Category Archives: Opinion

Thoughts, ideas, possibly musings. Might be a rant. Still, these posts are my opinion. It’s possible these are very informative, and yet, it is also possible that these are utter nonsense. And may fall somewhere in between.

Fury Road and Arrival: Underrated and Mindbending

This last week I watched a couple of films that I think have gotten some critical attention, and success, but are still underrated. And, for me, kind of mind-blowing. But, maybe I’m thinking too much.

Okay, first of all, both of these films were nominated for Oscars. Fury Road won 6 of the 10 for which it was nominated! Arrival only won a single gold statue but garnered 8 nominations. So, it’s a bit stretched to say these were underrated films. I’m not suggested people didn’t realize these were good films. Obviously they did. Arrival has made nearly $200 million dollars worldwide on a $50 million budget and Fury Road made nearly twice that! No, these films have critical acclaim and lots of tickets sold. To me, what’s underrated is what each film managed to do and discuss in the course of their narratives. Namely, Fury Road honestly should make no sense whatsoever but, it’s completely coherent and even appears to be a relentless action film high on style but low on meaning. And, Arrival wants you to think of it as science fiction film but is much more of a meditation on the nature of our existence, our place in the cosmos, and how we think about the world and perceive it. Both of these films should leave you asking yourself about your place in the world, the universe, and society. What is civilization? How did we get here? Where are we going? And… why?


It’s the question that starts it all. We have been asking “Why?” since we learned to ask questions at all. Why is the sky blue? Why are there so many stars? Why does it rain? Sit down with a three year old and get ready. Every declaration you make will inevitably be met by the interrogatory “Why?” from the toddler.

“You need to eat your vegetables.” “Why?”

“We don’t hit our friends.” “Why?”

“Let’s put on clean clothes.” “Why?”

And so on. You just can’t answer enough times. There is always another why. But, it seems like as we get older, we stop asking why. At some point we just accept it. It is, that’s why.

So, Arrival has one answer to “why.” Because that’s the way we think and the way we think is predicated upon the language we speak. I’m going to try not to spoil the movie but if you haven’t watched either film yet, it would be a good idea to do that before reading the rest of this essay. Arrival uses the science fiction film to make us think about how we think and speak. It gets taken for granted. Most of us never think about the words we use and why we use them. And, it probably never occurs to most people at all to consider how our language, the diction, the syntax, is actually a framework for how we look at the world. We have all heard the (false) story of how the native Inuit people have 20 words for snow. It sort of makes sense that if your entire world is snow then you might have a more intimate relationship with snow and need more descriptive words for it than the one.

On the other hand, we have one word, “love” to describe a range of feelings. I love ice cream. I love my wife. I love heavy metal music. I love the smell of sage on summer mornings. I love my kids. All of these feelings but only one word.

Arrival uses the idea that a language you use changes the way you think. As a result of learning the alien language, the main character, Louise (played by Amy Adams) sees the world in a very different way and is able to save the day. But, the part of this film that blew my mind is it is also asking us to consider if we really understand fate versus free will. The predominant philosophy today is that we have free will. Even if you believe that God has a plan for you, you probably think that you have a choice to follow that plan or not. Few would say that our lives are predestined and we are going to fulfill our destiny no matter what. We, especially, Americans, like to see ourselves of agents of our own destiny. We can do what we want, be what we want.

But, Arrival asks us to consider: what if we don’t really fundamentally understand time and as a result, we don’t understand our place in the cosmos?  I have an amateur understanding of physics, basic and incomplete. I once read a book written by Michio Kaku called Hyperspace in which he tried to explain higher dimensions. Paraphrasing, because it has been many years since I read it, he gave the example of 2 dimensional beings who live on a sheet of paper. They might conceptually understand a third dimension. But, they wouldn’t be able to perceive it. Or, fish, living in water, might not really be able to understand the world on the other side of the surface of water, even though they can see some of it,

Is this what time is like? What if you could fold time like a piece of paper? We see time as linear experience, moving from the past to now into the future. But, what if that’s only because we are limited in our perception of time? And what if it’s because of the words we use? Our language is actually very much predicated on this understanding of time. We have verb tenses based on time, the past, present, and future.  Our very words indicate time and it is impossible to speak about almost anything without also defining time. The ball is red. The sun was hot. The boy will be here. Every complete sentence has a verb and every verb specifies a time. So, our very language structures our thinking about time as a linear, one way experience.

What if our language is actually limiting our experience of the world?

The other thing that occurred to me watching the film is how utterly alone we must be in the universe. Or, maybe we should hope we are. It’s comical to me, but scary, that the film explores the idea of what it would be like if aliens suddenly arrived. This has been done over and over. War of the Worlds, Independence Day, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, The Day theEarth Stood Still, and more. The story usually varies between the good aliens that have come in peace and want to help us, or the evil aliens here to destroy us and we have to fight them. If there are other advanced civilizations and if one does show up here, we better hope that they are the peaceful, helpful aliens. The truth is, if aliens were to visit us now, or in the next 1,000 years, I have to think that their technology will be so far advanced from ours that they will be essentially gods to us and we could only cower, grovel, and depend upon an advanced sense of ethics to go along with their advanced tech allowing them to travel the vast distances of space.

I regularly will reflect upon the distances in the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe. Interstellar travel is impossible. Or, it is if our understanding of physics doesn’t change in the future. People used to think a human being would die if they ever traveled on a train going over 30 mph. People wondered if humans would be able to survive the forces of air travel or going into space. Go back 20 years and tell someone that they will carry around the internet in their hand, using a computer the size of a candy bar, with a touchscreen, wirelessly connected to every other networked computer in the world, and they will think you are talking about science fiction. They might even say, “what’s an internet?” My first home computer in 1987 has 20 megabytes of hard disk space. That’s insane. I carry around a USB flash drive with twice that much and it cost me under $10!

To say something like “interstellar space travel is impossible” feels a bit foolish if only because it displays a hubris that we know all there is to know about the universe. In fifty years, much can change. In 100 years we may be seen as barbarians in much the same way a Civil War doctor seems like a butcher for hacking off limbs off left and right that today a doctor would save. But, what would it take to change the situation? What would make interstellar travel possible? We would need some way of dealing with vast time, and space, or both, in order to travel anywhere beyond our solar system. Time, itself, is a kind of distance. It is a measurement of the distance from one moment to the next. But, unlike other distances, we see only one direction to travel in time.

I have no clue how, or if, we will be able to do this. Will we learn to manipulate spacetime such that distances become inconsequential? Instead of traveling through space, we travel around it. I don’t know. Right now, it’s impossible. So, if any aliens were to show up in giant ships and they want our planet, then we will just have give it to them because fighting them would be like Seal Team Six fighting a tribe that has lived isolated in the Amazon for centuries. It won’t even be close.

