Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama, education, and NPR idiocy

It's become almost impossible for me to listen to NPR news for more than a few minutes at a time; "Morning Edition" has become utterly ridiculous, while "All Things Considered" isn't quite as bad, but that's not saying much. I've written about this subject before, and I think it's only getting worse. I heard the other day that our governor, Ed Rendell, has zeroed out public radio's state funding in Pennsylvania, which is sad because I really do like programs like "This American Life," "A Prairie Home Companion," and "Thistle and Shamrock" (Fiona Ritchie can thistle my shamrock any time she wants!). Still...

This morning, Claudio Sanchez's piece on Obama's education initiatives managed to almost--almost!--make me pick up a hammer and smash the shit outta my radio. First, let's look at a bit of Renee Montagne's set-up: “…some say the president sounds more like the nation’s school superintendent.” Well, this would most certainly be a sign of the apocalypse, I guess! What’s so wrong with thinking of the president as "the nation's school superintendent?" God knows Chimpy probably fancied himself that very thing as he destroyed our educational system with his No Child Left Behind bullshit. But shouldn’t Obama be the figurative head of American public schools? He’s Commander in Chief of the military; he oversees the Fed and the Treasury in the control of our money. He’s our nation’s representative around the world. Why shouldn’t he be the head guy in our public education system, which is after all federally funded?

Now to Claudio Sanchez' report:
Obama's Long Education To-Do List Awaits Action
Morning Edition, April 30, 2009 · In his first 100 days as president, Barack Obama has proposed a more expansive federal role in education from cradle to college.
A short list of his numerous education proposals includes: uniform standards for preschool programs; rigorous tests and academic standards for public schools; merit pay for classroom teachers; a longer school day and school year; and a national strategy to address the high school dropout crisis.

In numerous speeches, the president has called these proposals "the pillars" of his plan to improve education in America.
"The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy; it's unsustainable for our democracy; it's unacceptable for our children. And we can't afford to let it continue," Obama said in a speech last month.

Obama's education proposals would make any local school board member dizzy, says Jeanne Allen, who heads the Center for Education Reform and is an advocate of charter schools and vouchers. Besides, she says, Obama's agenda is nothing more than a wish list.

"Despite all the great rhetoric about fixing America's schools coming out from the Obama administration in the first 100 days, it is not translating into more quality choices for children," Allen says.
Okay--I'm about to bust a gut by this point. Why should we even give a shit what the head of the Center for Education Reform thinks about education? Who the fuck is this lady? Is this another Heritage Foundation? We don't know. Claudio just drops her ridiculous quote on us and moves on.

Moreover, are “more choices” really what we need? Or do we just need to make our public schools WORK--something that will take a plan, some money, and some really hard work? If the public schools were improved, maybe in some or all of the ways that Obama says, we wouldn’t need more choices. Parents could feel confident that our public schools are doing their job effectively. Besides, if parents want a choice, they can send their kids to private school. As for charter schools, don’t even get me started. Back to Claudio:
School reform has taken a back seat to fixing an economy still on life support. Critics say the $100 billion in stimulus funds that Obama requested for education come with few strings attached and no incentives for reform.
Holy hell. I might need to pull the car over and scream. "...few strings attached and no incentives for reform"--GOD FORBID! Look, Claudio and all you "critics"--this isn't some blood-thirsty billionaire-laden bunch of assholes on Wall Street getting free money so they can get even bigger bonuses for fucking their entire business up. We're talking about our schools, those buildings full of teachers that are located in most every town in America. Yes, some school administrations are filled with idiots. But people who need to have strings attached to their funding or incentives for reform? WTF? Have they forgotten that schools employ people called teachers because these teachers already HAVE incentives—-inner incentives--to help society, to broaden the minds of children, to help them learn to read and add and think, to show children the world by increasing their knowledge? Sweet Jeebus, WTF? And to top it all off, I think we’ve already seen just how effing effective these “strings attached” "reform" plans are –- I’m talking to you, No Child Left Behind.

Okay--back to Claudio again:
But the extra money has bought Obama a lot of good will, especially in states facing teacher layoffs and deep budget cuts in education.

In the long term, Obama has vowed to break free from what he calls "the old, tired Washington debate over education — Democrats versus Republicans, federal versus local control, more money versus more reform."

