8th grade if they choose. However, I also think we should allow for them to make other choices: becoming an apprentice, learning a trade, or even dropping out of school and joining the workforce if they wish. I realize that my views on this aren't very popular, especially among professional educators. But, when you're an honest person you often find yourself being unpopular.

For example, most of the time high school teachers encourage all of their students to stay in school and go on to college. Well, college isn't for everyone and we do a disservice to our students when we make them feel obligated it is something they have to do. I had a student that ended up dropping out of high school. When he did everyone else at school talked about what a terrible life that student was going to have without his diploma. I never said anything but I felt that even if that student might have it a bit more rough, he was going to be just fine. That student was a better mechanic than he was a college-prep student and he's now rather successful and is making more money than most of the teachers at the school I taught at do. As I look back on it, I think they were resentful of him because he ended up doing the opposite of what most of his teachers and what the system was telling him to and the teachers knew it was actually better for him than what they were offering. I never begrudged that student. I was glad to see him leave, not because he was troublesome, but because I knew he was going to be better off and I've always wanted the best for each of the students I have worked with.

I honestly don't think Sec. of Education Duncan wants what's best for students. Longer school days, weeks, and years aren't going to improve student achievement. In fact, doing so, especially at the secondary (high school) level will end up having the exact opposite effect.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Rod Serling’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE was one of the most ground-breaking programs to air on television. Through its wonderful storytelling, it was able to explore and discuss prominent issues that are just as relevant today as they were in the 1950s and 1960s. Many shows and serieses have been inspired by THE TWILIGHT ZONE with varying degrees of success. The show is just as powerful and thought-provoking as it was when it first aired.

Therefore, I was very excited when I learned about the series of graphic novels from Walker & Company written by Mark Kneece and illustrated by Dove McHargue. Selected episodes from the original tv series that were written by Serling himself have been selected to be adapted into a series of graphic novels.

WALKING DISTANCE is one of the first titles in the series. In this story, Martin Sloan is an executive of an ad agency living life in the fast lane. He’s become highly successful and seems destined for more, but he’s very unhappy. He’s nostalgic for his past and wants to go home again. After blowing up a tire on the highway, Sloan realizes he’s only a short “walking distance” from his hometown. While his car is being worked on, he takes a jaunt into town to clear his head. As he begins his journey he crosses over into the Twilight Zone eventually learning an important lesson from someone in his past.

The illustrations are well done and the overall structure and tone of the graphic novel stay true to the spirit of the original episode. The text is written in a font a bit larger than most graphic novels and comics. “Walking Distance” wasn’t one of my favorite episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, but it is a good story to use as an introduction to the series. The book includes introductory and concluding essays as well as a page that gives many details about the original episode, including cast, crew, and trivia. For instance, I learned that “Walking Distance” is considered to be Serling’s most personal because the memories that Sloan has of Homewood are based upon Serling’s life growing up in Binghamton, NY.

Overall, this is a wonderful graphic novel that I really enjoyed and I look forward to reading more titles in the series. Recommened for fans of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, for people who enjoy graphic novels with good stories. Also recommended as a tool to introduce younger people to this classic television series.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Here's something I learned this past week. Have you ever seen the movie SPARTACUS? At the end when the slaves and gladiators have been defeated by the Romans they come for Spartacus and ask where he is. Each of the men stand up and say "I am Spartacus" so that the Romans won't know who Spartacus is. The movie ends showing the road of crucifixions where the rebels where killed. It is truly that Romans crucified 6,500 of Spartacus' followers along the Appian Way from Brundisium to Rome. What the movie never revealed, though, is that the Romans knew who Spartacus was and that his body was never found. Roman historians Plutarch and Appian claimed that Spartacus was the last man standing of the rebels, but was slain. However, because his body was never found there are many who believe that Plutarch and Appian made that part up to not make the Romans look bad. It was rumored that Spartacus was able to escape (about 10,000 of his followers who weren't fighters probably did escape across the Alps) and traversed the Alps where he eventually went to Gaul.

Amazing. And just think what a great story that would make!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

March 2009: Media Consumed

Books Read
The Confession of St. Patrick Translated by John Skinner
*The Argyle Sweater by Scott Hillburn
Watchmen and Philosophy Ed. by Mark D. White
A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth
Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup
# Twilight Zone: Walking Distance by Mark Kneece & et al.

* = collection of comic strips
# = graphic novel

Out of the books I read in March 2009, none were bad. They were in a variety of genres and I could recommend each of them for different reasons. However, for me the stand outs were A Little Bit Wicked and Slumdog Millionaire. I've recently become a fan of Kristin Chenoweth and when I heard she had a memoir coming out, I knew I would be reading it. It's a great read, even if you're not a fan, told in pretty much the same style that Kristin seems to talk and think. It's quite interesting and those who are interested in theatre, acting, and the entertainment business can probably learn a thing or to from the book. Of course, anyone who is a fan of Chenoweth will definitely want to read the book as well as those who just enjoy reading good memoirs.