Mad Max: Fury Road is utter madness. It is also utter genius. What other film is like it? Is it a Western? A Fantasy? A Science Fiction film? Mindless action thriller? It’s all of that. I’ve watched this film several times and, on one hand, it’s completely bizarre to think about the world of this film. The setting is our future, it appears. Or, a future. But, it looks like our world but also not our world. Those look like our cars and trucks and motor bikes. The technology looks familiar. They have crossbows, leather, spears, hand grenades, and machine guns. One of the characters tells his machine gun, “Sing brother Koch!,” a reference to the brand Heckler and Koch. The war boys chant “V-8! V-8! V-8!” We have heard of the V-8 engine. We know what that is.

Yet, you have to ask, what the hell happened to get them to that point? And who lives that life and is okay with it? Those characters all appear to live in a world of constant stress, constant flight or fight, constant trauma. And maybe the worst thing is that no one seems to think anything is abnormal. Oh, water is rationed? But, you’re going to pour it out on the ground in a giant wasteful cascade? Okay. You wear a respirator with a skull face all of the time? Sure. Someone affixes a skull logo to your codpiece for you after someone else blows powder onto your festering, scared back? Yes, that’s reasonable. Or, what kind of outlook on life do you have if you take a prisoner and make him into a literal bag of blood for you? What kind of value do you put on humanity if you think it’s okay to make people live their lives with metal cages on their face? Or their genitals (the wives of Immortan Joe wore chastity belts that looked like gaping mouths filled with steel teeth). All of the world says life is cheap and that existence is brutal and short.

But, that’s not even the most mind blowing thing, to me. That George MIller had this vision and put it on screen represents a remarkable achievement. But, the fact that it makes sense is the craziest thing of all. Why do we watch it and buy into any of the madness? Why don’t we reject it for the fever dream it is? Shiny and chrome? Witness me!? We look at the skulls, the wives, the strange masks all of the bad guys are wearing, and we accept it! What in this film is coherent and familiar enough to make it palatable to us?

Fury Road at once seems futuristic and anachronistic and medieval. It takes the fascism of Nazism and combines it with the brutal warfare of the Middle Ages. It is a perfect amalgam of genres that is the specific domain of post-modernism. Hand to hand combat with blades, crossbows, saws, knives, and spears gives us that medieval anesthetic as do the armors, the “cavalry” of the car chases. But, the guns and explosives make us think of the modern action film, the war film, and even the Western. The desert setting must be a deliberate allusion to Monument Valley and the classic Westerns. Max Rockatansky makes sense to us because his anti-hero character resonates with Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” and Dirty Harry.

Is it a heist film? Furiosa is stealing Immortan Joe’s prize possessions, his breeding wives. Is it a quest film? A love story? Will Max and Furiosa learn to trust and to love and redeem the world of it’s hate? No, he’s leaving. He’s not going to help fix the world, he’s going to disappear into the wilderness again, just like the High Plains Drifter. Maybe it’s like a pirate film. The war boys and Joe seem to have a pirate culture and instead of ships, it’s cars and trucks. Instead of an ocean, it’s a giant expanse of sand and sun. Look at the “pole cat” warboys who swing on giant poles to attack other trucks and cars. It clearly echoes the way pirates would swing from rigging ropes to board enemy ships.

The reason that the gibbering instantly of Fury Road makes any sense at all to us is because it combines, cutting and pasting familiar elements of multiple genres. But, the true genius of the film is that it does it so well and still remains introspective and thoughtful.

Wait, the film with a guy strapped to bungee cords and playing random heavy metal power chords atop a super custom rig that has the sole purpose of driving him around with amps all while flames shoot out of the end of the guitar is thoughtful?

I think so, because the film seems to question culture itself. Why do we do what we do? How do we build culture? What do you have to go through to get to a place where reality is as depicted in Fury Road? Another reason that Fury Road makes sense is because Miller has clearly thought about this world and has created a mythology, a history, and there is depth there. A common criticism of post-modernism is the lack of heart and emotion. Fury Road threatens to go there. The nihilistic cult of Immortan Joe, woven of threads of death and destruction, and itself a pastiche, equal parts Viking myths (Valhalla), Christianity (water symbolism, the savior of the people, etc.), and NASCAR.

The film asks us to consider where our culture is taking us. Do we blindly follow our leader? Or, are we fighting for freedom? Are we victimizing others in order to enrich ourselves? Maybe it isn’t important exactly what “killed the world” in Fury Road as it is important to ask ourselves how far we are to making it possible. Are we killing the world? Are we worshipping death? Are we treating human life as worth only what we can take from it?

Both films ask the audience to consider the fundamental things that make us who we are, our language and our culture. What makes us do what we do? Here were are, rotating on a small rocky planet inside of an outer arm of relatively average sized galaxy, one of millions? Billions? Trillions? Do we even know how many galaxies there are? And, there we are, tiny little people, mere specks of dust when scaled against the cosmos, and we think what we do is sensible and obvious. But is it? Why do we do the things we do? We build houses, walls, fences, and lock the door at night. We used to live much closer together for safety but not now. Is that better? By what metric would we judge? Here we are, on this tiny planet, floating through a hostile vacuum of space, making up the rules as if we know what we are doing.

Why does anything we do make sense? Why are we not howling insanities at the skies above us all night long as we stare into the existential crisis that is interstellar space? How can we look into the blackness above us and not be utterly disturbed by how insignificant we really are in the face of it all. Part of the reason is because we don’t think about it. And, the other reason is that it doesn’t matter. Does it? All we have is ourselves and our lives here. What can we do in the face of such insignificance and powerlessness? Nothing. Or, rather, we can’t change that, so we create significance. Try to find “the green place” for each of us. Live with respect for the humanity in each of us. Try to see life from someone else’s point of view. Try to speak their language so you can truly understand them. Find love in the desert. Love someone even though you know they will one day leave you.

Live in the incoherence. Dwell amid the insanity. And, try not to be mediocre.


How I am learning to play guitar

As a professional educator who is supposed to create “lifelong learners,” I feel it’s important for me to be one myself. In addition to learning Spanish, I am trying to learn to play guitar. I have really always wanted to play guitar but either I didn’t have the means (ie. a guitar to play) or I didn’t really know what to do.

Today, the Internet has a confusing multitude of sites and places for you to go. It’s possible, I think, to learn today in ways that were impossible only a decade ago. It’s another one of those moments where I think, “How did we live without this stuff?” There is almost too much information out there.

What I’m adding, I guess, is my experience in trying to learn and what I’m learning to do. You won’t find instructional theory here, or chord charts. But, instead, I plan to journal my process.

I started about a month ago. My stepson got a guitar and my daughter got a flute in July. The daughter got some lessons, practiced a lot, and was able to join her middle school band! I was so jealous because she appears to have actual musical talent! I always wanted to have musical talent! Maybe I could do it she could. So, I picked up my stepson’s guitar and started trying to learn based on the stuff I saw on the ‘Net. I found for one. I also bought a Hal Leonard Essentials for Guitar  book that was similar to what my daughter had for flute.

After about a week, I decided to get my own guitar. This is where I made a mistake I hope others could avoid.

I bought a very inexpensive guitar.

I purchased an Epiphone DR-100 which is not a bad guitar. But, it’s not a good guitar either. What I should have done instead was to read just a bit further and realize that getting a decent starter guitar was a better idea. I thought, “Well, what if I don’t really like it? I don’t want to buy an expensive guitar and then not play it.”