"There's been partisanship and petty bickering, but little recognition that we need to move beyond the worn fights of the 20th century if we're going to succeed in the 21st century," Obama said in March.

This kind of talk, for now, has earned Obama support from conservatives and liberals alike. Republican leaders in Congress, for example, lauded Obama's choice for education secretary, Arne Duncan. Even teachers' unions have agreed to consider what was once unthinkable: linking teacher pay to students' performance, one of Obama's campaign promises.
All right. I'm definitely looking for the hammer now. What started out as a report on how to fix education has become a ridiculous piece that reduces the whole issue to politics, citing what's apparently most important to this reporter or NPR or whoever: the “support” first of “conservatives,” then “liberals,” then “Republican leaders in Congress,” and then, waaaaaay down the list, FINALLY getting to the people who REALLY matter in education: teachers! And even then, it’s just the opinion of the “teachers’ unions” that are discussed. There's not one quote in this entire damned report from an actual teacher or teachers, who are the ones in the trenches fighting for our kids’ educations! Fighting against NCLB and all the other bullshit that's mucked up our education system in the first place!

"I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences — the stakes are too high. We can afford nothing but the best when it comes to our children's teachers and the schools where they teach," Obama said.

Andy Rotherham, a top adviser to the Obama campaign, disagrees with critics who say the president is proposing a bigger federal role in education. He says Obama just wants a more effective role.

"This president clearly did not come to Washington to be an observer," Rotherham says. "He has a big agenda and he has a lot of things he wants to get done. The things he's talking about doing, though, generally do play to the federal government's strength."

Still, most of Obama's education agenda in the first 100 days has been talk, with a couple of exceptions: He has increased funding for Pell Grants for college students and has begun overhauling the federal student loan program.

HOLY HAND GRENADE TO THE BALLS – how the hell much is Obama supposed to get done in only 100 effing days? It's this kind of editorializing and bullshit that makes me think NPR is about as "fair and balanced" as Faux Nooz. Please, Claudio, continue to beat me in the kidneys with your brass-knuckled fists:

The president argues that bypassing banks entirely and having the U.S. Education Department issue federal loans directly to college students would save about $48 billion over the next 10 years. The proposal has divided college officials, and banks are gearing up to oppose it.
Because fuck education; banks are what matter here! And they've been soooooo fucking responsible with our money so far!

The loan question is likely to become the first big fight over education policy that the president will face beyond his first 100 days in office.

I'm having to do some more deep breathing exercises at this point (and take some ibuprofen) just to finish typing this post. I'm thankful every day that my car has a CD player in it. I don't think I can stand to listen to this NPR news shit much longer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cinema Gold week whatever

Okay, so I missed a couple of weeks. Oh well. Hollywood will survive!

This week, inspired by a viewing of the first two episodes of "Twin Peaks" (I'll talk about that later), I'd like to ask:

What is Michael Ontkean's best movie performance to date?

Normally, I'd end my post here, but I have to tell you about my experience with "Twin Peaks" last night. My friend Anne, who's not a blogger but is a very cool chick, came over with the first season of TP. She said it was her favorite show of all time, kinda like Buffy is for me. When the show came out, I was pretty much not interested--I had a lot going on (I'd just started teaching at the college level), and nothing about the show caught my eye.

So she cues up Episode 1 (not that Episode 1, thank god--but then again, the only thing that could've made this show any weirdo would've been the appearance of Jar-Jar Binks)
I can't even express how thankful I am that that didn't happen.

Still--what a freakin' creepy crazy show! I was all jittery after just two episodes. Maybe it was all the coffee that everyone drinks constantly on the show. Maybe it was the sugar from the cherry pie and the donuts they kept eating. Maybe there were subliminal messages in the film.

Or maybe... it was that every single character on the show was FUCKING NUTS.

I'd have to say that's probably the reason for the crazy jittery nervousness I experienced. Once that midget started dancing in Agent Cooper's dream, I was so freaked out that I had to do some deep-breathing exercises just to calm down enough to sleep.

Did anyone actually enjoy this show?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why not?

Why not accept Arlen Specter as a dem? (Be sure to read that Crooks and Liars link--it's hilarious.) He usually votes with the dems anyway.

Of course--he's about 846 years old and not in such great health.

Whatever advantages he gives the dems, I'm kinda failing to see them. Not that I'd kick him back across the aisle or anything; I'm just sayin': the guy looks like he needs to add "of death" after his last name.

