California and Minnesota don’t know how good they have it!

November 26, 2010

A left over from Halloween that I forgot … I guess considering that most of you still have bowls that have the last few candies from Octobrer 31 left in the house, this is just in time.

One of my colleagues lives one block over from Illinois’ most famous indicted former governor (no, they don’t live around the corner from the prison where George Ryan is incarcerated).  As they took their sweet little daughter trick-or-treating, they turned the corner to see a crowd outside the governor’s house.

In lieu of treats or candy, the former governor was posing for pictures with kids.

Kids, let this be a lesson.  Should you find yourself an elected official, indicted , thrown out of office, and unemployed … don’t do this.


Iceland: Chucking it and starting over

November 26, 2010


Sometimes, a restaurant realizes that it is not making it, and closes the doors, totally reinvents itself, and opens up as a new concept.  Perhaps it was a seafood restaurant, closes for a few months, then reopens as an Italian restaurant.  Gone are the nets and mounted fish;  in are the red and white checkerboard tablecloths and The Godfather soundtrack.  Gone is the fried shrimp, and in is the pasta.  Hopefully, along the way, the owners learned from their mistakes, and the new place makes it.

This seems to be something along the lines of what Iceland is doing;  a fairly unique experiment in democracy that mixes some of the oldest ideas in democracy with the screwballishness we are only used to seeing in California.

Iceland’s economy went belly up about 2 years ago … what had been something of a juggernaut akin to the Celtic Tiger of Ireland (also seeing its own woes now) is now a volcanic hunk of rock in the middle of the Atlantic no one cares about anymore.  Investigations revealed that there was corruption and mismanagement that went on because the law had no way of stopping it.  The problems were ingrained into the Icelandic government itself.

So, perhaps in the best Scandinavian tradition, the Icelanders are going to reinvent themselves from the base up, starting with the complete rewriting of their Constitution.

It is hard to believe that a European nation is so recently independent, but Iceland is relatively young:  it only gained independence from Denmark only in 1944.  They also never really wrote their own constitution, taking Denmark’s and making a few stylistic changes, and signing it as their own.

But the Icelanders have apparently decided it is time to close “Old Iceland” down and reinvent themselves … call it New Iceland!

Here’s the quirky (and kind of interesting) part!  In the United States, if we needed to rewrite the Constitution, we would likely appoint/elect lawmakers and lawyers … basically the same people benefiting from things being “as is” … and they would likely say “things are fine as is, you did a great job electing us, but all is well”.  The Icelanders are electing a small group (25-31, final size TBD based on equity issues) to review and draft a new Constitution,  however, the current president and current lawmakers are actually barred from running.  This group will be made up of ordinary people.  Of the over 500 running are truckers and teachers and computer programmers.

It is kind of ironic:  when it comes to passing laws and running a government, especially a big one, it helps to have experts in the law.  However, when you are actually constructing a government system, this is the part where some non-legal input may be the most valuable (I do hope they have at least a few legal scholars on hand to point out potential loopholes and mistakes).

In the end, is what Iceland is doing any worse from a few plantation owners, brewers, publishers, and manufacturers getting together in Philadelphia?  In some ways, the Icelanders will have a much easier time (I don’t think the South Icelanders will be banging the drum to keep slavery in their new constitution, under threat of civil war).  On the other hand, the U.S. back in that time was a true land of endless opportunity with more land and resources than you can shake a stick at … Iceland is more isolated, with even he cod down to historically low levels.

One of the smart ideas that our founding fathers had was to put into the Constitution a mechanism for amending it.  On the one hand, amending the constitution is a long laborious process … an amendment takes months or years to get put into place.  The good part about that is that really dumb ideas rarely get into the Constitution because of knee jerk reactions or heat of the moment feelings … or the whims of a whackjob popular president with delusions of megalomania (see:  Chavez, Hugo or Hitler, Adolph).  On the downside, the darn process takes to long that even good ideas rarely start down the path to get into the Constitution.