Of course, buying an expensive guitar might be the reason I kept playing since I didn’t want the money to go to waste. I didn’t look at it that way.

Most importantly, I think it’s important to have a guitar you really like and that is a quality instrument. For me, that is the Yamaha FG700s. Go look around the Internet and you will see it is universally praised as a great entry-level guitar that is good enough to last you years. And, some people say it sounds good enough to stand amongst the Martins, Taylors, and Guilds that cost much more. I can’t say that for sure, but it makes me happy to think I have a guitar like that to play.

I can say it’s a really nice guitar for $200. Every time I play it I catch myself thinking, “Wow, that’s pretty!” It has a really nice sparkle and resonance in the tone that I very much admire. And, it keeps me wanting to play. I recently found some measurements online and checked. The factory setup is pretty good. The action is a little high but completely acceptable.

Okay, so that’s my first piece of advice. Don’t buy the least expensive guitar. Get a decent instrument. This Yamaha is the equal of any $400 – $600 guitar you can find. That I can can say pretty confidently. It’s important, I think to get a solid top on your guitar, for sound quality. This one has a solid spruce top.

My second piece of advice is to make sure you have light gauge strings. It’s easier on your fingers. My third piece of advice is practice a little bit, at least, every day. I shoot for about 30 minutes per day. Once per week my stepson and I go to a group guitar class through the city. It’s inexpensive but worth it to have an actual teacher watching you and correcting your issues. There’s also that aspect of having accountability to someone. I don’t want to show up and not have practiced the things from last week and have the teacher realize I haven’t been putting in the work.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been practicing my chords like A, E, D, C, G, G7, A7, D7, E7, and the dreaded B7. Why dreaded? It’s the only chord I’ve been working on that uses all four fingers! I have a lot of trouble getting all the fingers on the strings and not muting nearby strings. But, I have to say that when I first started with that chord, it just was a dull thud. I have definitely noticed that it is getting easier over time. Today, it still has a couple muted strings here and there, but I can usually get it to ring a bit better.

My friend Pat says it’s about developing touch. I also know it’s about muscle memory. Like so many things, to learn it is to repeat it. It takes hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions, for the brain to internalize it and the muscles to memorize the movement.

I’m gonna go now and practice for a little bit. I plan to update as I go. Until then…

Orcas, lately

I’ve been reading about orcas lately.  Since I was very young, I’ve always been interested in marine biology and marine mammals.  As a kid, I loved going to Marineland and Sea World.

Blackfish is a documentary about killer whales in captivity.

Today, I won’t do it.  I am even against going to regular zoos.  If an institution or park is holding a primate or other mammal that has demonstrated, scientifically, near human intelligence, I think we need to boycott those businesses.

Orcas, for example, have been scientifically observed exhibiting complex social and cultural behaviors. So have the other smaller dolphins.  (Orcas are not “whales” though they are cetaceans.  They are the largest of the dolphin species.)

I think that if an animal can be cognizant of its captivity, it should not be held captive.

Death at Sea World is a book that helps explains this.

Did you know that orcas, killer whales, have matriarchal societies?  They organize matrilineally, with sons and daughters actually spending their entire lives alongside of their mothers.  Males will leave the mother for days, or even weeks, to forage, or mate, but they always return to their mothers.

Knowing this, it makes me think maybe orcas are actually smarter than humans.

Building Some Stuff

About a year ago, I got a bit crazy and decided I would mount my TV on the family room wall, mount my surround sound speakers, and hide the wires in the walls. Without an attic over the family room, this was an ambitious project for me. I had as much experience with patching drywall and doing anything like this as I had of overhauling a V6 engine. That is to say, none. But, it came out okay. I can see where I made the patches, and I bet you could too, if you looked at it for a few seconds. But, after painting, it looks passable. Last summer I went into the kids’ rooms and we painted. I put some PVC wire conduits on the walls for the boys to hide the cables for their little surround system. I mounted the TV on the wall, installed shelves, and generally was pleased with how that came out. Over Thanksgiving break we decided to redecorate the master bedroom. We moved the TV, mounted speakers, hid wires under the baseboards (which I removed and put back into place), and we painted the opposing walls in different colors. I installed blinds, too. It came out good, too.

So, now I think I’m this handyman DIYer. Right? I got a crazy idea to build a workbench in my garage. About ten years ago, when I got my first real garage of my own, I bought some Gorilla racks that have been serving as my workbench. They kind suck for that. I want something sturdy, with good space, and that you can bolt vice onto. I found a plan in this Family Handyman magazine. It looks easy enough. Some 2x4s and plywood. Make good cuts and it should be okay. I have a circular saw. I can do this.

To practice, I decided I would build some sawhorses that I could use when I built the bench. In addition, my amazing wife threw a project my way to build a Christmas card holder that looks like a Christmas tree. It was super simple, so I agreed.

I decided to have the step-son help out. He and I have a, uh, sometimes interesting relationship. The story is that we are awfully alike, personality-wise, and this makes it hard for us to get along. Probably. There’s a few other things, as well. In my experience, relationships between step-parents and step-children are almost always tricky. No matter what you do, how hard you try, you never really see them the way you see your biological children. You love them, you care about them, you want the best for them, but there’s still a gap. And, I know there’s a gap inside them as well. They love you, they care for you, and they look up to you, but at the end of the day, you aren’t their biological parent and they know it.

Another interesting thing for me here is that the garage was always my Dad’s world. It was his domain. It was a mysterious place to me. There were tools and wires, powered machines and all sorts of implements of which I could never quite puzzle out the purpose. I knew screwdrivers, hammers, and wrenches, of course, but I was never very much mechanically inclined. I hated working on my car. Loathed it. To this day, any sort of work on a car always involves actual sweat, blood, and tears, on my part. I’m serious. I never finish any job on a car without crying and bleeding from some part of my body. But, owning a house has forced me and goaded me into picking up tools and finding something to work on. I simply decided at some point that it was time to know how to fix a sink or a toilet.

Since, I have replaced three faucets, a garbage disposal (twice), installed a ceiling fan, and all the aforementioned redecoration work. In the past I would have felt it necessary to get my Dad’s help with this. But, I haven’t needed it. I did it on my own.

Another thing that was always, in my mind, something only my Dad could do, was buy cars. I had this idea that he would walk into a dealership as a marauding Viking takes a beach, and the salespeople would cower and shrink before him. He would only leave once they had allowed him to take the car of his choice and they would tell tales of how they barely survived his ferocious negotiations. Allegedly, during an intense session of wheeling and dealing, the salesperson said to my Dad, anguished, “Listen, man, I have a family to feed!” Such was the ruthlessness of my Dad’s negotiating skills. So, I didn’t like to go buy cars on my own. It’s scary!

They use numbers, you know.