So why'd he switch? It could be that he just wanted to distance himself from the party of Satan. Or perhaps he just wanted to get a rise out of Sammy Bareback, who's shocked, just shocked! that Arlen could do such a thing.

So why? He's obviously not that proud of this decision, or he'd have updated his web site, which as of this writing, was still blaring this hedline:
Specter Proposes Innovative Agency to Accelerate Cures for Diseases

That's nice.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

If you do nothing else today, do THIS

Click on this link to sign a petition to Attorney General Eric (Hunk-o'-man!) Holder, to indict Chimpy, the Dark Lord, and all their Wormtail-like minions for their many crimes against humanity, country, and the world.
It's the least we can do to thank them for their "service."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Today is...

...Holocaust Remembrance Day. Are you doing anything special to mark the occasion? I'm not much of a history scholar; I leave that to brilliant people like DCap. But I do have a little story to tell you on this day of remembrance.

Back when I was an English instructor at Tarrant County Junior College (now Tarrant County College), some of my colleagues got together and applied for the opportunity to be an official site for the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. They put together all sorts of great educational programs and guest lectures, including a talk by a woman who was a survivor of Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution." (I wish I could remember her name, but I can't.)

She was a lovely woman, medium height, slender. I'd guess she was in her 50s. She talked her about her experience and that of her family in one of the Reich's concentration camps. Shortly after her family was arrested, she was separated from her parents and never saw them again, but for a time she was in the same barracks as her younger sister.

At that time in my life, I hadn't visited the Holocaust Museum or done much more learning about WWII than what I saw in history classes. Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful weren't yet made, but I had seen films in high school showing the piles of shoes, eyeglasses, gold fillings and teeth, etc. that the Nazis collected from the Jews they imprisoned. Still--I had never met or even seen anyone who had lived through the ordeal until I heard this woman speak.

She told of how, despite the cold, all the women were given just one cotton dress to wear. Her sister had been in the infirmary for some ailment at the time when the dresses were distributed, so she didn't get one. The speaker told us she removed her dress and gave it to her sister; during a German winter, this woman went nude for weeks before her captors deigned to give her another dress.

After a while, her sister became ill again and went to the infirmary; the speaker never saw her sister again after that.

By the time the Nazis began abandoning the camps after realizing their defeat was inevitable, the woman was deathly ill, wasted from hunger and malnourishment, but alive. She said that was her shining achievement: that she had lived through this experience, while Hitler had not. She said she stayed alive for her family, even though she never saw most of them again.

I'm thinking of her today, thinking of her struggle to survive, her ability to endure unimaginable torment. I'm pondering the strength of character it must've taken for her to go on, day after day, instead of just doing something to make a guard shoot her, just to make it all end.

The human spirit is an amazingly powerful force.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When hedlines and ledes induce projectile vomiting

Case 1:
Hedline: Ex-Bush official says waterboarding is torture
Lede: A former No. 2 State Department official in the Bush administration says he would have resigned if he had known the CIA was subjecting terrorism suspects to waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning.
Everyone and their dog knew that (a) the Bush administration approved of torture, and (b) the CIA was doing it. But now, years after the fact, Armitage comes out and claims he didn't know? What the hell was he doing when he was in office, playing online Scrabble and FreeCell? Moreover, he claims that if he had known, he would've resigned in protest--like a good patriot! Give me a fucking break. It's always easy to say "I knew that!" after Alex Trebek gives the answer on Jeopardy. I'd say the same principle is in operation here. I have to wonder if he's heard some rumor of pending indictments coming from the Hague or something, and he's trying to distance himself from his part in the war crimes.

Case 2:
Hedline: Lehman Bros. sitting on a stockpile of uranium 'yellowcake'
Lede: The rump of the bankrupt bank Lehman Brothers is sitting on a stockpile of 450,000 lb of uranium "yellowcake" which could be used to power a nuclear reactor or, theoretically, to make a bomb.
The word "yellowcake" will forever remind me of Chimpy's lies regarding Saddam Hussein and his non-existent WMDs, Colin Powell's lies at the UN, and Cheney's lies (that he's STILL telling) about Hussein's WMDs. So not only was all that "Saddam has yellowcake (and tubes, don't forget the tubes!)" and the whole war nothing but dried-out fly-shit, but fucking LEHMAN BROS.--benefactors of god only knows how many of our tax dollars--fucking Lehman Bros. are the ones with the goddamned yellowcake! Even worse, "Liquidators have been trying to offload the stuff for months. But the price of uranium has been dropping steadily, leaving Lehman's yellowcake languishing in a variety of secure storage facilities, some of which are in Canada." WHAT THE FUCK!? To whom exactly have they been trying to "offload" this stuff? And just how "secure" are these facilities where it's being kept? I swear to you: if we find out in a few years that some wacko got some Lehman Bros. yellowcake, built a bomb, and nuked a NYC subway, I think I'm gonna spontaneously combust. I'm serious. It's this kind of shit that happens every damned day, thanks to Chimpy.

