Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sights Along the Sound

Sunday morning, 8:30. From my rented porch, I can see the waters of Puget Sound drift quietly by, past cedars and pine and a hundred yards of low scrub. From here, it looks as though the beach is a straight walk from the porch, but actually, you have to walk down quite a long and steep flight of stairs. Across the Sound, the land rises and falls in its own gentle, green waves. Further off, to the right, I can see inlets and channels and more distant land.

A variety of birds are squawking and chittering. I can identify crows, but not much else. The air is cool and crisp and wonderful.

There are deer here who must never have known a predator. They are bold and calm and fearless—they do not flinch or run when you pass by or approach them. Two nights ago, at dinner, a doe and three fawns walked right up to the window where we were eating. Taking a cue from us, perhaps, the three fawns jockeyed for position under their mother and began to nurse.

If it weren’t for the constant and harassing phone calls and emails from work, this would be very peaceful indeed. Just days before we came up here, The Bosses let me know that, back at the Home Office, they had declared a moratorium on vacations and personal time until after Labor Day, after all of our new schools had opened. All well and good, said I, but this vacation was planned and paid for months ago by my mother-in-law, to pull all of her extended family together for her birthday. Well, all right, said they—you can go, but don’t call it a vacation and make sure you maintain phone and email contact.

The problem with a start-up company is that every new thing that has to be done is Completely New, and has no clear structure or process behind it. Deadlines are aggressive, goals are set high, the stakes are even higher—but there’s no clear agreement on how things should be done and who should do them. And even where there is agreement, it’s not clear that the process agreed upon is correct or efficient—because it’s all too new.

In the position into which I’ve been thrust, as the Point Man for these new schools—the person situated between the Home Office and the partner districts—everything is supposed to funnel through me and be managed by me. In practice, what this tends to mean is that people simply dump tasks on me—tasks that could easily be done by other people, and sometimes tasks that really must be done by other people, because I don’t understand them.

So it’s not just calls and emails I have to manage up here—it’s also confusion and repetition, redundancy of effort in one place and lack of effort somewhere else. I’m not as patient with all of it as I should be.

And I should be. Because when I can shake all of that garbage out of my head, there are barbeques and saunas to be had, bonfires and boat parades to watch, and two happy children to play with—marching through the woods with walking sticks, digging for clams on the beach, or learning how to kayak.

And the Sound rolls by whether I’m wise enough to watch it or not. And the crows caw, and the wind blows, and the giant trees are unconcerned.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ten Years After

"What do you see yourself doing in ten years?" Ed asked me. We were sitting at a restaurant table overlooking the Columbia River at sunset, watching sailboats tack back and forth. Ed is a jovial and gregarious man--a former high school principal working as a consultant for us as we put our virtual schools together in the Pacific Northwest. He is a Friend To All in southern Washington, and he knows to start a converstaion when a deathly pause has settled in.

"Ten years?" I said. "I have no idea." And it was true. I can imagine five years out, maybe. But ten?

Ten years ago, could I have imagined where I am now? Not even close. Ten years ago, I was living in Brooklyn, married but childless, with a withering theatre company and a brainless but pleasant-enough secretarial job. I had left teaching behind three years earlier to focus on theatre, and now that theatre was drying up--or our little company, at any rate, I had no idea what the next step should be. Could I ever have imagined myself with living in Arizona, raising two boys, working in the for-profit education sphere--hanging out with superintendents, writing curriculum, building new schools? No frigging way.

Ten years from now? When I am fifty-five years old? Good God--I can barely imagine next week.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More Funny

Okay, so apparently I'm wrong. The entire universe has lined up against that New Yorker cover, proclaiming it Very Not Funny.


Well, this is funny, without qualification:

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Monday, July 14, 2008

The Death of Satire

Everyone else is yammering about this, so I've resisted all day. But I can't stand it anymore.

Here is the piece of magazine cover art that's driving everyone insane:

Well, there it is. Awful, ain't it?