Numbers, my old enemies. People think I exaggerate but it’s completely true. Numbers are my Kryptonite. They mock me and I have no power to stop them. But, this weekend, it was time. We had looked for a while, my wife and I. Luckily, though she’s no mathematician, herself, she is okay with numbers. And, we both know how to read and research stuff. We settled on a Honda Pilot. We went to Rock and, with the Internet at our back, we successfully negotiated the purchase of a Certified Used Honda Pilot. I even managed to convince them to sell it to me on my credit alone! Since the divorce wrecked my credit score, I have tried hard to be a good boy and pay on time. It seems to have worked, though it has taken many years to dig out of the whole my ex-wife dug for me.

But, I did it. I bought a car all by myself. I might have left a little money on the table, but I think I did alright. Not perfect but nothing so bad that it will be noticeable. This is kind of like the way I repair drywall.

I’m going to be honest here and say I hated working in the garage with my Dad. I always felt stupid and like I was disappointing him constantly. So, I was determined this time not to make the step-son feel that way. He’s a Cub Scout so he has a woodworking badge to complete, as well. For that reason, I made a point to explain things as I did them. I tried to let him use the circular saw (he declined) and the drill (he accepted). I had him hold things whenever I needed it. And, for some reason, he loved it.

I haven’t spoken with my Dad since March 2012. Why? Actually, I think it’s pretty lame. First, I had noticed that he and my step-mother had my ex-wife as a Friend on their Facebook. Bear with me a second here. This ex-wife is the one who didn’t tell me she was borrowing money from them, who also borrowed (this time with my knowledge) $10,000 from them with which we were supposed to pay our property taxes, but she spent on other things, forced me to take her to court and hire a lawyer during the divorce which cost us thousands of dollars (in California, if you use a lawyer to divorce, you are probably stupid because the law is so cut and dry about the division of property), and who refused to pay on any joint credit cards after we separated. She also overdrew bank accounts and declined to pay that money back. Oh, and she ran up a $700 celluar bill and didn’t pay it. Guess who’s name had once been on that account and who now has a that on his credit report? Yup. I asked her three times to contact AT&T to clear it up. She ignored me. This is also the same woman who told anyone who would listen, including people in my family, and her daughters, my step-daughters at the time, that I was having an affair (I wasn’t).

Can you see why I might not feel any warmth for this woman? She purposely went out of her way to hurt me because I had the audacity to leave her after she told me she hated being married to me and was only staying with me because we had kids. Can you see why maybe I might not want to have any more to do with her than I needed to? Does it make sense why I might not like thinking my parents were on friendly terms with her? When I met her, she was using food stamps and welfare checks to get by. I gave her the first computer she ever owned, bought her a mini-van, and helped her get both of her college degrees, including a Master of Social Work degree from U.S.C.! No kidding, I spent $30,000 of savings on her college degrees. In return, she gave me 7-10 years of black marks on my credit ratings. I dragged her out of poverty and she tried to drag me into it.

So, I told my Dad I didn’t like them being Friends with her. On top of that, I told him that I didn’t like some of the things he had recently said or done. He had asked my wife if she was an anchor baby (a very offensive term for Hispanics which implies your parents used your birth to stay here). She was polite, but offended, and she was not an anchor baby. Both of her parents were legal immigrants. He had also forwarded to me, and others, a very racist email about President Obama that suggested, completely falsely, that Obama’s books contained numerous passages revealing that he hated Christians and whites. I think it’s quite clear why this is offensive. It tries to use race to get non-African Americans to distrust, or even hate, President Obama and it accuses him of being a racist. In my opinion, this is, itself, racist. So, I told him that I was offended. I didn’t mind that my Dad didn’t like Obama’s policies, or that he wouldn’t vote for him. I minded that he was using lies to convince others not to vote for him.

Turns out that’s just a Republican thang. You wouldn’t understand. They have to lie. It’s in the party platform.

Anyway, I told him I didn’t appreciate this kind of behavior and that if he wanted to spend time with me, or my family, he would need to amend his behavior. I decided it was time. I was tired of biting my tongue for fear of upsetting him. I was tired of feeling embarrassed at what he had said, or afraid of what he might say. My wife is of Hispanic decent, my step-children are both of Hispanic and African-American decent. I don’t want them to be hurt because he can’t control his mouth. Nor, for that matter, do I want my bio-kids learning that kind of behavior as they are living, half the time, in a multi-cultural household.

I told him that just as he had demanded his own father treat him and his family with respect, I was also taking such a stand. I wrote this all in an email to him because I hoped I would express myself best that way. I got no reply. I tried a couple more times to either call or email. I received a response finally that told me, essentially, that until I was perfect, to leave him alone. In other words, I was not allowed to find fault in him because I had not achieved perfection.

Silence, then. I heard nothing else. Months passed. He and my step-mother continued to see my kids, though. They contacted my ex-wife and visited that way.

The funniest thing? He dropped me from his Friends on Facebook. So did my step-mother and her daughters. So, apparently, costing their son thousands of dollars was forgivable, but I had crossed a line so firmly no one could speak to me any more at all. This is high irony, folks.

I called to tell them, in October, that I didn’t wish them to spend time with my children, that if they couldn’t speak to me then they had no business spending time with my kids. But, being that I only have fifty percent custody, I have no control over what happens when they are with my ex. I see it as highly disrespectful, all of it. You would think I had done something truly awful to them, instead of writing an email that appears to have hurt their feelings. After that phone call, my Dad sent me an email saying he was busy with the preparations for their annual Halloween party but he would contact me after in order to discuss things.

I have yet to hear from him since then. I am told he isn’t working right now so they must have had quite a party if it has kept him busy all this time. Either that or I’m just not that important to him. I suspect the latter.

It’s hurtful. But, I’m not surprised. Honestly, I’m not overly likable, in my opinion. So, I’m not surprised when people have had enough of me. It’s a bit more extreme when it’s your own father. But, then again, lots of people don’t get along with their parents. The movies and TV shows are full of examples alone. Cat in the Cradle was a big hit decades ago. This isn’t new. And, why do you have to “love” your family members, anyway? You didn’t choose them. They didn’t choose you. So, it’s not insane to not want to talk to them, I suppose.

It’s been a time of revelations, really. I’m seeing that I’m capable of doing things I once thought impossible. I’m seeing that I can do things well. I’m building things. And, sometimes when you build something, you have to tear something else down. Maybe that’s all this is. I can buy my own tools, I don’t need to borrow his. I can do it on my own. I can buy my own car, build my own workbench, and be a parent to a step-son (I just realized his own father rejects him as well. I guess we do have a lot in common.)

Most of all, I know that I want my bio-kids to know, to feel that I love them and that I will never reject them, that I will never leave them hanging, that I will always, to the best of my abilities, protect them and help them. I want to build good relationships with all of my children, step and bio. And, I have learned that patience and the right tools make a big difference. When I take my time and measure carefully, cut straight, I can make something decent. If I have the right tool, the job is much simpler. And, maybe that’s my Dad’s real problem. He neither has the patience or the right tools.

If I have learned one thing in 41 years, it’s that everyone I know needs therapy. If you haven’t been in therapy/counseling then you are dumb as the guy that refuses to ever go to the doctor. He’ll insist that those doctors don’t know anything, that they do as much harm as good. And, then, usually sooner than later, they get an infection that they swear is getting better, that they ignore, and take pain killers for, and then end up septic and dead. Everyone needs to figure out their issues, and we all have issues. Some of us just go to a professional to talk it over and stop repeating the mistakes of the past. And, others deny they have any problems and get surprised when they are miserable.