Perhaps their isolation and small population is allowing them what seems to be a golden opportunity:  an entire nation redefining itself in what could be considered a bloodless civil revolution.  Really not bad for the descendants of Vikings to go from raping and pillaging to this in 1500 years.  I wish them the best … perhaps this will give other nations some good ideas.

Attempting to inject humor in the holidays …

November 26, 2010

As you all know, cats make wonderful holiday gifts, especially if you are sending one to someone with cooking skills and knows how to properly prepare one in a meal 😉

The problem:  how do you wrap it?  Solution:

I engage in my hobby

November 19, 2010

I am a big baseball fan, and over my lifetime, I have acquired  number of pieces of memorabilia, mostly baseball cards from when I was younger.  However, one or two pieces have some worth.  About two months ago, I started to expand my collection a bit here and a bit there.  I also took some of my items to get authenticated through a company that does such things.  At some point, I likely need to get this listed on my homeowners insurance, as some research leads me to believe that, collectively, my collection might have a small but non-zero value.

As a part of my interaction with the authentication company, I got an invitation to a memorabilia and autograph show at the Donald E Stevens and Organized Crime Convention Center in Rosemont.  I had never been to one, so I decided I would go.

Door fee and parking: $23 (mostly parking)

The Donald E Stevens center is a huge convention center hooked by a long walkway to the parking garage which is across the street and behind a row of hotels.  After I paid my entrance fee, I was greeted with row after row of dealers hawking their wares … pictures, helmets, cards, jerseys, hats, programs, baseballs, footballs, hockey pucks … you name it.  I was very, VERY glad I left my money at home.  Some things would have been nice on the wall at home.

I had decided to be judicious and only sign up for three autographs.  Bob Turley won the 1958 Cy Young Award (the third one ever given out), and was a member of two Yankees World Series champions with Berra, Mantle, and Whitey Ford).  His autograph was a mere $20.  I also signed up to get autographs from Don Sutton and Steve Calrton.  Both of these pitchers are in the Hall of Fame, with Carlton being particularly notable.

After buying your ticket, you waited in line to get your autograph, but before that, you actually have to have something to autograph, so I wandered around the dealer stands to find something.  I was able to find some relatively inexpensive pictures of three pitchers for $4 each.  After that, I was off to stand in line.  Bob Turley is an older man now … far from the days of his prime when he pitched with the Yankees at the end of their golden era.  Nonetheless, when I stood before him, he noted my White Sox jacket and said to me that he had met with the White Sox owners two weeks ago, and that he had fond memories of playing the great White Sox teams of that time period (the White Sox were great then, but only in 1959 did they ever best the Yankees to go to the World Series).  It was a nice moment, and I thanked him for signing my picture.

I then stood in a long line to meet Steve Carlton.  As a boy growing up, Carlton was revered as one of the greatest pitchers of his or any era … won the Cy Young Award four times, and is still the last NL pitcher to win 25 or more games in a season.  While I was waiting , I struck up a conversation with another guy, and we exchanged baseball stories.  When I finally got up to meet him, he was friendly, if not a little curt (I would never blame him), I kindly asked him to add “4 times Cy Young” to his signature.  He asked if I would prefer the years, and I replied that I would be grateful, and he did.  I thanked him, and went on my way.

While I was waiting in line, an announcement came over that Don Sutton was going to cancel for the evening … so I had to go back to the window and get a refund (it was a lot like cashing in a ticket at the horse track).

I went looking for a baseball holder for one of my new acquisitions at home, and found, in the corner, a booth for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, which featured Bill Buckner signing autographs for a $20 donation.

