Texas physics departments closing down?

September 28, 2011



More from the idiocy that is Texas.

The state is disappointed that physics is a difficult course, and that a lot of people in this country want to take the easy route of education by majoring in things like business, English, art, and history.  The reason so few people (relatively speaking) graduate in physics is that it is extremely tough.  This isn’t simply read this, write an analysis being careful to give it the proper slant your professor wants …

Texas has therefore decided to threaten physics departments at the public universities in Texas to close if the professor don’t make sure at least 25 undergraduates graduate every 5 years.

The good news:  at the university level, since professors can set their grading systems to be whatever they want, they will make sure that the system graduates plenty.  The quality of said graduates will now be highly suspect (even if they are good) … so the politicians have single handedly thrown the public perception of the departments into a high degree of doubt.

I would say I’m amazed, but this is the state that gave us NCLB … a state with a horrible public education system that feels it has the testicular fortitude to dictate things to the rest of the country.  Amazingly … shuttering a department is a great way to get around (wait for it), tenure … get rid of professors who can’t be touched by politicians by eliminating their jobs entirely … and if you have to start somewhere, definitely start in the sciences because they contribute so little to society.


The Wizard of Oz is gone …

September 27, 2011

2003 … The White Sox are in the midst of a successful run … the 1990s were a great decade, and the 2000s were shaping up well enough.  But they were faltering, and Jerry Manuel’s time had passed.  When the White Sox announced that firey fan favorite Ozzie Guillen was being hired, I called “Bullshit”.  I saw this as an old tactic:  hire a fan favorite to cover up problems and a potential collapse of the team.  Yeah, sure, he had ties to the great Bobby Cox, and had recently been a coach for the World Series Champion Marlins … but he had never managed before.  His bench staff included Joey Cora and Harold Baines … too many former Sox from an era that wasn’t really successful.

2004 … the White Sox are back … they finish second, and there is talk that they might make a run at the playoffs.  They were in the playoffs in 2000 … to make it back into the playoffs in only five years would be sweet.

Saturday, October 22, 2005 … I am watching the World Series.  It is being played by the White Sox in their home park.  I was negative 12 the last time this happened.  I can hardly believe it.  Like many World Series, it has its share of twists and turns and drama.  There were heroes a plenty.  I remember with vivid clarity watching on October 26, 2005.  The bottom of the ninth Al Pilch has called and is on the phone as this 88 year journey reaches its climax … Bobby Jenks pitches to Orlando Palmiero … high chopper that Juan Uribe snags cutting across the infield, fires to Konerko … its a close play, the umpire calls the out.  I lived to witness this event … an event that my grandfather never lived to see.  And there is Ozzie … the man so often accused of grabbing the headlines is in the dugout hugging his coaches.  After a few moments, he heads out and turns to the stands.  It is Houston, but there is a real Chicago presence.  He points up into the stands at his family.  He allows the players to maintain the center of attention.  In doing this, in the enormous history of Latinos in baseball, he became  the first Latino manager to guide his team to the World Series title.

The era of Ozzie Guillen will be an overwhelming positive one.  His controversial nature was largely media manufactured.  the media used Ozzie to sell papers, but Ozzie also used the media.  When the team had tough times, he could raised ruckus and make sure the interviewers and talking heads focused on him and not the players.  When things were good, you rarely heard from him as the players got the attention.

That’s not to say there weren’t exceptions.  In 2006, he, like every sane sports fan in the civilized world, was sick and tired of Jay Mariotti’s antics.  Ozzie called him a homosexual slur.  He shouldn’t have done it.  He later, appropriately, apologized for using the slur, but not for the attack on Jay.  This was part of the end for Jay at the Sun-Times … eventually he left, and the rest of his co-workers, most notably Roger Ebert, told him to not allow the door to hit him in his ego on the way out.  Ozzie could be ahead of his time in this way.

One of Ozzie’s issues was his loyalty.  The good part of this is that Ozzie would let a player continue to try and improve.  Sometimes this worked.  Other times, it didn’t, and could hurt the team.  For several years, people left and right were calling for Hitting Coach Greg Walker’s head as the team never was particularly strong as a hitting team.  Ozzie defended him.  I don’t think that Ozzie was particularly wrong … at least some of the hitting problems the team had weren’t Greg Walker’s fault.  He was loyal to immigrants … he was quick to lash out at Arizona lawmakers when they passed legislation requiring proof of citizenship in public.  He also accused Major League Baseball of unfairly targeting Latino players in the massive steroid investigations in the decade.  I disagreed with Guillen on that … sadly there was a disproportionate number of Latinos involved in this because some of the countries they hail from made it far to easy to get steroids.  Even way back ins his later playing days, he drew the ire of fans when he went off on a few of them for throwing money at Frank Thomas and Chris Sabo after returning to play after the disastrous strike that cost the Sox a shot at the World Series.

Ozzie is about to become bigger than ever.  In Miami, he will only have LeBron’s flying circus to compete with.  With the large anti Castro/anti-Chavez population there, he will become a huge hit!  I wish him further success.  I hope the day will come when his #13 joins the numbers of other White Sox immortals on the outfield wall, and permanently retired.  He has certainly earned it.

I part with some of my favorite Ozzie quotes:


I swear to God, you can put me in Harvard, you can put me in any college in (the) United States, and you ask me a question, I will answer. But you put Bill Gates in Caracas, Venezuela, and he will shit his pants … 

— Ozzie on education, and the people who lack one


I have nothing against the gay community and I accept the commissioner’s punishment.  I don’t regret having treated that journalist that way, but I’m a ilttle concerned that I mistreated the gay community in that way.

–Ozzie on Jay “The Weasel” Mariotti, “journalist”


We won [the Series] a couple years ago, and we’re horseshit. The Cubs haven’t won in one hundred years, and they’re the fucking best. Fuck it, we’re good. Fuck everybody. We’re horseshit, and we’re going to be horseshit the rest of our lives, no matter how many World Series we win.

–Ozzie saying what is in the heart of all Sox fans, on the relationship between the White Sox, Cubs, and media


When you win, the beer tastes better.

–Ozzie on winning (after a September 21, 2005 win over Cleveland)


Make a new one.

–Ozzie to future Hall of Fame hitter Frank Thomas, after Thomas complained that Guillen’s new batting practice time would interfere in his pre-game routine.


I might come back as a coach or a scout. Or maybe I’ll come back as a manager.

–Ozzie Guillen, in one of his last interviews as a White Sox player (1997)

“Saving Private Ryan” meets “Star Trek”

September 24, 2011

A few weeks ago, I was invited to accompany Dr. Ed to an event up in Rockford … a World War II re-enactment.  I had heard of Civil war re-enactment … but never WWII.  I had never been to either, and thought I would give it a try.

This is the 15th annual “World War II Days” at Guilford Park in Rockford … so shame on me for never having heard of it.  It bills itself as the largest WWII re-enactment in North America, so as these things go, it sounds pretty significant!  When we arrived, we were ferried from our car to the main gate by horse drawn wagon (cool in and of itself) and told that we were in the overflow parking … that this was the first time they had ever utilized the second parking lot for guests (most of the cars, trucks, and vans there were for the people in costume) … the other parking lot which we never saw was for guests.  In other words:  it was a good crowd!

We arrived just in time to see one of the first battle simulations which was taking place in a wide open field.  It depicted a German unit entrenched in French hedgerow country (the narrator was dressed as a French police officer (gendearme?), who claimed that he was narrating because he was neutral in the outcome.  There were easily about 2,000 people watching from bleachers, sitting on the ground, or observing on an overlooking hill.  The Germans were armed with, among other things, an anti-tank gun and two field artillery cannons.  A column of German troops comes to join them (we are told that given the setting is 1944, many of the German units were ad-hoc units put together with individuals from wherever they could get them), but they come under attack from a group of American airborne who were scouting for the German lines.  The attack commences with each side firing.  The German guns are quite load as they fire off flares and smoke, and a few moments later, the ground by the Americans is blown upwards by planted charges.  The narrator explains that the Airborne were not meant to be long-term soldiers, but were pressed into long term duty after D-Day.  They call in armor support, at which point some American armor arrives, including an authentic Sherman tank.  As the Americans begin pushing the Germans back, a Panzer unit arrives in the American rear, and forces the Americans to turn and fight on two fronts.  Eventually, the Americans are forced to surrender.  It was loud, and fairly intense.  Quite a few of the people playing the Germans actually spoke German and added an aire of authenticity to their roles.

Much of the park is wooded, and each of the roughly 50 units were literally encamped there.  All had tents and campfires going.  Several had dug foxholes and in a few cases whole underground bunkers.  Most of the Axis players were German units, including Waffen SS and horseborne cavalry.  There were a few Italian units, and one small unit from the Empire of Japan.  In all cases they were dressed in authentic uniforms, and carried authentic weapons (along with anything else a soldier would carry).  Some were reproductions, and others (especially the larger guns) were re-worked to run on propane to produce fire/smoke effects to save money on blanks (which I learned were quite expensive).  From the looks of it, much of the (my guess) 1,000 or so people involved in the re-enactments were actually camping out over the weekend … that is, even after the patrons left at night, they were going to spend the night … some of the larger units even had WWII era mobile kitchens and had people chopping vegetables and preparing raw meat for dinner.  A few were setting up a drum set and music stands to play music.  It looked like one of the greatest campouts you’ve ever seen.

Some of the encampments were quite elaborate.  One (for example) was a WWII-era field medical facility (essentially a MASH).  You were free to walk through and see the equipment and supplies that were kept.  Others had headquarters tents with elaborate communications equipment, code books, etc.

The park also is home to a nineteenth century village which is a part of the Rockford Historical society.  The village is given new signage this weekend to make it look like a French village.  Several buildings are taken over by “the USO”, “the WACs”, the chaplains, etc.  There were tons of people (aged 8-60 or so) dressed in WWII era French civilian clothes and played villagers.  One of the other re-enactments demonstrated an American unit liberating the town … right down to the French villagers being in a bit of danger, and helping their liberators drive out the Germans.

In short:  this was a really awesome thing to see!  I was utterly amazed at the level of detail paid to uniforms and weapons, and the efforts of the people to make things feel right.  All of these folks were thrilled to answer questions, and you could see them swell with pride when someone, especially the WWII era vets or people from that era pointed out something in particular that was realistic.  At one point, I noticed one encampment of tank men.  Most of them were out running the tank, but their minesweeper was there.  Ed commented that their cement tank impediments were real concrete (one even had a piece of broken rebar sticking out) … but upon touching it, we saw that it was plaster.  The minesweeper was grateful that we thought so much of it.  I was indeed impressed.

The were easily about 75-100 vehicles and heavy artillery pieces there ranging from motorcycles to tanks.  Some were used in re-enactments, others were simply on display with their units.  There was even an era French police car for the couple of people dressed as French police to drive around the village.  Some of the vehicles were authentic, some had to have been heavily restored.  A few were reproductions that had been built by hand.  I’m not sure what was ore impressive:  the real things, or the fakes that were obviously built with a lot of TLC and attention to details.

I couldn’t help but think that I was at a “Star Trek” convention, but instead of red shirts, pointed ears, and phasers, you had black SS uniforms, rucksacks, and M-1 rifles.  In some cases, there were people dressed in 1940s fashions who clearly were not a part of the re-enactments … they showed up in costume much like “Star Trek” fans show up in costume.  This is in no way an attempt to insult these people.  Quite the opposite.  Rather, I compliment their attempts to keep a very important part of history alive for future generations.  Their very expensive, time consuming, and physically difficult hobby/lifestyle is an education for the rest of us.

Two things I learned:  The American Airborne troops that did a lot of fighting in France were never supposed to do a lot of fighting.  Rather they were right there, and pulling them out and replacing them would have cost time.  I always wondered why Airborne troops would be doing so much fighting that didn’t involve them being dropped into action … now I know … they weren’t supposed to be.

The other thing I learned:  the strength of German armor was a myth.  The German tanks were effective at the beginning of the war, but because German industry was so based around quality, it took far too long to construct tanks and get them into the field.  The rate of American tanks destroyed to German tanks destroyed was about 4:1 from D-Day to the war’s end …. but the difference was that German tanks couldn’t be replaced … American tanks were replaced with much greater ease because of American industrial production.

Anyone with an interest in WWII history, and is within a stone’s throw of Rockford, IL, needs to make sure they get out to see this event next year.  I think it would be worth your while to see it at least once.

Annual Student Poll: What are your talents?

September 12, 2011

I encourage students to open up on this, and add to the question: “don’t answer “none” — everyone has a talent“.  I find too many times students won’t acknowledge that there are things that they can do well, unless they are forced to confront them.  Again, (mr) means multiple responses.  My school gets a reputation for being very vanilla (which it very well may have been, but certainly is not as such today), but this list reminds me of how diverse in skill the group is.  Artistic and athletic skills have always topped the list, but there were some new responses this year.

*drumming, computer & electronic skills


*I’m flexible for a guy

*I’m good at xbox

*I quickly learn new languages  (I know English, Polish, and take Spanish), and I love to dance!!

*I’m pretty good at painting, drawing, and soccer

*I’ve been playing the piano for nine years.

*I am very stubborn (to the point I put a mule to shame)

*Science comes naturally yo me — and soccer (I’m a goalkeeper)

*Athletic (mr)

*Dance (mr)

*Volleyball, lacrosse, cheerleading, singing

*Football (mr)

*Smiling — I LOVE smiling!

*Football & eating


*artistic, creative — I’m a good swimmer

*Painting, wiggling my ears, and public speaking (if I know what I’m talking about)


*Creative, I have a sarp wit.  I like to golf and play baseball

*Language (mr) (among those in my class:  English, Spanish, Polish, Mandarin, French, German, Arabic,

*I can ride my bike with no hands


*Art (mr)

*I like to create short films and build things.

*I am good at lacrosse — I have been offered a college scholarship for it


*I write music and play the drums

*Hacky sack

*I’m good at making people laugh

*playing baseball

*playing softball


*I can sing and play guitar while riding my bike [DAMN!]

*I ride BMX, and last year raced in a few pro competitions

*I’m easy to talk to and “read” people pretty easily


*I play football and sing — I have sung the national anthem for the Bulls, White Sox, and Cubs.

*I can usually make boring things fun

*piano, singing, dancing, art, acting, soccer, trombone, guitar, diving

*horseback riding

*running (mr)

*I’m a people person

*Reading (mr)

*I can cradle a lacrosse stick in one hand

Who contributes to AD-HD? SPONGE BOB SQUARE PANTS!

September 11, 2011



A study comparing young kids’ mental functions after watching part of an episode of “Sponge Bob Square Pants” (compared to another animated show, or to drawing) shows that kids watching the cartoon sponge have measurable decreases in their mental functions.

No word on whether there are similar effects watching “Barney”, which I have long suspected just liquifies the brain leaving the viewer a quivering wasted piece of jelly.

Annual Student Poll: Favorite Books and Movies

September 11, 2011

I ask these two questions because I think it can be very telling about someone.  Historically, a vast majority of films that students respond with are very, very recent (as in, usually came out that summer).  Rarely, a student will name a film that is much older than a year, and except for something like “The Wizard of Oz”, a classic film is rarely offered at all.  Mentioning an older film sometimes shows a willingness to try new things and experiences, since most younger kids tend t be repulsed by older films, and sometimes that they have ahad success taking advice from older people.  Historically (sadly) a vast majority of students cannot name a favorite book, and a vast majority that do name a book, name one that they had to read for class.  Naming a book that is not one they read for class can indicate a greater willingness to read on their own, and that generally means they are at least good at reading.

Here’s the good news:  after years of very close to 50% of my students being unable to list a favorite book, or saying “I don’t read”, or something like that, a vast majority of students listed something.  Books read for class were still a majority, but there were plenty of others.  I also noted that this is likely a record year for science fiction showing up in the field of selections.

(mr) = multiple responses;  you will note there aren’t many of these.



*Give a Boy a Gun (mr)

*The Hunger Games (mr)

*Percy Jackson & the Olympians series

*I love books! It’s like asking me which is my favorite eye, but one of them would be Beastly.

*The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

*Catching Fire

*Mice of Men (I think he meant Of Mice and Men)

*Harry Potter because it is interesting to read, learn new things from it. (sigh)   (mr)

*Acheron (Sherilin Kenyou) Book that made me cry, laugh, and want to just give someone a hug.

*The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud

*any history books

*one flew over the cuckoos nest, he is a criminal and everyone thinks hes crazy snd he is a bad influence for the people in the hospital.

*Chasing Brooklyn

*Too many to pick from, I love to read!

*Life As We Knew It

*Ship Breaker

*Before I Fall

*Blue is for Magic (series)

*Twilight (series)  — I bet you were wondering when that one was coming up!

*Pirate Latitudes (Michael Crichton)

*The Great Gatsby, because it was good (SRSLY?)

*Simple as Snow

*One Day

*Catcher in the Rye

*Stolen (though this changes weekly, I read a lot)

*The Great Gatsby, the book was never boring and there was storyline constantly (NOTE:  In my opinion, the book was a long bore, and had a choppy storyline, but maybe it has been reinterpreted recently)

*Rising Star (LeBron James biography)

*The Secret Life of Bees

*Code Orange, its a pandemic book

*Unbillable Hours

*Zeitoun, interesting tale of adversity

*Artichoke’s Heart

*The Giver

*Inherit the Wind

*Making History


*The Hobbit


*Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago

*Slaughter house five

*The Hunt for Red October (we have a winner!)




*”3:10 to Yuma” (2007)

*”The Departed”

*”Pineapple Express”

*”Step Up”, because it is about dancing which is what I love and I just like it in general  (mr)

*”Across the Universe”

*”Saving Private Ryan”

*”The Blind Side”

*”The Lord of the Rings” (series)  (mr) or “Miracle”

*”Step-Brothers”  (mr)

*”Social Network”

*”The Notebook”

*”Ocean’s 11″

*”Finding Nemo”

*”Inception”, not really as complicated as everyone made it sound

*”Lion King”

*”Remember the Titans”

*”The Fast and the Furious”

*”Freedom Writers”

*”The Good, the Bad & the Ugly”

*”Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”

*”Tangled”, because its beautiful, its funny, and I’m still a kid

*”The Hangover”

*”Good Will Hunting”

*”Titanic”, because I really like love stories and this one as a good plot [NOTE:  this student thinks an under-engineered ship wrecking at the loss of millions of dollars in ship and cargo, in addition to the horrific death of thousands of people, mostly poor at the expense of the rich qualifies as a “good plot”.  Damn you James Cameron for ruining a generation of film goers!  Stick with what you do best!]

*”21″ because of how they count cards.  [NOTE: the local casino will love this kid!]


*”Pulp Fiction”, I just really think that movie is hilarious.

*”Hoop Dreams”

*”Role Models”


*”Stand By Me”

*any good horror movie

*”Never Say Never” (the Justin Bieber concert movie)

*”Hangover II”, it was the most funniest movie I ever saw [NOTE:  less movies, more English class]

*”Blue Crush” and “Soul Surfer”


*”Silence of the Lambs”

*”Old School”

*”Remember Me”


*”Forrest Gump”

*”127 Hours”

*”Country Strong”

*”The Blues Brothers”

*”She’s the Man”

*”Sixteen Canles”

*”Captain America”

*”Cheaper by the Dozen”, because they have a big family and I have a big family + I do to there are 8 people in my family.

*”A Walk to Remember”

*”Twilight” (yeah, we almost made it)

*”I Love You, Man”



Annual Student poll: Who’s Your hero?

September 10, 2011

As any loyal readers will note, there have not been a lot of posts lately … the start to a school year will do that.  So far, it has been a great year!  Not only have the students been phenomenal (academically and attitudinally), but the district just informed us that we will have a surplus this year!  Score one for the penny pinchers.


I am also behind in my tradition of posting the answers to my annual student poll, and so we will start:  Who is your hero?  As always, misspellings and grammar are preserved (the only time all year I can pass this off on someone who isn’t me).


* Travis Barker (Blink-182); hes an amazing drummer and he survived a plane crash

*My hero is my horseback trainer Dawn Atlas.  She is my hero because she inspres so many people and knows so many things about horses.

*Norman Rockwell.  I love art, I am an artist and Norman Rockwell just took everyday life and painted it dramatically and in each of his pictures there is more than 1 thing going on.  He made back then seem so funny?

*My hero is Bruce Lee.  He’s my hero because I am into martial arts and he is my favorite.

*Marilyn Manson


*My hero is my sailing coach Ted Hale becaue he really got me into sailing and its something that I love to do.

*Jack Nickalaus — Don’t know how to spell it because he was a great golfer.

*Bill Gates because of where hes at and how he got there.

*Josh Hamilton (OF for the Texas Rangers).  He was getting into a lot of trouble in his life and battled back and now plays in the MLB.

*Gandhi because he fought for independence & equality while still being peaceful.

*George Lucas. He is the creator of STAR WARS which is one of my favorite series, and because I am seriously considering being a film-maker.

*Muhammed Ali.  He shows determination and will not stop working until he is a winner.

*I like Michio Kaku a lot, he is an astro-physist, and professor that talks a lot about the physics of the impossible and controversial. [NOTE:  is the space elevator “impossible” or “controversial” … I put that to the Seattle-based readership].  On a side note, my original thought was “Oh, c’mon!” … the last two weeks have shown me this young man walks-the-walk.

*Ray Lewis because the way he plays and acts inspires me to do my best in everything I do.

*Michael Jordan because of how hard he worked and of all he accomplished.

You will note that for my 102 students, this is a short list.  More than ever before, but similar to every year I have asked this question, the overwhelmingly most given answer was mom and/or dad, followed by grandparents, siblings, or aunts/uncles.  This was also an all-time record year for students not responding or saying “no one”.  A few highlights from these entries:

*My dad, because he works everyday Monday-Sunday from 5:30-7:00.  He is very determined + hard-working, which is what I admire.

*My grandma Raised 3 kids by herself, worked 3 jobs.  but now is living her dreams.

*My nana, she has MS and had breast cancer.  She lives life as much as she can even though she is in a wheelchair.

*My parents because they have sacrificed a lot to make my brother’s and mie lives better.

*My mom b/c she raised my well and her and my father didn’t go to college but still gave me an amazing town and school to go to.

*My dad really has effected my morals as a human being.  The way I look at things is really the way he had molded me.

*My mom she works day and night for us and she’s very hard working and kind to others.

*My dad because he is the man I want to be.

*My brother because he always tells me to keep trying.

*My dad Because he raised me on his own and I know I could go to him for anything.

*My grandfather and my grandmother they taught me never to give up an try new things.  My grandfather did many things like building things playing instruments and working everyday.*My older sister because she is smart + goes to college.  I am not that smart but I hope to go to college and graduate like her.

*my daddy 🙂  he saved a child from sinking in the ocean.

*My grandpa because he was in the war and he tells me all these great stories and he drives me around.


If the adults of the world don’t manage to really make a complete cluster-trainwreck of things, there is a chance that things can be turned around.