I’m not miserable, today. I’m pretty happy. Miserable people like making others miserable. Happy people want to make others happy. I don’t always succeed, but at least I try to spread happiness most days. To me, that is the clearest way to see if you are mentally healthy. Did you make more people happy than sad today? Yes? You’re good, then. But, if the answer is no, then you might want to get some help. You’re miserable and you’re making your own company.

I’m not perfect, but I am, at least, trying to do better today than I did yesterday. I’m not always achieving it, but that’s still the goal. I guess I just wrote all of this because it has been on my mind. The holidays do that. Christmas always makes me think of my mom, for example. And, lately a lot of things have reminded me of my Dad. And, buying a car got me looking at my credit report which reminded me of the damage my ex-wife has done to me. So, that’s that, I guess. Nothing to do but to move forward, to look at the day and see what I can bring to it. I’ve got a few weeks off now and some projects to keep me busy… building some stuff.

A trip to see fishes and another year older

Because it was my birthday, we had a family outing today. We went to the Long Beach Aquarium today. It was a good time. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I would have been terrible at it, if there was math involved. And, there usually was. But, I still like fishes and other things that live in the sea.

Plus, the kids had asked that one of our summer activities be that we visit the aquarium. They are such nerds sometimes, always asking to go to museums and stuff like that.

So, we checked out all kinds of fishes, seals, sea lions (which have ear flaps, seals don’t), sharks, rays, penguins (from Argentina, I think), jelly fish, and so forth. Good times, in my opinion.

Then, we had dinner at a sushi restaurant. It wasn’t thematic on purpose, but there was something kinda fitting about looking at fish and then eating them. It was even ironic since part of what they told us about today was the overfishing of the oceans. The oceans are really big. But, it turns out that we are capable of overfishing and we are having an impact. It’s not that we can’t eat fish. But, at some point, we are going to have to change the amount we eat and the way we harvest them

So, yes, another year older. And another year wiser? I think so. Not that I would be considered among the wise universally. In fact, I am sure that there are a significant portion of people who would straight out, without hesitation, label me a fool. I like to think that some of my wisdom is that this really doesn’t matter. When the physicist first wrote of the existence of the Higgs bosun, people thought he was daft. I found out this year that President Franklin Rooseveldt was hated by a good portion of the U.S. population and people thought he was doing a horrible job of bringing our country out of the Great Depression (which may have been true, since many agree that WWII is what ultimately turned the economy around) even though today most would say, especially given that he is the only president to be elected three times, that he is one of the better, if not among the best presidents in history.

One thing I learned these past couple of years is that just because people don’t agree with me doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Sure, I should reflect and consider if they are right. But, having done that, checking with a trusted advisor, I can then stand by my convictions. I have learned this last year that, actually, many people that are adults can be childish and very wrong, even some I used to respect a great deal. I have had to learn to deal with betrayal and loss, as we all do, I think. I have also learned to be happier, too. Happiness really is, to some degree, a choice. I have not had to deal with a great many horrible situations, so it’s hard for me to say with total certainty. But, it sure seems to me that our outlook on life can go a long way toward happiness or misery.

It’s been a pretty good year. I have enjoyed good health as has my family. I have maintained employment. I have had all of my basic and not so basic needs met. There is room for improvement, but by and large I consider myself to be in pretty good shape. I reckon I am enjoying an above-average life and I’m grateful for it. All of this is to say that I am glad to be living this life, consider myself lucky, and hope I am giving back some of what I have gained.

Speaking of that, I thought I did an okay job teaching this last year. I think there are definitely some things to improve there, as well. But, I liked that I was able, more often than not, to focus on the standards for the students, rather than “covering” material or completing assignments. I was not able to create the “open” style of teaching that I had hoped for, that students would direct their own learning and I would facilitate. But, I do think kids in my classes learned and most of them ended up better than they began. I hope this year is even better.

Sadly, the only reason to do this is my own personal integrity and work ethic. I still think that our educational system is in very bad shape. I’m sure it comes as no suprise to you that I don’t blame teachers, for the most part. I don’t mean to say that all teachers are good. But, I will say something I have said before: if there is a bad teacher, then that means they have a bad administrator. In eleven years teaching, I have not witnessed a union rep actively defending poor teaching or bad behavior by a teacher. I have seen them insist on due process and insist that administrators do their jobs. But, one thing I have witnessed many times, especially in the last five years, is administrators walking away from bad teaching. I have heard them rationalize why they don’t confront a poor teacher. I have seen them ignore bad behavior by teachers.

So, next time I hear someone complaining that you can’t fire a bad teacher, I want to see the paperwork. I want to see the write-ups, the memoranda, and the counseling. I want to see that the administrator did formal observations and followed up with the teacher. It’s honestly quite baffling to me that people pretend that teachers are these free agents in their classrooms, with total liberty to create and implement the curriculum and that if an administrator tried to, I don’t know, do their job, that all the teachers have to do is cry, “Tenure!” and the principal will disappear in a puff of smoke.

In practically every other job in the world, if an employee does stupid things we inevitably ask, “Where was his supervisor?” Except in teaching. If an administrator can’t fire a teacher, then it’s probably because they failed to observe and document their supervision.

A really odd thing to me is that, despite being forty-one today, I don’t feel like an adult exactly. I mean I realize I am one. But, it’s as if I have to remind myself that I am not a young man any more. I am officially middle-aged. That’s so odd to me. There’s a pretty good chance that I have lived half, or more, of my life. I kinda hope I live longer than 82, but given my ancestry, I think it’s a pretty good bet that I won’t quite make it to 90. Then again, we seem to be living a little longer, accidents notwithstanding, every generation. So, maybe.

But, I still feel like the youngest guy in the room when there are other adults around. I’m not sure why that is. And, it’s not just me. Yesterday, a couple of my students in summer school said, “It’s your birthday? How old are you going to be?” I answered and they were surprised. “That old?!” According to them, they had thought I was in my late twenties. Granted, these are teenagers who are, techinically speaking, brain damaged. But, still, most people place me in my thirties. So, that could be a part of it. Still, I keep waiting for when I will feel “old.” I realize I’m old. I see that the ’80’s, my high school decade, are considered retro and cool. It is what the 60’s were to me, I guess; an almost mystical time period when super neat stuff happened and I missed it.

So, maybe that’s it, though. I’m realizing that people are often wrong, even adults older than me, that they are fallible and make mistakes. Selfishness is a primary motivating factor for most people (and me, too) and governs the majority of their decisions. I like to think that realizing I’m selfish means I can stop myself sometimes and act better.

I remarried, officially, this year. I am absolutely smitten with my wife and adore her beyond anything I had ever imagined I could. I have learned that marriage is not a piece of paper. Or, rather, it is. The decision to be a couple, to be partners, however, is not. A legal marriage is a legal document representing a business decison to merge two people into a legal entity, I think (I am oversimplifying, but IANAL (I am not a lawyer), so I’m just talking out my neck here). My wife and I decided a couple years ago that we would like to be partners and that we both intended that it be for the rest of our lives. The ceremony was a formality, in both of our eyes. And, this is a reason I adore the woman. She agrees with me on this. We didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on all kind of fanciness. But, we wanted to be legally, offically married. So, we took care of that.