Case 3:
Hedline: Fox News’s ‘coverage’ of tea parties: 23 segments, 73 on-air promos in eight days.
Lede: As ThinkProgress has documented, Fox News has aggressively promoted today’s conservative, anti-Obama tea parties.
ThinkProgress has the right idea here with their punctuation. I'd like to hereby declare the start of what I hope will become a national movement to put the "news" in Faux Nooz in quotation marks (or in an alternate spelling). They don't present news. They aren't a news network. They're not "fair and balanced." They're merely the unbelievably loud microphone for radical reich-wing morons and the corporatocracy, a tool for mass hynosis of the American public. Period.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy tea-bagging!

Everyone's posting on this ridiculous "event" that the morons who worship Faux Nooz and Glen Beck are attending today, so I thought I'd at least mention it.

I think the best post I've read on the subject was the Rude Pundit's take. DEFINITELY worth a click, though you might be careful if you're at work.

Even the "gomers" at my work (that's what a friend of mine calls the people who sit closest to the TV in the Faux Nooz cafeteria, soaking up the idiocy) are rolling their eyes about this little project. When that happens--when you've lost conservative rural Pennsyltucky--you should really consider just closing up shop and going home. But Faux has been airing their ridiculous commercials for this crap all damned day/week/month since it first came up, so they're gonna ride it hard until they tire of it. Like all their non-stories they try to pass off as news, they'll splash it up there wall to wall, then when they're sick of looking at it, they'll move on to the next random car chase in Atlanta or whatever other bullshit thing catches their eye.

If I were to somehow negotiate my way to the bullhorn at one of these "rallies," (are there even rallies? I don't even know wtf they're doing) I would tell them this:
"You know, this year I got my biggest refund ever on my federal taxes, a small refund on my state taxes, and my biggest refund ever on my local taxes. I'd like to thank President Obama.

Second, I'd like to inform you morons that you're about eight years too late; why didn't you protest when Chimpy started writing the blank checks to Halliburton and Blackwater for their war? We wouldn't even be in this shithole if it weren't for him. What -- no answers to that one? I thought not.

Finally, I'd like to say, on behalf of Lipton, Tetley, and whatever other generic brands of tea you people bought off the shelves at Walmart--thanks for the profits, you ignorant suckers. Please keep blindly worshipping our corporatocracy!"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Trying to start a war?

Opinion is mixed on whether Iran actually has nuclear weapons in its possession; you'll hear "evidence" that supposedly proves they already have nukes, and at the same time you can read that they don't have any nukes, and you can also find people who'll say they're secretly working on building them as fast as they can. The truth is probably somewhere in there, but I doubt we'll ever know it until the Iranians announce it themselves -- which, given the notoriously big mouth of Ahmadinejad, would definitely happen if the guy even THOUGHT they might have a nuke somewhere in some little weapons factory. The guy's a loudmouth; there's no way he'd be able to contain his "I'm a big boy now!" glee.

One thing is for certain: Israel probably has no clue whether Iran has nukes or not. And yet, they posture, with Benny Netanyahu constantly flapping his gums about Iran:
Israel's new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Tehran's nuclear programme constituted the biggest concern to Israel, saying it was the biggest threat the Jewish state faced since its creation in 1948.
One would think they'd have learned a valuable lesson from watching the Chimpy administration's debacles in the Middle East. One would think that, without clear evidence of an actual threat, Israel wouldn't even throw out bullshit like this for fear of getting people lathered up for what would probably prove to be a total disaster.

But no. They've been doing this crap for years, and Benny's certainly not going to change his tune anytime soon.

