we win! / trip down memory lane

November 30, 2008

Just got back from my alma mater where my high school’s football team won the state championship in the largest school division.  A lot of fun to be sure.  I have some genuinely nice kids who play on the team, and was glad to see two of them make key plays.  Twice, the defense had to make goal line stands when the opponents had first-and-goal, and denied them twice!  This was the school’s third title since 1995, and their fifth appearance in the championship game since 2000.  This is the best showing of any upper division football team in the state over that run.  I was glad for the head coach who has guided teams to three second place finishes in 8 years, and now has a championship to his credit.

One thing that seems to be true of colleges:  no matter how old they get, things change as much as they are different.  The student union (where I stayed in their cozy, reasonably priced hotel), has gotten rid of all the courtyards, and put in more internal spaces for students to eat, study, and get together.  There is a nice salt water aquarium inside the main entrance now (not sure how that goes with the whole “midwestern” theme of the school, put it was provided by the “Aquarium Club”, which I never knew existed.

Lots of new buildings, mostly science and sports related.  The “town” area has many new modern looking apartment buildings.  The more modest apartment I co-rented for my last two years is still there.  I can’t figure it out:  I could barely afford renting that run down place back then, and the newer buildings must rent for (grossly and proportionally) much more than that …. yet I can only guess that the units are being rented, because a new (estimating) 20-30 story one is being built on the main street on campus by a private company (complete with private parking garage).  I guess the number of rich people attending college is going up.

The engineering campus looks as grand as ever.  The quad is about the only unchanged piece of real estate.  My hotel room overlooked the quad, and could even see the top of the dome of the auditorium when I was sleeping in bed.


Happy Thanksgiving!

November 25, 2008

To friends near and far,

I will be out and about this week.  My sister will be hosting Thanksgiving for the first time.  Don’t worry, her fiancé will be cooking.

We welcomed three babies since last Thanksgiving (Baby Nugent, Baby Santos, and Baby Pilch!) ….. all doing well, if not a few extra grey hairs for their parents ……

Dad appears to be in recovery, mom is doing well.  Work is pretty darn good.  I will be returning to my alma mater for the State Football Championship this weekend as the team made it there.

Despite the economy being in the dumps, I have to say that the last 365 have given me a lot to be thankful for.


Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Canadian close encounter

November 22, 2008

Western Canada got a celestial light show this past week with an exceptionally bright meteor.



I couldn’t help but think of the opening scene of the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds, though apparently no tripods or other flying craft have taken to decimating the Canadian countryside yet.  Nonetheless, it is a wonderful and rare natural display of beauty, and a reminder (if I may get dark and sinister):


Things like this have wiped out entire phyla from Earth’s biological realm in the past, and will almost certainly do so again in the future.  Of all natural disasters, it is not only the only one that could wipe out our species in one foul swoop, but is also the only one that could be preventable, provided that governments realized that it isn’t based on bad science fiction, and that more money needs to be pumped into sky searches for potential killer objects.

An all gay school?

November 18, 2008



Over the last ten years, in addition to magnet schools that attract the top academic talent in the city, the Chicago Public School system has opened up many specialty high schools.  There’s a public military academy in Bronzeville, and the Agricultural Sciences school in Mount Greenwood (for example).  There are schools for the humanities and schools for science and technology.


The next school to open is what is now being called an anti-bullying school, though as this article notes, that was a change in title from its original intention:  an all gay/lesbian/transgender, etc. and their allies school.

I have heard that the rate of bullying students like this is unbelievably high …. and we have all certainly read some of the stories where the bullying reached an extreme, including murder (the Lawrence King murder inside of a middle school in California made the cover of Newsweek:  http://www.newsweek.com/id/147790).  While I agree that there is a certain level of media alarm, as there always is, and not every bullied student ends up murdered, I won’t deny that students in this variety of categories are being bullied in larger numbers than other students.

So …. in Chicago, the solution is:  give them their own school where the bullies will not be allowed.  In the absence of bullies, the students will feel better and learn better.  It sure sounds good.

But then you have to think about it:  A student gets bullied for being gay.  The principal and the dean sit them down, and suggest that, for your own good, you think about attending this alternative school.

I can’t help but think that more “enlightened” people were telling this same thing to African-Americans a decades ago when they wanted to enroll in predominantly white schools:  go where your own kind is:  it will be better.

Interestingly, being in Chicago, how long will it be before other persecuted minorities start asking for special schools ….. perhaps it would start with white kids wanting their own school (they are a minority in the CPS).

Further:  this smacks of punishing the victims by removing the responsibility for defending students from the school administration.  It seems to me that if a student is being victimized, the administration has a the obligation to protect that student, and not by shipping them away to another school to maintain the peace.  As one person who noted on the articles talk page said “Shouldn’t the bullies be shipped to another school?”

Further:  is this what young people are to learn about gays?  When they get intimidated, they run away.  If you don’t want gays in your school, bully them, until the school makes them go away to a special school.  Students will never learn to accept gays because there will be none around ….. they will be in their special school.

I understand that something needs to be done about the bullying, but I don’t see this as a productive solution.  Rather, it seems to be a slippery slope towards removing administrative responsibility while increasing segregation of a minority that is still looked down on from many groups in Chicago.

Film review: Quantum of Solace

November 16, 2008

Spoilers :  Really, all of the big Bond fans have seen the film already, but if you want to be surprised, don’t read this.