My wife makes me want to be a better man, a better father, and a better teacher. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty good quality. Just by being who she is, I am inspired by her to do better and be better. I’m sure I’m not always better, but I am at least inspired to try to be better. Some people don’t even try. On my birthday, upon reflecting on this last year, I think she is a significant part of my happiness and contentment this year. She is an extraordinary person, some days the smartest person I talk to (most days), incredibly generous, fiercely loyal, stunningly beautiful, and, most shockingly, in love with me. I have to admit that I find that last part very attractive indeed.

So, tomorrow I plan to take a bike ride with the Cycling Connection. I’m hoping to get close to 50 miles total on the bike. I will have to see how the knee feels about that, though. I just found out that the Death Valley Century is still accepting registrations. I would totally love to cycle through Death Valley. But, a friend of mine, Mike, says they have awful winds sometimes, too. There are few things as soul-killing as winds when you’re on a bike. If they are behind you then it is amazing. But, if they are across you or against you… forget it. I would rather, I think ride in the rain than in a stiff wind. We can get hella bad winds all by ourselves in Fontana. No need to pay $100 to ride in the wind.

But, it is in Death Valley. So, there’s that. That century is schedule for October 27th. I think I could be in shape for it by then, if I keep up my recent progress. I’m keeping it in mind.

Two men fighting for lives after bloody 49ers-Raiders game violence – San Jose Mercury News

Two men fighting for lives after bloody 49ers-Raiders game violence – San Jose Mercury News.

A 24-year-old man, who was wearing an “(Expletive) the Niners” T-shirt, was shot two to four times in the stomach before driving his truck to Gate A and stumbling to security, said San Francisco police Sgt. Frank Harrell. He was taken to San Francisco General Hospital in critical condition.
Another man in his 20s was shot near Lot V about 20 minutes earlier and had superficial face injuries, Harrell said, and was taken to the same hospital. The first shooting happened shortly after 8 p.m., about 15 minutes after the game ended.
“We are treating it as separate shootings, but we believe they are related,” Harrell said.
Police pulled a man off a party bus before it left the parking lot and are calling him a suspect. He was wearing an Oakland Raiders jersey, Harrell said. All three men attended the game, he said.

This is why I’m okay with the Raiders staying in Oakland and never coming back to L.A. While I realize that many Raiders fans are normal, you have to be in total denial to not admit that there’s a significant number of thugs attracted to the team. In Los Angeles, we can shoot people without the Raiders’ help.

MegaUpdate: Camping at Shaver Lake

For me, nothing says summer like a road trip or camping expedition. So, I have been excitedly planning for a trip up north to Central California and Shaver Lake. This is the second time I’ve been to Shaver Lake and the first time for me to take my Sun and Stars (my favorite woman in the whole world) and, in a way, the first time my children got to go. I took them about four years ago. The boy was about 1 year old and the girl was 3 or so. Both very young, too young to really appreciate it, or remember it.

I both love and hate camping. It is a hell of a lot of work, to begin with. Packing. Planning. Thinking about what you will need. Logistics. Deciding what to take and, in our case, figuring out how to get it there. We wanted to borrow a larger vehicle, or rent one, or buy a trailer, or a roof rack, etc. But, ultimately, since we are watching our budget, none of those options panned out. We asked Dad to take some items up for us (they were camping, too) and put the rest in the Accord. The kids and my Sun and Stars took bags, sleeping bags, pillows and so on with them in the passenger compartment.

So, Saturday we loaded into the car, crammed full. I barely got the trunk closed and, actually, worried about it suddenly popping open due to a bump in the road or something. Luckily, that never happened. So, we hit the road early in the morning. Very little traffic got in the way and the day was brilliant, blue and bright. By about 10 a.m. we arrived in Bakersfield. Per my own personal tradition, we ate at IHOP. It just seems like every time I pass through Bakersfield on one of these trips that I end up having breakfast at an IHOP. That’s not a complaint, per se. The meal was passable, at least, and all of us seemed happy with it. Back into the car and then on to Fresno. Stopped at Target because my Sun and Stars left her pillow at home and went to a gas station to be refueled.

We made our way out of Fresno and began our ascent into the mountains. For me, there’s something a bit magical going from the flat lands of the Central Valley, to the urban hardscape of Fresno, then into the country and finally seeing the alpine trees and flora. The road twists and turns and dips and dives. The kids in the back seat giggle as we feel gravity lose it’s grip for just a second. Then, they ask, again, how much longer. Something about children hardwires them to constantly need updating on ETAs. I did it. So did you, and my kids do it. I thought telling them we would arrive at 1pm (thanks to the GPS for pinpointing it) that it would keep them from asking. It didn’t. Arrived Shaver Lake by 1 pm as predicted. We unpacked the car and moved into our rented trailer that had been delivered.

Camp Edison is roughing it but only just. Each site has power and a cable TV hookup (no, we didn’t use the cable, but we did use the power). There’s water within about 30 feet of each site. The bathrooms have hot and cold running water and there’s even showers you can pay for. Honestly, it’s kind of luxurious for a camp ground. Each site comes with a fire pit, a picnic table and one of those square barbecues you find in a lot of parks.

Our campsite came with a spectacular view of the lake. And, we rented a little pop-up trailer to stay in. No sleeping on the ground.

I really do love camping, too. I love the outdoors. I love the smell of a campfire, the adventure of building your own fire, and, the romance of cooking your meal outside. I hate washing the dishes by hand afterward, hate the dirt and dust and flies and mosquitos. I love the sounds of the birds calling to one another and the sight of bats at dusk feasting on flying insects, swooping swiftly amid the trees. I hate getting all sweaty and dirty and knowing that there’s no shower on the schedule tonight.

Anyway, my Sun and Stars got her mother to make us some tacos that we barbecued for lunch. I had never had them this way prior to having them with her. But, they are good. Corn tortillas, beans and cheese, folded over and pressed flat. Then, the other type of taco has cheese and chiles. You barbecue each and then make a sandwich of each type. Delicious. The kids were so excited about having a campfire so we decided to get right to it that night. For dinner we had hot dogs roasted over the fire. Each kid got a long skewer and proceeded to roast their dog over the open fire. And by that I mean they managed to smack it against the burning logs, dip it in the ashes and hold it too far away from the fire to actually roast it. So, I cleaned them off and roasted them myself. But, they had fun.

One of the reasons we go to Camp Edison at Shaver Lake is because my uncle worked/works for Edison and he goes up for two weeks. One week he spends with the family and one with his Edison peoples. This year it was my family, my Dad and Stepmother, my stepsister and her twins meeting up with the uncle and aunt. Various factors conspired against my other family members so that they didn’t attend this year. So, we closed out the evening at my uncle’s adjoining campsite by having S’mores around his campfire.