Not being a Cubs fan, I shouldn’t be a Bill Buckner fan, but I am.  He was a great player who sadly will be remembered by most people for a rare moment of disaster that occurred in the 1986 World Series.  However, I also remember a day back in about 1981 or so … my elementary school was hosting a father-son banquet, and Bill Buckner was scheduled to appear and speak.  Except from far away, I had never met a Major League player before, so it was a big deal.  It turns out the day of the banquet, something unexpected happens:

The Cubs get into an epic slugfest with the visiting Phillies … after nine innings, the score was 22-22, with the Phillies winning it in the tenth inning, 23-22 … Buckner was not at fault: 4–for-7, 2 runs, and 7 RBI was great even for him.  Despite the game ending after 5 pm, and having to answer to the press, he got in his car and drove all the way down to the southwest suburbs.  He got there late, wolfed down some cold chicken, and then had some great stories for the fans.

While I was there, a woman and her little son came up and purchased a picture for him to autograph.  I told him that story, and she and her son sat there enraptured as I told it.  When I was through, he was done signing, shook my hand, and thanked me for making his day.  I was glad I finally got to thank him for a nice moment way back when.

Needless to say, I came away with some interesting impressions.

1.  I couldn’t help but feel bad in some regards for these guys … they sit at a table for a few hours as people come by and shove a picture, a ball, a bat in front of them, and they sign it.  Writer’s cramp must be a problem with these guys.  While they are doing it, people are snapping pictures, and striking up conversations about “Remember the time you faced George Brett in the 1980 Series …”, and from what I could tell, they genuinely tried to respond without being a jerk.  Yet, I could not help that except for the fact that they were being paid, they were in so many ways like circus animals.  I kind of felt bad.

2.  I was shocked at how many people >>never<< said “thank you”.  Yes, it is a business transaction at its core, but at the same time, when you buy something at the store and complete a deal, you still thank the gal/guy who helped you.  Even though I paid for the privilege of briefly meeting these guys, and getting their signature, I still felt a sense of gratitude.

3.  Some of the people waiting in line for autographs bought a lot of tickets, and had a lot f things to be signed … these people are dealers, and are going to have these things on the internet by tomorrow … but most of the people were genuine fans who were getting to meet a part of their childhood.  One of the guys had a large poster with the actual Cy Young award on it.   While waiting in line, I noted that he had 34 signatures of prior winners, and that night had added Bob Turley, and was about to add Steve Calrton (the theme for the night was “Cy Young winners … Dennis McLain had cancelled along with Don Sutton, but Gaylord Perry, Mike Scott, and LaMarr Hoyt were there.  One vendor approached him for a price quote, but the guy said it was not for sale;  “this is for me”.

3.  Though autograph collecting has gotten to be a bigger business than it was years and years ago, I was glad to see quite a few kids there with mom and dad.  I’m not sure how many kids would know these guys, but maybe that was the point.

4.  After signing a couple of hundred autographs, you would figure that your and gets tired, and maybe after a while, you just don’t care … I have seen this.   I was impressed that all three of the guys who signed for me did nothing of the sort …  their signatures were made slowly, neatly … Carlton even took an extra moment to examine the picture to place the autograph against part of a light colored backdrop so the signature would stand out.

So, in conclusion, I added three new autographed photos to my collection, got to meet three great ball players, one of whom is a legend … not bad for a Friday night!

The sure way to reduce failure … eliminate it!

November 17, 2010


West Potomac High School has found a way to completely make sure no chid gets left behind.  They have eliminated failing grades for students.

From now on, students who do not pass a class will receive a grade of “incomplete”.  Students who earn this incomplete grade will have a year to go back and learn the material again.

I am sure this article does not completely explain what is happening in this school.  I have to assume that in fact it is still possible for a student to fail after some point in time.  As with many news article, I am sure it omits certain truths to inflame readers.  However, for now, let me look at such a policy as it is presented.

Policies like this are gaining a great deal of support in the educational community.  My school is even showing signs of moving toward the elimination of “zero” as an option.  Students receiving grades under 50% would receive a 50%, and students failing to turn in work could not earn a grade less than 50%.  For now, our school is very kindly bringing things like this up at occasional meetings.  I know other schools are already doing this.

On the one hand, I see a point:  perhaps we need to give more time to kids to learn things … perhaps slower students need more time, and thus should not be automatically given a low grade because their work is sub par or not completed.  As a teacher, I can fully accept that students learn at different rates.