Slumdog Millionaire was originally publised as Q & A, but with Danny Boyle's film last fall, the book was republished under the name of the movie. Like many movies, the book is better than the movie. The movie condensed many events, created new characters, and altered key plot points. The book is more complicated and complex. If you enjoyed the movie, you may or may not like the book, but if you didn't like the movie because you thought it was too tidy, you'll probably enjoy Slumdog Millionaire.

Movies Watched For the First Time
The Lather Effect
Dad's Day
The Librarian: Quest for the Spear
The Alphabet Killer
Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl
Escape to Witch Mountain
Return to Witch Mountain
Race to Witch Mountain
The Black Hole
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1982)

*denotes a movie having seen previously more than ten years-ago.

I watched a lot of good movies last month. I really enjoyed Watchmen, though I was disappointed by the finale. Pinocchio is an animated classic that everyone should watch not just once in their life, but several times. Dad's Day was a fun little short movie a friend of the family made a few years ago. The Librarian: Quest for the Spear was actually filmed for TNT, but I enjoyed it. It's worth watching just to see Bob Hope in the first fight sequence of his entire career. I enjoyed Escape to Witch Mountain, found Return to Witch Mountain to be dreadful, and thought that Race to Witch Mountain was decent, but could have been much better (especially if it tied into the older two films more). I'm a big fan of Quasimodo and Hugo's I've seen several version, but this 1982 made-for-tv version is one of the best in terms of the characters and their motivations. It also has Anthony Hopkins how can make watching butter melt seem like poetry. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Freaks is a film on the National Film Registry. A lot of people have told me it's the most frightening movie they have ever seen. I didn't think it was frightening, just quirky, but also a much better film in spite of the unusual cast. It's a movie that all film fans have to see. Trainspotting is also another movie that film fans should watch. I've been meaning to watch it for years, but there wasn't a video store around that carried it. I finally found one. In all honesty, I thought the movie was just okay. However, it terms of filmmaking the movie is incredible. It was the picture that put Danny Boyle on the map as a director and gave Ewan McGregor his big break and made Hollywood take notice. Overall, an excellent month of movie-viewing.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Star Trekking

There's a new Star Trek movie opening in about three weeks. It's a prequel to the entire franchise beginning before the first starship Enterprise (NCC-1701) was completed.

I was never really much into Star Trek growing up. I caught a few episodes of the original series on Saturday mornings and enjoyed them, but I was definitely more of a Star Wars kid than Star Trek. I watched many episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION when I was in high school and years later became more a fan of the franchise. I'm not a Trekker or Trekkie, but am a casual fan. However, what I didn't realize until just recently was that even though I wasn't a big fan, Star Trek had a huge prescence throughout my life. From 1979-1998 a new Star Trek movie was released every two-three years and, even though I only occassionally watched ST:TNG, from 1987-2005 there was at least one Star Trek show on television. When you're interested in pop culture and there's a franchise that has that large and long of an influence, it's bound to affect you somehow.

Last week I realized that it's been six-and-a-half years since the last Star Trek movie was released and four years since the last Star Trek television show ended its run. That's the longest break since the original series ended and the first Star Trek movie came out. I remember watching the last Star Trek movie, STAR TREK NEMESIS and I remember reading about when STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE ended it's run on tv (at the time the UPN wasn't airing around my area). With Star Trek in the background of my life for so long, I hadn't realized the franchise had been gone for so long. For whatever reason, that realization made me both nostalgic and hopeful.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Diamonds In the Rough and Treasures In Clay Jars

Even though first impressions often seem to be so important, they are often wrong. Appearances are deceiving; it takes time to get to know a person. Unfortunately, our society and culture is obsessed with the "instant": instant communication, fast food, channel surfing, etc. The virtue of patience is neglected and as a result we, as a people and individually, miss out on so much. Take Susan Boyle, a single, middle-aged woman who has taken Great Britain by storm. I watched this video earlier and was blown away. Now, I realize that through editing and careful planning reality tv is pretty much mostly staged. Despite this, you have to admit that Susan Boyle has an amazing voice and her life makes for a great story (and compelling television). There are diamonds all around us, if we would only take the time to see them for what they are. There are all kinds of treasures in plain, clay jars if we would only take the time to search them out.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

What the Church Really Looks Like

Here's an example of what the Church is really like. Amazing, isn't it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Point of the Gospel

What's the point of the Gospel?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

President Obama in Germany

DATELINE: Saturday, April 4, 2009. U.S. President Barack Obama is in Germany today. It is one of three countries he is expected to visit today. Below is an exclusive photo of the President's visit to the Bavarian Forest Mountain Range.

President Barack Obama in Germany. The Bavarian Mountains are in the background.