Apparently, some people have trouble understanding that it is meant as a JOKE--as a piece of satire poking fun at the idiots who think that Barack Obama is a Muslim, or a terrorist, or unpatriotic, or that Michelle is an unreconstructed member of the Weather Underground or the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Trey Ellis, at Huffington Post, thinks that the cover would have been okay if the artist had just put the image inside a thought bubble and put a picture of Bill O'Reilly at the bottom of the page. This is a strategy generally known as "killing the joke by explaining it." This can also be accomplished by placing a banner across the picture that says, "Satire--Do Not Take Seriously."

And this is why we cannot have satire anymore, apparently. Jon Stewart is okay, because he smirks and grimaces enough to let you know when a joke is a joke. Stephen Colbert is a little more dangerous, because on his show, he lives entirely inside his persona and rarely ever winks at you. But he's still okay, because ten thousand writers and commentators have explained his satirical stance, so we all know what he's about, even if we couldn't figure it out for ourselves.

But this? A piece of visual art, slapped down in front of you with no mediating presence to guide you through it? No Finnegan's Wake-style skeleton key to unlock the Deeper Meanings? No voice-over telling you what to think? What were those idiots at the New Yorker thinking?

This is why Huckleberry Finn is pulled off school library bookshelves all over the country. No one seems able to read it anymore. I mean, they can decode the words perfectly well; they just can't read it. Too many layers. Too many levels. Too many narrative masks. Hell, we can't even read Dickens anymore--and that's not even about the satire; it's just too much descriptive text to wade through. It's boring, yo. Like...what? I'm supposed to read 500 pages of history and character description and shit, when Saw IV is on cable? You want to know when the "best of times" is? It's when that guy's head fucking explodes.

(And somewhere out there, someone is reading this and saying, "Nobody's head explodes in Saw IV.")

I'm sorry Obama's camp is putting out Statements of Displeasure about the cover. He's been so good at letting crap roll off him; I wish he would let this go, as well.

Or joke about it. Please! What I wouldn't give for a politician who could get the joke and not be afraid of being seen to get the joke--and maybe even do it one better--like commenting that the artist left out Michelle's "Death to Whitey" armband.


Monday Morning Beauty

Can't embed the video, so go here.

The frogs are cute. But keep watching.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bash-Your-Head-Against-the-Wall Time

You know, the American People are, on the whole, reasonably intelligent, with a reasonably intelligent sense of what is urgent and important in their private and civic lives. We may not always be wise about finding solutions, or even properly analyzing those problems, but we more or less know what they are.

It seems clear to me, therefore, that the members of our glorious National Press Corps must be aliens:

In poll of pet owners, McCain tops Obama
Pet owners find McCain with his house full of animals more appealing than the petless Obama

Really? Seriously? This is what our noble journalists--heirs to Zenger, Mencken, Murrow, and Woodward--think we need to talk about in our current election?

Are they complete morons, incapable of following an actual story? Or is it just that they're so deeply filled with contempt for the rest of us that this is all they think we can handle?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Just For Fun

Too much serious junk on this blog of late. Here's something amusing to look at--the product, I'm assuming, of a very bored programmer, somwhere.


July Fifth

A lot of people these days talk about "September 10th thinking" as opposed to "September 12th thinking," the idea being that 9/11 changed everything.

So here's some July 5th thinking: not just the glory and pride of the 4th, but also, along with it, a slightly more somber reflection on what it all means to us now, and what our obligations are to our heritage.

Of course, no one writing now seems able to be somber and reflective (we do hysterical and knee-jerk much better), so let's dial the wayback machine to when Abe Lincoln was 28 years old. Because Lincoln at 28, sadly, trumps pretty much everyone who has come after him, at any age. Money quotes in bold, for those who need to skim...

We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them--they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their's was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; 'tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it?--At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?-- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!--All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide. (...)