Can you imagine the unholy hell that would ensue if Israel starting bombing Iran? The mind reels.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Overheard at lunch

I didn't get in on this year's Blog Against Theocracy, but I do have a few things to say about religion.

Today at lunch, I overheard a woman at a nearby table telling the Asian waitress, "Yes, today is Good Friday. It's the day Jesus was crucified!" Now, mind you, the waitstaff at this restaurant--all Asian--barely speak any English. About all they know is "buffet" and "water with lemon" or "iced tea" or "diet/regular soda." WHY this woman chose to tell the very confused-looking waitress about this "holiday" was a mystery to me. The waitress just nodded and smiled, and walked away.

If the waitress had understood English, I might have told her, "You know, I bet Jesus would pretty much feel that the less said about the whole crucifixion thing, the better. I mean, it wasn't exactly his best day, you know? Probably doesn't like to be reminded about it."

The fervor with which this woman talked of the crucifixion was confusing to me. I always wondered why this day was called "good." I felt like it was a pretty sad day, really; the guy died, and in a really gruesome way. And at the time, it's not like they knew he was coming back on the weekend, you know?

- - - - - -

h/t to Tengrain's greatness for this quote:

"The most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe."
– Don McLeroy, Texas school board chairman

I'm so glad I don't live in Texas anymore. I thought I had a pretty good education in that state, from the late 60s to the early 80s. Apparently, things are going down hill fast.

- - - - - -

As much as Obama's done already since taking office, I will say that my biggest disappointment (in addition to not yet ending the wars) is that he still has the whole "faith-based initiative" bullshit in place. Until that shit is out of our government, we're facing a battle to win back our democracy from the Bush Theocracy.

Nora's in the lead!

After trying several times to vote for Bubs' daughter Nora O'Sullivan in the Fangoria Spooksmodel contest, I finally got the elusive Confirmation Email that means my vote counted! And look what I also got:

She's in the lead! It looks like our efforts are being rewarded!
Now can I get into the Proud Soldiers sidebar, Bubs? I've been soldierin'--honest!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Cinema Gold week 2

This week's contestant is actually an actor, someone who understands the craft and knows it's more than reading some lines, looking good, and hitting one's mark.
Even though he always looks pretty damned good.

What is Robert Redford's best movie performance to date?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Cinema Gold -- a spin-off

Appolonia: "And you? What do you dream about?"

Bloggy hero Distributorcap in NY has been writing a lot lately about movies, and one of his latest posts lists great actors in what he feels were their best performances. So many great ones on his list: Jessica Lange in Frances, Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, and my top pick Lee Remick in Anatomy of a Murder.

What I'd like to do is open it up a little: I'll give you an actor's name and let YOU pick what you think was that actor's best performance. Some of them will be tough: what WAS Henry Fonda's best performance? Was it in The Grapes of Wrath as DCap said, or was it my pick for Fonda, On Golden Pond? Or perhaps in some other film?

Some of these actors will be tough for different reasons, like if I were to pick an actor who is (in my opinion) not very good, like Keanu Reeves. . . or Prince.

So let's start off with a slow pitch right down the center of the plate:

What is Kevin Costner's best movie performance to date?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Cool pics from around the horn

My bff Gretchen is always texting me the funniest pictures, so I thought I'd share some with you:
This is her dog Domino, being a sleepy head:
Isn't that the cutest dog ever?

This is her Driving Miss Nommy portrait, wearing my friend Laurie's hat: To recycle a line from my birdy blog, "That's not the way to the Piggly Wiggly, Hoke!"

Here's a pic from our local high-toned grocery story Wegman's:Tee hee!

I also took a funny pic of my own the other day while walking to the library in my little town:

Okay--my town prides itself on its Victorian architecture. But really--a "Victorian Crematory?" And not even "a" but THE Victorian Crematory!? Eww. And if the patrons park there and go inside, will they ever come out to move their cars? "This Ford belongs to that big pile of dust we made yesterday."

My sister, who got hooked on birdwatching when I took her out with me back in February when I went to Texas, has been trying to photograph birds. She's new to birds and their behavior, so some of her photos look like this:
She calls that one "HUH?" And then there's this one, titled "IDUNNO:" I dunno either. None of my birder friends can figure out what the hell it is either!
But some of her photos are pretty spectacular, and I'm very proud to have gotten her so interested in birds. Look at all these male Northern Shovelers:Beautiful! And check out this Turkey Vultures having a meal down the road: