a charter school lets kids down

January 30, 2012



I want to be clear:  not all charter schools are necessarily bad.  But people who think they are the panacea need look no further:

JT is a high school student attending a charter school in Flint, Michigan.  He survived cancer at a young age, and has decided to give back:  he is growing out his hair to donate it to “Locks for Love”, a group that takes human hair and turns it into wigs for cancer patients who lose their own.  As a requirement for the donation, the hair has to be grown out so that enough can be cut,and then used ot make the wig.

The problem is that JT’s public charter school has strict rules regarding the care of hair, and growing it out is a violation.  JT and his mom have explained that this is temporary, and for an excellent cause.

Charter schools, however, are not beholden to anyone.  They are private companies that enter into contracts with local municipalities, most often to raise test scores.  That means that being compassionate and supportive of students is entirely optional.  The result:  he was asked to cut his hair, with refusal meaning suspension.  The young man, to his credit, stood his ground.

There are many bad public schools out there.  Imagine this happened at a public school.  If the board decided to support a suspension for doing this, the Board members may have an uphill battle at the polls.  The community has recourse.  In the case of a charter school, the public has little recourse.

I hope the kid get it through to the school’s administration:  its important to follow rules, but never blindly … and rules without common sense exceptions makes the community one that bows to extremism.


Shameless Plug: Is This Really Your Book?

January 25, 2012


I would guess that my sense of humor is a bit surreal, and that extends to more than a few of my friends.  Fortunately for me, one of the colleagues whom I work the closest with has a similar sense of humor:  dry and very understated.

He and one of our former colleagues wrote (constructed?) a book two years ago called “Is This Really Your Book?”.  It is a spiral bound book where each page is a book cover, such that when you leave it out, it looks like a completely different book.  Some of the titles include:

  • The Pyramid Scheme: How to use Friends to Build Your Empire
  • How to Learn Everything There is to Know About Your Neighbor


The idea is you open the book to an appropriate humorous title and leave it around for friends, family, the in-laws, etc. to find and react to.

A certain level of buzz has gotten out on this.  Over the summer of 2010, they got interviewed on local radio in Michigan (note:  neither is from there).  They also did a book signing in Eagle River, Wisconsin.  That isn’t bad!

My colleague is very modest, so we didn’t learn about these things until today, and we only found out about it because we all found out from other sources that their book is going to be featured on the Today Show this morning.  That’s no small deal.

I figure a few of the usual readers will appreciate the humor involved.  I find it to be enormously funny, and well worth a look.

2012 looking to be a banner year for films

January 17, 2012

2010 and 2011 have been dog years for film … not much has attracted me to theaters, and even when I went, I tended to be disappointed.

2012 seems to be looking to make up for this.

While most of the big films are slated for the summer, even the Spring and Autumn look to have their share of interesting cinematic tidbits.  Not all of these films are necessarily high on my list of things to see, and I likely won’t see them all … but compared to a year where there might be like 10 interesting films for me, 2012 is looking up!

First three films without release dates, which generally means late fall/early winter, or perhaps 2013:

Cloud Atlas

The Wachowski  Brothers (The Matrix) are going back to their roots after the disaster of Speed Racer.  Based on David Mitchell’s highly complex structurally nuanced novel, stretching from the nineteenth century Pacific across the world and time to a post apocalyptic future.  The things practically screams for the makers of The Matrix to do this one, and not surprising Hugo Weaving will be featured … joined by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, and a few others.


Steven Spielberg directs this film that has been “in development” for much of the last decade and was originally slated to be released in time for the Lincoln bicentennial (which despite some initial hype was celebrated nowhere).  Pictures of method actor Daniel Day Lewis are uncannily on par with every picture of Lincoln you have ever seen:

 Joseph Grodon-Levitt co-stars as son Robert Todd Lincoln, Sally Field as the deranged Mary Todd, and Jared Harris as General U.S. Grant.  Also starring Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, and Jackie Earle Haley.  Based largely on the Doris Kearns Goodwin biography.


Vin Diesel’s first jaunt as convicted interplanetary killer Richard B. Riddick was refreshing and new … not to mention as much of a horror film as it was a scifi thriller.  The second film was a mess, but this one looks to get back to its roots.  Karl Urban (Star Trek’s McCoy) and Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck) are set in supporting roles as Riddick fights alien predators and bounty hunters after being left to die on an uncharted planet.  As it is with Riddick, the question is:  Who is hunting who?

The Hunger Games                             March 23

My sister swears up and down that this will be a hit.  Based on a novel that sees the United States both fascist and carved up, and where teens from each region annually compete in a reality show to the death to win food for their people.

Wrath of the Titans                              March 30

Ten years after vanquishing the Kraken, Perseus lives quietly as a fisherman.  But on Olympus, all is far from quiet.  With the gods rapidly losing control of the universe as their worshippers dwindle in number, the Titans led by Kronos are not so easily kept in their dungeon of Tartarus.  When Hades entices Ares to switch sides and kidnap Zeus, Perseus must once again bail out his dad, this time with the help of the lovely warrior queen Adromeda (Rosamund Pike).  There will be a cyclops among other mythological monsters.  The original sucked, but Rosamund Pike will be running around without a lot of concealing garments, so there is a major plus to this sequel.

The Avengers                                      May 4

When the evil Norse god Loki threatens the world, it will take all the world’s superheroes to defend her.  Robert Downey, Jr. (The Invincible Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (The Mighty Thor), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD), Chris Evans (Captain America), and Scarlett Johansson (The Black Widow) reprise their roles from earlier films while being joined by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner (whose alter ego will be aptly voiced by, who else, Lou Ferrigno).  If it is bad, it will make money.  If it is good, it will approach Dark Knight territory.

Dark Shadows                                     May 11

Back in an era where every fourth bit of pop culture wasn’t vampire related, the primary non-Dracula  source of vampire stories was the daytime soap opera Dark Sahdows, which told of the return of vampire Barnabas Collins to his family manor, and dealing with his modern family and their problems.  For something this dark and gothic (and soapy), only Tim Burton could direct, and with Burton automatically comes Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.  Christopher Lee (still alive, and still acting) puts in an appearance along with Michelle Pfeiffer and Jackie Earle Haley.

The Dictator                                        May 11

Sasha Baron Cohen plays the title role described as “The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed”  The film is a spoof of Ghaddafi and the North Korean mafia among others, and includes Ben Kingsley and Brother Rice’s own John C. Reilly.  This seems like a rich playground for a comic mind as diabolical as Cohen’s, and I gotta think he will hit more than a few home runs with this material.

Men in Black III                                  May 25

15 years after Will Smith first got recruited as Agent J, he has to travel back to the 1960s to find the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K character, who has been targeted for assassination by an alien hitman.  Emma Thompson joins the cast as Agent O.  Josh Brolin plays the younger Agent K.

Prometheus                                         June 8

Ridley Scott finally ventures back to the universe of Alien as a crew of explorers finds the secret to how humans arrived on Earth, and that man’s future may be numbered.  Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender star.  Ridley Scott has been tightlipped as to what extent any of this film will overlap with his 1979 seminal classic film, Alien.  At times he has said there will be nothing in common, yet the trailer specifically shows the spaceship and “space jockey” pilot encountered at the beginning of the 1979 film … me thinks he protests too much!

Brave                                                   June 22

Pixar has been on a role until its recent release of Cars 2 … almost all of their films being both critical and box office successes … and there’s something else in common:  all of the lead characters have been male.  That ends with their romp in the highlands where Princess Merida (Kelly McDonald) defies her clan’s traditions to undue a curse on them all.  Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, and Billy Connolly all contribute their voices.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter    June 22

Based on the Seth Grahame-Smith novel, the story follows young Lincoln as he grows into the Great Emancipator all while secretly carrying out a program of revenge against the vampires who killed his mother and the plantation owners who work in concert with them.  I mean, Abe Lincoln hunts down the undead while vanquishing the ‘Cesshs.  How could this go wrong?

The Amazing Spider-Man                   July 3

Anderw Garfield takes over as the geek-turned-webslinger.  Mary Jane Watson is out, and Emma Stone is in as Gwen Stacey.  Martin Sheen and Sally Field co-star as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and Dennis Leary takes on the role of Gwen’s dad, while Rhys Ifans takes the role of Dr. Curt Connors (aka “The Lizard”).  This film looks like it will in some ways deal with a mix of Peter Parker the early years (his parents do appear in this film), in addition to a run through of the origin story (so it is more of a reboot rather than a continuation of the Sam Raimi directed trilogy).  The trailer seems to portray this take on Spider-Man as a darker tale (Spider-Man was hugely successful, and unlike a lot of other superhero films it was never really dark)  The portrayal of Peter Parker seems more like a loner than in previous incarnations.  I have waited for the Lizard to make it to the screen for a long time (curse you Sam Raimi for teasing me through three films), because of all the members of Spidey’s rogue gallery, I always found him to be the coolest, and the most naturally sympathetic.

The Dark Knight Rises                        July 20

Eight years have passed since the Caped Crusader went on the run.  While it has been a peaceful time for the citizens of Gotham, the peace is suddenly shattered when a terrorist named Bane comes to town, while a certain CAT burglar also takes to action calling out the Batman once again.  The usual crew is back in addition to Tom Hardy as Bane, Anne Hathaway (meow!) as Selina Kyle and Gordon Joseph-Levitt.  Based on some limited information gleaned here and there, I am interpreting some of this might be centered around some kind of “Occupy Wall Street” kind of uprising.

Total Recall                                         August 3

A remake of one of Arnold Schwwarzenegger’s better films, Colin Farrell takes up the Governator’s helm as Douglas Quaid, a man who isn’t sure if he is having a psychotic breakdown from a mind implanted vacation, or if he is in fact a deep cover operative for a fascist government, seeking out rebels.  Bryan Cranston fills the shoes of Ronny Cox as the evil Vilos Cohagen, while Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel take on the Sharon Stone/Rachel Ticotton roles of Lori and Melina.  Based on the Philip K. Dick novella “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale”.

Argo                                                    September 14

Tehran, 1979:  The American Embassy has been overrun, and 52 Americans have been captured by university students egged on by the revolutionary government of the Ayatollah Khomeini.  Unbeknownst but to a few, a small number of Americans have escaped and are on the run for their lives through the anarchy of the city.  When they are taken in by the Canadian ambassador at his private home, it is up to the CIA to find a way to get them out without compromising Canada’s neutrality.  Based on the surreally true story of the so called “Canadian Caper”, Ben Affleck (directs and stars), Bryan Cranston, and John Goodman star in this little known triumph from one of America’s darkest hours.

Looper                                                 September 28

The problem with being a hitman is disposing of evidence:  what better place to dispose of evidence than in a time before the crime took place.  Gordon Joseph-Levitt and Bruce Willis star in this film about time traveling hit men who run into trouble when one of them realizes that his next target is his future self.

Skyfall                                                  November 9

The 50th anniversary of Dr. No sees the release of the 23rd (official) Bond film;  and none has had the cast like this one has.  Daniel Craig is back for his third appearance as 007, and Dame Judy Dench is back as his boss, M.  Joining the cast are Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Helen McCrory, and Albert Finney.  After being absent in the last two films, the character of Q is back (Ben Whishaw).  While few details are out, one leak notes that the villain has something to do with M’s past.

Gravity                                                November 21

Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men and Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkhaban) directs this quirky thriller about two astronauts who are trapped in space after a shuttle disaster with their oxygen slowly running out.  One is a doctor who wants to get home to her child (Sandra Bullock) and the other a veteran pilot approaching retirement (George Clooney).

47 Ronin                                              November 21

Based on the true story of the eighteenth century group of samurai who avenge their murdered master.  For some reason, a half-British/half-Japanese character played by Keanu Reeves is being inserted into the story which is being described as “highly stylized” (read:  its getting the 300 treatment … which ain’t necessarily bad).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  December 14

Tolkein’s immortal classic finally comes to the big screen with Martin Freeman playing young Bilbo Baggins who joins a group of dwarves en route to reclaim their kingdom from an evil dragon.  Along the way, who knows who they will meet?  The book is being broken up into two parts … perhaps just to make more money, or perhaps to try and retain more of the detail of the book.  There also appears to be a lot of guest appearances of characters from Lord of the Rings that Tolkein didn’t put in The Hobbit.  However, until I see it, I will trust Peter Jackson’s judgment (throw in Guillermo Del Toro contributing … ).

Kill Bin Laden                                     December 19

It is rare for films so early in production to rile up the U.S. Congress, but when word reached Washington that Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow was basing her film on the stories of the men who brought down America’s most wanted, the congress threw a fit since the entire story is still top secret at the highest levels of government.  It will be interesting to see how the demise of Osama is told.

World War Z                                       December 21

Based on the Max Brooks novel which attacks propaganda and the ineptitude of governments to act, a UN Representative (Brad Pitt) scours the globe writing reports on the world’s militaries as the great zombie war progresses in favor of the undead.  It has Brad Pitt.  It >>could<< be something?  Couldn’t it?  If an actor can turn the Oakland A’s front office into Oscar material, can’t a zombie apocalypse be good viewing?  It will be interesting to see if it stays true to the novel (the Chinese screw us all), given the need for overseas distribution … though with Brad Pitt being persona non grata in China, it may be a moot point.

Django Unchained                              December 25

Quentin Tarrantino is back writing and directing the tale of a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) searching for his wife who joins a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz)  searching for the evil plantation owner who holds her (Leonardo DiCaprio).  Joeph Gordon-Levitt (the fourth time you’ve seen his name, in case you were counting, the guy’s been busy), Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sasha Baron Cohen co-star.  Quentin Tarrantino is definitely a love him or leave him kind of filmmaker (like the anti-Woody Allen).  I happen to think that no one in Hollywood writes like Tarrantino … he is hardly original in the subject matter he chooses, and violence is pretty much a must on some level.  I won’t say he isn’t in this to make money, but there isn’t a single director in Hollywood who seems to have such passion for filmmaking as he does.  That paired with rich writing makes him worth watching just about any time.

The Worst education law in America (worse than NCLB?)

January 14, 2012


I had meant to post this earlier, but preparing for finals and other events put it off.

The New Hampshire state legislator recently overrode the veto of their wise governor to pass what I describe as the worst education law in America.

Parents in New Hampshire now have the right to file formal objections to any aspect of their child’s curriculum.  This could be an objection to a book being used, the technique being used, the very topic being covered.  The school must respond by allowing for that asect of the curriculum to be rewritten on the spot for that particular child.  Any parent requesting this would have their name suppressed, so that retribution against their child or themselves wouldn’t be possible.  The only catch:  the parent would have to pay for the curriculum to be rewritten (note:  this is generally not a cheap)

By the way, this insane bit of legislation is in fact more sane than what was originally written, since New Hampshire almost became the first state in the union to remove the requirement that their kids actually receive an education.  The author cited “college students are often not required to attend class” … note:   3rd graders and college students are not the same.  They aren’t even close.  Congratulations New Hampshire, you avoided stepping back into the nineteenth century!

On the surface, it could be argued that this is a law that looks worse than it is:  how many parents are going to spend thousands of dollars to rewrite the curriculum?  The answer is:  very few … but then again, as noted in this article, this law was not really passed because some hockey mom objects to her kids learning how to use the quadratic equation.

Certainly, English classes will be objected to in terms of their selection of books.  Parents needn’t make fools of themselves any longer by objecting to their school teaching Huckleberry Finn because a white boy befriends an African-American boy, or The Canterbury Tales, because one character kisses another’s buttocks.  They can do this anonymously, and if they are rich enough, they cna have their way.

History classes will be in real trouble:  teach a little too much about the loss in Vietnam or FDR’s New Deal or the Civil Rights Movement, and not enough about Ronald Reagan or the successes of Richard Nixon … there could be a challenge.

However, none of these areas have active war chests of money opposed to them.  It would generally take a rich parent or several parents pooling money to launch a successful attack.

Biology, however, is a different topic.

Any one parent objecting to the inclusion of evolution or sex ed can file an objection.  There are several far right wing organizations who would be thrilled to pony up money to remove either or both of those topics from the curriculum.  Heck, with Texas now controlling the textbook market, more and more biology textbooks are being written to de-emphasize these topics.

On the other hand:  if a parent or parents decide they don’t want their kid exposed to this, let those parents deny their kids;  it won’t effect the others.  That is not the truth.  If a teacher (or more likely a group of teachers) is pulled in to rewrite a curriculum at the last minute, you can be sure that this is pulling teachers away from the other students.  The teachers will not be as focused on their classes.

Of course, if the teachers are harassed enough, they simply will adopt the new curriculum for the whole class.  This, I suspect, is what the authors of the bill want:  this is how they get to mandate the curriculum without seeming like they are the ones actually interfering. Now it is the teacher who is forced to be the bad guy by adopting the new curriculum for the class … given that groups who don’t want to see these topics removed don’t have the money to challenge it.

Congratulations New Hampshire!  You now have the worst education law in the country.

Happy 70th Stephen Hawking … and it is time to start colonizing

January 9, 2012


Stephen Hawking celebrated his 70th birthday this past week.  It is certainly amazing that he lived to not only see his 70th birthday, but that in the years that saw his body taken from him, he still managed to make some pretty big contributions to some branches of physics that it is hard to grasp when you can draw and write.

This is a very brief point that he brings up … the human race will eventually die out … that is an absolute undeniable fact, unless we manage to begin spreading out further from here.  Our sun and planet have a finite life time, and unless we are well on our way to the stars when that time comes, our species will not only die, but there will be no grave marker left behind for anyone else out there to remember us by.


Hawking also noted that all his studies, there is something that has defied his attempts at explanation.   I would not disagree with the genius.

Focus on students rights …

January 7, 2012



At first, it looks like the man trampling on some student’s rights of self-expression … a young girl in Colorado is informed that the portrait she submitted to the yearbook will not be used because it is too racy.  IMO, it is not the most modest portrait I’ve ever seen, but I would hardly consider it over the line of good taste.

Student, mom and friends immediately come firing back at the school administrators … who are baffled.

It turns out the five students editors of the publication unanimously rejected the picture.  They feel that the picture would hurt the quality of their award winning yearbook.

That’s a puzzler.

On the one hand, “yearbook” is a students activity, and while not in all cases, in some cases the students invest a great deal of time to learn about publishing and what makes a top notch publication.  Just like the basketball team competes, these yearbooks get entered into competitions, and the editorial staff gets awards if they do a good job.  These editors sound like they want to do a good job.

On the flip side … the yearbook is supposed to be a service to students.  As long as students haven’t crossed the line, is it being arbitrary to decide some pictures make it and some don’t?  Also … at most schools, students purchase yearbooks, which may imply that if the customer is allowed to submit a photo, shouldn’t the customer be right (provided they aren’t doing anything immoral or unethical)?

Movie tickets, the mafia, and economics …

January 5, 2012


Sometimes there are obvious things that for some reason I never get around to thinking about until someone poses  an interesting question … then I wonder why I never thought about it before.

As most of you know, I do enjoy film.  Yet here is posited the question:  if the law of supply and demand is in full tilt mode, why do tickets to see popular movies cost the same as less popular films.

This article from The Atlantic posits that the same thing doesn’t happen in sports, though in fact this has been spreading to sports more and more … the cost of a seat to see the White Sox play on a weekend is more expensive than on a weekday … it is more expensive to buy that seat for a game vs. the Cubs, Yankees, or Red Sawx than to see them play the Mariners, Athletics, or Indians … and the opponents who get labeled with premium pricing can change from year-to-year.

But that takes us back to cinemas … why does it cost the same to get into The Lion King as it does to see the latest indie film that no one is going to see?

This article details some interesting research that notes that this in fact was the rule in the interesting relationship between studios and theaters throughout history … that from the 1910s through the 1940s, films were given a grade, and the ticket price was based on that grade (the grade itself was based on length, the stars involved, and the projected popularity of the film).  This all makes sense.

However this whole grading system evaporated when the Supreme Court (US v. Paramount) barred studios from owning theaters.  This meant that studios were not in direct control of the money their product brought in and needed to bargain more with theater owners.  In the end, theaters still had the right to charge premium prices on a few select “blockbusters” each year.  This ended in 1972 when (cue the music) The Godfather was released, and Paramount pressured studios into not raising prices on the film.  Since 1972, American theaters have used uniform pricing.