On the other hand, procedures like this proceed on two great assumptions, both of which I have a hard time accepting.

1.  Students fail primarily because of reasons beyond their control.

2. Teachers hold grading scales and deadlines as absolute, and would never budge one iota on a student’s grade, no matter the situation.

Let me address #2 first.

I know of virtually no teacher who would not make individual accommodations for students in a variety of situations.  These situations might be obvious (prolonged medical condition, recent loss of a family member/friend, extreme change in family situation, etc).  Some are not so obvious (extreme sudden breakup with boyfriend/girlfriend, got called in to work late at the last minute at the family restaurant).  Teachers generally get a feel for the students who really try, and occasionally need a break cut for them.  They also know about the kids who really don’t put in the effort, and who might get desperate at the end of the quarter/semester and beg for leniency (and just about never get it).

As a teacher, I will also tell you that the content of what I teach (that is physics) is of secondary importance to other more important lessons that they learn.  Responsibility is one of the primary lessons that we teach.  Some of my students may later take a physics course at the university, and their professors may be horrified to learn that their high school physics teacher never taught them significant digits (I don’t), but they can never hold over my head that I didn’t demand high quality work that was turned in on time.  I would think that they can live with the former and accept the latter.

That first point is thus also addressed.  In my 17 years of teaching, no student has ever failed my class because they simply “weren’t smart enough”.  Invariably, the only students who failed my class were students who failed to consistently do work.  I have had students who may have been lacking academic skills, but if they wanted to, I was always there for them to get good enough to pass (or better).

This article also brings up the fact that our educational system seems to be doing everything possible to make sure that students have as little adversity and challenge in their paths.  I know that if I ask my more successful friends, they will tell you that the path to success is paved with adversity … that it is the greatest teacher.  If our society make everything too easy for students, then what have we taught them?  What have we prepared them for?

I can tell you that as a high school student, I had my own adversity, and I hated it!  There were days I did want to give up … but the system sure as hell never allowed me to do that without a consequence.  My friends and family stood by me, and I made it through.

Until society in general and the upper echelons of the educational research-political complex get it into their heads that they need to allow people to fail as a means of teaching them how to deal with adversity, we are going to be creating a society that will continually be expecting bailouts, handouts, extra credit, and extensions.

Please note, they didn’t attack Chicago!

November 11, 2010,bush-sears-tower-was-genuine-target-111110.article

[suggested by a loyal reader and great friend!]

I don’t know what would be more difficult to believe … terrorists attacking Chicago (because the U.S. Army would be the least of their concerns) or Mayor Richard M. Daley sitting down with former President George W. Bush.

Will the latter actually happened as the former pres stopped in Chicago to sell his feel good book with celerity gossip like how bad he felt after Half Buck or one of those other worldly rap artists insulted him.

The president was speaking at the Union League of Chicago (kind of a country club for people interested in citizenship).  After three minutes of talking, the press was asked to leave, but at least one was able to stay in with a tape recorder, and recorded the former president noting that intelligence showed that the Sears  Tower (that’s the Willis Tower for the 2-3 of you who actually call it that name)was a “genuine target” on 9-11.

First off, the local Chicago press has on numerous occasions asked U.S. intelligence officials if the Sears Tower was a target.  They have continually been told “no”.

Second, what does “genuine target” mean?  Does that mean that there was intelligence gathered that showed a list of the 500 tallest building in the U.S, which had the Sears Tower on the list?  Was intelligence gathered that showed the Sears Tower on the short list?  Or, did someone in the US Intelligence community once say the word “Sears Tower” across the room from someone who asked “Gee, I wonder what other buildings might have been attacked?”  I mean, the U.S. Intelligence community isn’t known for being upfront with secret information, but then again, President Bush is trying to hook people into buying a book, and he was certain that, despite what his generals and intel people said, that there were WMD in the desert of Iraq.