S’mores. If you go camping and don’t have S’mores then I feel bad for you. Truly, they are wonderful. And, most people screw them up. Yes, I said it. S’mores done properly are amazingly delicious. Most people just jam their marshmallow into the fire, catch it alight, and then blow it out, declaring loudly that they “like it that way” to explain that they meant to catch it on fire. Know why they “like it that way”? It’s because properly toasting a marshmallow is not always easy.

I make S’mores properly. First, you have to prepare. Don’t just run over and grab a marshmallow. No, first you get your graham cracker and split it in half along the width. You should now have two squares of graham cracker. Next, break off some milk chocolate and lay it on one of the crackers. Don’t be greedy. But, do break off a whole piece large enough to fit within the area of the cracker, no more. Now, get your marshmallow. I know you probably know this, but, you have to buy the jumbo Jet Puffed marshmallows. DO NOT get the flattened ones that are marketed as being for S’mores. If you’re cheating and doing this at home in the microwave, get those. But, they are not legitimate S’mores, know that.

Okay, now we come to the most crucial step. Get the marshmallow on your skewer, piercing it in the middle through the flat end and so that it is completely, well, skewered. Now approach the fire. If there’s a lot of flames, you do not want that. Find the coals. If you can, find a spot where the coals are visible between logs. Whatever you do, don’t catch the marshmallow on fire and don’t get it in the ashes or char on the logs. Be patient and deliberate. Find a nice hot spot with coals and rotate your marshmallow slowly. Watch carefully. The outside will expand and brown. Brown is good. Get the brown evenly all over the marshmallow. At this point, the marshmallow should be wiggling on the skewer and may even spin freely on the skewer. This is a good sign. It means the interior of the marshmallow is so hot it has become molten. Now, move swiftly but carefully. Go to your crackers and put the marshmallow that is now golden brown and crispy on the outside but molten on the inside on top of of the chocolate and take the other piece of cracker and angle it to slide the marshmallow off of your skewer. Set the skewer aside and slowly press down, squeezing the crackers together. Don’t apply too much pressure, just enough to flatten the marshmallow.

If you did it right, the marshmallow will ooze out the sides, pure white marshmallow cream, and the golden brown skin will complement it. The chocolate will be melting and it will all taste amazing. No charring, no bitterness, just creamy marshmallow, crispy crackers and gooey chocolate. The perfect S’more.

Sunday we just hung around the campsite. The kids went to the beach for a while with my Stepmother and then, we they got back, they climbed the rocks. I was lucky to find a grill that would fit over the fire pit so, we set about making hamburgers for dinner over the campfire. I built the fire and started it with FireSteel. It sounds simple when I say it. But, I’m going to be honest and tell you that I worked and worked and worked to start that fire. I got out my iPad and read about how to do it, then watched a couple YouTube videos about it. Honestly, starting a fire is not easy. I resorted to taking a paper towel and wrapping it around the striker, as I saw on one video, and it worked a charm. The tinder that hitherto had resisted my efforts to light it now crackled with flame. Once the fire settled down I barbecued the burger patties over the fire. We also did corn on the cob wrapped in foil over the fire and topped it off by toasting the buns, too. Delicious. It was one of those perfect moments, eating food I made, tasting the accomplishment of starting the fire without the use of matches or lighter and looking out over a blue lake in the cool dusk. Beautiful.


On Monday we got up early and headed down to the Marina so we could rent a pontoon boat complete with a barbecue to look for a waterfall and let the kids fish.  We motored across the nearly glassy lake in the cool morning air, feeling a million miles from the furnace heat of the Inland Empire.  We found the waterfall and it was pretty.  Not Yosemite’s waterfalls pretty, but a wonderful little cascade of hydrogen dioxide.  I somehow managed to get all three kids poles ready and got them fishing.  They were so excited… for about ten minutes.  Then they pretty much decided that fishing was for suckers and monks.  People either so patient they can wait or too foolish to do something else.  So, they didn’t catch anything.

We came back and made a simple lunch.  My Sun and Stars (whom I think secretly wishes she was a grade school teacher sometimes) had brought along some craft supplies.  So, the kids and she set about making turtles from paper bowls complete with little feet and googly eyes.  Then, as the turtles dried they wove “God’s Eyes (example pictured left).  I could be wrong, but I got the feeling that My Sun and Stars enjoyed the crafts more than the kids did.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that at all.  But, somehow, that’s how camping always seems to go, doesn’t it?  Lots of things in life, really.  You think it’s super cool and when you share it with the kids they appear to be completely unimpressed.  Then they go play in the dirt.

For dinner that evening the three families met for a potluck.  Our contribution was bacon-wrapped shrimp that we grilled over the open campfire.  It was as delicious as it sounds.  There was also spaghetti, garlic bread and salad to be had.  And, we finished off the evening with S’mores.  Because we could; because we were camping.  When you’re camping, you get to have S’mores.

Tuesday we got into the cars and drove about 45 minutes deeper into the forest to visit Big Creek.  You seek, much of the area up here is owned by Southern California Edison and was the site of a major hydroelectric system.  Basically, they used dams and penstock valves to make the waters in the area generate electricity.  Several of the lakes, including Shaver, are part of this system.  The water is passed through multiple generating areas as it makes it way to the Central Valley.  As they put it, it is the hardest working water in the world.  The tour takes you down to the power station and you get to walk past the turbines.  You’re not allowed to take pictures of them.  But, we did get to look at them and then visit a small museum upstairs.  All of it was very impressive and interesting.  You don’t really think about where the electricity comes from so it was neat to see it.

We visited the little town and had homemade ice cream at Big Creek General Store. Yum.  Then heading back, we took the scenic route to camp and circumnavigated Huntington Lake.   That evening we cooked dinner over the campfire.  We had potatoes baked in the cooked in the coals, and grilled, bacon-wrapped steaks. Yes, bacon again.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  If you think so, I believe you may be un-American, or possibly Jewish.  Nothing wrong with that either.  Ended the evening with S’mores at my Dad’s camp.  Again, because we could.

Wednesday we went to Dinkey Creek.  I guess it’s Dinkey, but since we got so much snow fall in the Sierras there was more water than usual.  The area was quite beautiful.  Huge pieces of granite worn smooth by the millions upon millions of gallons of water rushing over them.  It would have been the perfect place to cavort in the afternoon sun…

However, the water was cold.  Super cold.  So cold that your feet hurt when you put them in.  So, you wait and and you get used to and it’s okay.  But, then, it’s way too cold to put your legs in.  So, you do and you get used to it and then you’re not so foolish to put your torso in.  So, you don’t.


The kids had fun anyway and the daughter was brave enough to go tubing a little.  The water was very swift in places so we found a sheltered area for her to play in.  She did it once and realize that granite isn’t really all that smooth on your butt as it seemed at first.  So, that game ended.  The son and I splashed each other a little.  Good times.  In a pool we could see trout schooling.  Nature.  You don’t see that every day.  Or, I don’t because I live in the city.