At the close of that struggle [the Revolution], nearly every adult male had been a participator in some of its scenes. The consequence was, that of those scenes, in the form of a husband, a father, a son or brother, a living history was to be found in every family-- a history bearing the indubitable testimonies of its own authenticity, in the limbs mangled, in the scars of wounds received, in the midst of the very scenes related--a history, too, that could be read and understood alike by all, the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned.--But those histories are gone. They can be read no more forever. They were a fortress of strength; but, what invading foeman could never do, the silent artillery of time has done; the leveling of its walls. They are gone.--They were a forest of giant oaks; but the all-resistless hurricane has swept over them, and left only, here and there, a lonely trunk, despoiled of its verdure, shorn of its foliage; unshading and unshaded, to murmur in a few gentle breezes, and to combat with its mutilated limbs, a few more ruder storms, then to sink, and be no more.

They were the pillars of the temple of liberty; and now, that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.--Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON.

Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.""

Freedom's Just Another Word For Being Armed to the Teeth

I've heard many arguments for school dress codes before, but this was a new one for me:

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth

There's nothing easier than confusing the symbol with the thing itself--with thinking that the paper money in your pocket is somehow more important and valuable than, say, the food in your shopping cart; or believing that you are fighting for a flag, and not for the people and the ideals behind it.

It's July 4. Here is the thing itself:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them
shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
It's easy to miss the fact that "all men are created equal" and "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" contain terrible contradictions when put together--and that our entire American life is built on the tensions between these contradictions. How do we keep the dynamic tension between equality and pursuit of happiness, when that pursuit will often put us at odds with each other, competing for the same things? We may be equal in rights, but we are not the same in talents or drive. No matter how much equality of opportunity we legislate, there will never be equality of outcomes. Nor should there be. And yet, how do you keep that inequality of results from becoming so permanent that the next generation has no equality of opportunity?

It's also easy to forget how confrontational this document was--not only with King George, but also with any government that was going to follow it. It plainly and clearly states that government has no power or authority other than that which we give it--and that we can remove it any time we like.

What I find so fascinating is that this government has not fallen--has not been attacked and replaced--while so many others, in so many other countries, have. Perhaps there is nothing healthier for a government than to be constantly reminded how vulnerable and conditional it is.

It's something we've seemed to forget during the reign of King George IV, these past eight years.

And will we remember it again? Will our children understand it? Well...let me ask you this: how many teenagers can actually read the damned thing? If we had scrapped every high school graduation reading test in the country and replaced it with the Declration of Independence and few questions asking students to analyze it and demonstrate comprehension (and I have no problem stating that no one should be able to graduate from American high school without demonstrating comprehension of this document) how many students would have passed, this year?

We the people have some serious work to do.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Go Solar

There's a new bill in the senate, sponsored by Bernie Sanders, pushing for rebates of up to 50% for homeowners who install solar power in their homes. You can read it here.

I live in southern Arizona, where we get intense sunshine something like 420 days out of the year. Why I'm not already being encouraged--strongly--to install solar panels is beyond me. If it was affordable, I'd do it tomorrow.

History Will Teach Us Nothing

Especially if we're stoned in class...

Probably a fake, but who cares? I especially love the "700 years ago" part.

From Frostfirezoo, if you're having trouble reading it here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Barbarians Inside the Gate

Sometimes it helps to have a real writer explain to you what should be patently obvious--in this case, that waterboarding is, was, and always will be torture.

You can hear it a dozen times and say Yea or Nay, depending, I guess, on your level of paranoia or xenophobia. But when someone who knows how to wield a detail explains it all for you--in this case, Christopher Hitchens--you kind of have to stop mewling and simply accept the fact that it is appalling, barbarous, and Should Stop.

Here is the ghoulish video accompaniment, for those of you left cold by mere words.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Watch-Melting Time

There is a video I can't seem to embed, but which you should go watch, called Chronotopic Anamorphosis, by Marginalia Project. I don't understand anything about it, other than that it's some kind of new video software. But it's very odd. And it gets odder, the longer you watch it.