The original Ian Fleming short story, Quantum of Solace took place at the Governor of the Bahama’s home.  Bond was disgusted at having dinner with what he saw as uninteresting rich people who had no appreciation for what went on in the world.  After the guests leave, the governor tells Bond a story about a husband and wife: the wife has an affair, leading the husband to have a nervous breakdown.  The husband is reassigned to more government work over seas.  The wife ends the affair, and when her husband returns, he divorces her, abandoning her in the Bahamas without money or a means of support.  Bond then learns that the wife was one of the rich people he had dined with that evening, having gained wealth through a new marriage.  The term “quantum of solace”, meaning “smallest measure of comfort” was used by Fleming to refer to the smallest thread that holds some marriages together, after the love and passion has been depleted, and referred to the married couple in the governor’s story.

Like most Bond films borrowing titles from Fleming’s work, the plot has nothing to do with the written work.

Bond has captured Mr. White, and is preparing to interrogate him with M.  They learn to their horror that White works for an international organization (which we later learn is called “Quantum”), that no one seems to know nothing about.  As White puts it “we have people everywhere”;  and Bond soon learns this is absolutely the truth:  everywhere!

The rest of the film deals with Bond trying to learn the nature of this mysterious organization that is up to no good …. in addition to them being behind the death of his lovely Vespa in the previous film.  Thus, while he attempts to keep things above board, the appearance is that Bond is out for revenge.  The British government wants him reigned in, and so does the CIA ….. 

Bond learns that a Dominic Greene, who operates a company that buys up land for nature reserves, is deep into Quantum’s activities, and that he is getting ready to mastermind the overthrow of Bolivia’s government in return for a large swath of desert land in the nation from the military junta they are backing.  Why would Quantum want worthless desert land?  Yet another mystery.

As he investigates, he seemingly rescues the beautiful Camille Montes, an employee of Greene’s, only to learn that she has another agenda separate from that of Quantum.

In the end, Bond gets the answers he wants, Montes succeeds in her plans ….. but Quantum seems to still be in business.

I have withheld plot points because it is a dense plot ….. it would be too easy to write a lengthy 4 page plot summary, and I’m not even sure I would have all of the plot points correct.  There are no really “light” points in the film.  However, it should never be confused as a simple revenge film.  That aspect of the film which has been played in the media, in my opinion, has been overplayed.  Bond is more often than not doing his job, and put into tough situations where he needs to survive vs. let an potential suspect live.

As for what “quantum of solace” means in this film?  I would suspect that it refers to the measure of comfort one gets from accomplishing something, especially when that something can be painful or ethically murky.  It is what keeps you going in those situations;  such as the work of a government assassin, or someone who has been brutally wronged.

Suddenly, I feel so ….. Italian

November 8, 2008

I just got home from school (10:20 pm, Saturday) ….. very busy day.


First, announcing football ….. big game, the team beat the local Catholic uberpowerhouse with the #1 defense in the state ….. 26-7.  The “7” came late in the fourth quarter after most fans had left.  The team has a real shot at the state title …. would be nice after 8 years.


After that, the band had their annual fundraising concert:  first pasta dinner and a silent auction (I won the White Sox tickets, outbidding the school board president …… twice) …. then the concert featuring marching band music, the dance team and the color guard performing in the gym.

I have been announcing football games for 12 years.  Its a lot of fun.  In addition, I volunteer to announce the band at halftime to free up the director to do director things.  For those not in the loop, I was in the marching band in HS, and many of my friends are from the band.

Last year, the band director asked me to announce the concert.  In addition they have three auctions throughout the concert to conduct the band in one number.  This year, with the economy, the three conducting jobs went for $1,000, $800, and $700 each …. in addition to the couple of thousand they made in the silent auction …… all in all, they make out well, though need to stretch that money for all the things they do.  This was my second year volunteering to announce this, and its a lot of fun.

Near the end of the concert, the band director came out and made his usual spiel about how important the fund raiser is, and that on behalf of the band, they are all very grateful for the support.  He then asked me to come out, and said some really nice things about me, and presented me with a plaque on behalf of the band for my years of work (which really, honestly, wasn’t much at all), and naming me an honorary member of the band staff.

My high school friends will understand the meaning of the title now.

I was very touched, and tearing up a bit.  It was a very nice gesture, and I am deeply appreciative that they thought so very highly of me.  All in all, a really great day.

Teachers & elections

November 8, 2008

Despite wrapping up a unit on vector addition and gearing up to teach projectile motion, the #1 question I have been dodging in class this past week is “So, who are you/did you vote for?”

My stock answer is no comment.  I don’t say that because I am embarrassed about not voting, but more because I think it gets into dangerous territory when teachers (nominally a government employee) begins espousing political views.

My kids, being pretty smart didn’t let me off the hook that easy, and I responded by telling them that I do respect their intelligence, and that if I were to start raving about supporting any candidate, that virtually all of them would have the sense to ignore me and make up their own minds.  However, I also told them that in some countries, teachers are very intimately associated with the government, and that propaganda is a part of their job.  Being that this is distasteful, I find it uncomfortable to go down that route.  It took a moment to just mention that I thought both candidates were basically fine people, and that based strictly on that criteria, it might rank as one of the few “basically decent human being” elections we have ever had (though that is up for debate as well).

Not surprisingly, the students said “but so-and-so” teacher talks a lot about who they vote for and why we should too.  I just hope that these kids are as smart as I think they are.

And for the record, perhaps in a moment of great hypocrisy, I told all of the 18 year olds to get out and vote (after reminding them two months ago to get registered).  I suppose another duty of a teacher is not to let any potential cynicism of their age bleed off on the kids too soon.  They have every right to develop their cynicism, or not, through age as naturally as any of us.