I can’t believe that the Sears Tower was a legit target.  An attack on the Sears Tower would have resulted on many local street gangs and mafia wiseguys going into Afghanistan and doing serious damage to Al-Queda and the Taliban.  I mean, you might mess with the New York mob, but the Chicago Outfit?  The El-Rukins?  The New Chicago Vice Lords?  You mess with those guys at risk to your own life.

Upcoming films of note …

November 7, 2010

2010, for the most part, has been a dog of a year for film.  I am thinking that the coming months will be better

Skyline (Nov. 12):  This appears to be a take off on War of the Worlds, set in modern Los Angeles.  I have heard virtually nothing, but at this point it may already rank among the better films of the year.


 Tron: Legacy (Dec. 17):  The son of legendary computer game programmer Kevin Flynn (played once again by Jeff Bridges) goes searching from him when one of his old associates (Bruce Boxleitner, reprising his role) informs him that he recently got a strange communication from his father’s office.  Junior gets zapped into the virtual computer world and must survive as his father once did while searching for him.  WILL DECEMBER 17 PLEASE GET HERE FAST!!!


The Green Hornet (Jan. 14):  I have a feeling a lot of high school trumpet players will be playing Rimsky-Korsakof’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” next school year.  It is kind of like Batman without the cool rogues gallery … and if Robin were cooler than Batman … and if Batman had much cooler theme music.  Christoph Waltz from Inglorious Basterds is involved, so it could be pretty good.

Battle: Los Angeles (March 11):  It looks very much like the plot of Skyline, except instead of average people, the film centers on some U.S. Marines led by Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight), and Michelle Rodriguez (Trudy Chacon in Avatar).

Thor (May 6):  Kenneth Branagh hangs up directing Shakespeare and picks up directing Stan Lee.  Anthony Hopkins plays (who else) Odin who sends his arrogant son to Earth to live a partially mortal life to learn from the humans (Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster) he must protect.  Chris Hemsworth takes up the hammer.

X-Men: First Class (Jun 3):  The history of Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr are explored as they initially come together to help fellow mutants, and then split apart to become adversaries.

Super 8 (June 10):  It is 1979, and a train carrying “something” to Area 51 derails, setting lose an unknown lifeform on the heartland.  It is produced by Steven Spielberg and is directed by J.J. Abrams.  I predict it wins 16 Oscars and grosses Bill Gate’s personal net worth.

Green Lantern (June 17):  A test pilot is granted membership in an intergalactic police force, and a special ring as his weapon to enforce justice.

Rise of the Apes (June 24):  Remember the awful Tim Burton version of Planet of the Apes?  I barely do, but I thought, this film did so poorly, at least they will never try a sequel like the earlier Ape films.  I guess I was wrong.  James Franco plays a scientist researching Alzheimer’s who accidentally gives an ape named Caesar (motion capture expert Andy Serkis) intelligence, giving birth to an Ape apocalypse.  It is a rip off of Escape from the Planet of the Apes … or is it Return to the Planet of the Apes … its the Ricardo Mantalban one, whichever one that was.  On the other hand, it can’t really be worse that he last one, could it?

Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22): An 4-F who wants to do his all for Uncle Sam (Chris Evans as Steve Rogers) takes an experimental drug that turns him into a soldier of great skill.  Trapped in ice, Rogers reawakens in the modern era to find that he once again must battle his old nemesis, The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).  I was a big Captain America fan as a kid, and this is definitely on the to do list!

Cowboys & Aliens (July 29): Based on the comic series, a desolate town in the Arizona Territory, circa 1873 sees the townsfolk join forces with the local Apache to battle an invasion force that is not being led by Pancho Villa!  You would think a film involving a battle between cowboys, Apache warriors, and aliens would be kick ass all on its own … but given that the current James Bond (Roger Craig) and the old Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) are headlining this can’t miss film, it will be a real genre twisting experience.  I am betting that the closing credits will be set to Willie Nelson’s Planet Texas, being that I think it might be the only country-western song with a science fiction theme that has ever been produced.