We had ice cream in town on the way back and then got dinner together back at the campsite.  Hamburgers, spaghetti (from us) and tri-tip (from Dad).  I believe we had S’mores again.  What.  I noticed I picked up a couple of mosquito bites.  I’m okay with that because I want my immunity to West Nile Virus kept current, thank you very much.  I think we also had showers this night and Tuesday night.  Showers are wonderful when you’re camping.  Brief, fleeting moments of cleanliness.  Then, the dust and the smoke settle upon you again.  Did I mention that I hate some parts of camping?

Thursday we did a lot of nothing. I sat around the campsite reading.  My Sun and Stars went to the laundromat and washed clothes.   I had finished “A Feast for Crows” the other day (Hence, I guess, calling my favorite woman in the whole world “My Sun and Stars”; she likes it, so there.) and got back to reading “Ghost Rider” by Neil Peart.  I really like that book, but it’s kind of a bummer to read sometimes.  Hard to understand how you make your way through so much sorrow.  I guess that’s why he rode for so long.  If that ever happened to me, I feel like I would have to do something similar.  So, I read some of that, some fantasy football stuff, looked up my classes online to see if I recognize any names (I did).  I made spaghetti for lunch and we made carne asada for dinner to go with the tacos that my Stepmother made. The kids spent their time making goofy videos on their iPods and playing with the Popsicle stick figures they made. (Stella counts down “In 5, 4, 3…” just like on iCarly!) Lucas spent some time on top of the rock “shuffling” (a kind of dance) to a song on his iPod. He’s actually getting kind of good at it.

One last night in the camper.  It smelled like dirty socks in there.  Three dirty kids and two dirty adults will do that to you.  We went to sleep and in the morning, awoke before 7 a.m.  I made coffee and we got to packing.  We crammed as much into the Accord as we could, shuttled some over to my Dad so he could get it home for us and we headed out.

I often say that camping is like a palette cleanser for life.  Camping refreshes me for what life throws at me.  And, by camping and doing without, say, a daily shower, the convenience of a kitchen, air conditioning, a comfortable bed,  and big screen TV, I remind myself how good I have it.  So, in all, I really love camping.  And, we had a good time.  Now, ideally, I will get back to blogging more regularly.  Lucky you!

Seriously, Don’t Read This Post About Illegal Immigration

What follows are my thoughts on illegal immigration. There’s really no point in writing this. I won’t change anyone’s mind. And yet, I am writing it. Why? Cause this way I can “talk” about it and you can ignore it. Which you should do. There is no good reason for you to read this post. Either you already agree with me and you will only have your opinion confirmed. Or, you will be angered and feel like arguing with me.

Don’t bother arguing with me.

Mostly, I’m writing this because one of my family members sent a mass e-mail to me, among others, that was pro-Jan Brewer and anti-illegal immigrants, quoting Jan Brewer and her disagreement with the Phoenix Suns’ president who voiced his disapproval of the Arizona immigration law. My family member indicated that Jan Brewer should be president.

Please please please let Jan Brewer be Sarah Palin’s running mate! That would be so good for the Daily Show!

I am not in favor of illegal immigration. Illegal immigration is a crime. However, I *am* sympathetic to people coming to this country trying to make a living and make a better life for themselves. You know, The American Dream? I look at one street corner and there’s that same guy there, selling oranges or cherries, in the sun. He’s wearing the same clothes, too. But, he’s working. Then, on another corner, there’s that same guy with the sign declaring he’s a homeless veteran that will work for food, but I never see him working, just taking handouts (I have to wonder if a real veteran would actually be able to swallow their pride and beg for money.) I also realize that illegal immigration costs taxpayer money. I am not arguing that illegals should be granted amnesty. I am arguing that the rhetoric is way overblown. I am arguing that people act like illegal immigrants are destroying this country when it was built by illegal immigrants (or did I miss where the Cherokee issued visas?).

I wonder what Jesus would have to say about illegal immigration? Would he say to feed his brother, take care of the poor, shelter the children… as long as their status is properly documented? I think Jesus had a lot more compassion for people than many of his followers do. Maybe this doesn’t apply to you, but I think it clearly does to some others. Republicans will go to great lengths to declare their allegiance to Jesus and then promptly ignore what Jesus taught them.

Mostly what I object to is that people say they want illegal immigrants out for economic reasons. Then, when it’s pointed out that undocumented workers actually add to the economy, too, that they do pay income tax in some cases, etc., they don’t care about all that. They just want the Mexicans to go home. Hmmm. Yeah, for economic reasons. Except when it’s not about the economics. Then we’re glad they’re not here bothering us Americans.

We like illegal immigrants to pick our produce, to wash our cars, clean our offices, do our landscaping and construction. But, when the economy is tough, all of a sudden, illegal immigrants are persona non grata. Really, they are taking jobs away from Americans?

We are all content to buy our products from China and Taiwan where the workers get pennies an hour. How is this different? Couldn’t those jobs be American too? What about those American jobs that went to India so customer service phone centers could cost less for credit card companies and tech support? Those could be American jobs, too.

The criminals are the companies that are making money off the backs of all of us. If there were no market for workers willing to accept awful work conditions, no benefits, and low wages then illegal immigration would drop to zero. But, people, mostly Republicans and Tea Party “patriots” (how many scoundrels have wrapped themselves in a flag to avoid detection?), would rather scapegoat someone who just wants to work, just wants to feed his family.

Then again, lots of people go around these days believing things, forming opinions, without letting themselves be bothered with facts.

I excerpted a section of a story from the Arizona Republic below to illustrate my point.

Kavanagh, a sponsor of SB 1070, said it is difficult to tell whether illegal immigrants are being driven underground by the economic downturn or the immigration law.

Tom Rex, who studies the state’s economy for the Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, said immigration crackdowns, notably the state’s employer-sanctions law, have driven more undocumented workers from the aboveground economy into the underground cash economy.

The sanctions law, which took effect in 2008, requires all employers to electronically verify whether employees are legally eligible to work. That has made it harder for undocumented workers to use fake documents to get legitimate jobs, as many did in the past.

It also means less revenue for the state, since undocumented workers employed in the aboveground economy typically pay income taxes, unlike those working for cash.

On top of that, the state has lost sales-tax and other revenue from the thousands of illegal immigrants who have left due to the immigration crackdowns, further hurting the state’s sagging economy, Rex said.

The Pew Hispanic Center recently estimated that the state’s undocumented population shrunk by 100,000 people in the past three years, dropping from 500,000 to 400,000.

Such a large and sudden loss of people dealt a severe blow to the state’s economy, even when costs such as education and other services are factored in, Rex said.

As evidence, he pointed to retail sales, which plummeted 9 percent in 2008 and 10 percent in 2009. Rex called the drop unprecedented and said it likely resulted from an overall decrease in spending during the recession and immigrants leaving the state.

“Nothing remotely close to that has ever happened in this state,” Rex said.

Still, Kavanagh said the loss of more than 100,000 illegal immigrants opened job opportunities for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants at a time when the state’s unemployment rate is 9.5 percent.

“So losing 100,000 or 200,000 workers who were undercutting legal workers and depressing wages is a big plus, as far as I am concerned,” he said. “Good riddance.”

Clint Hickman, vice president of sales and marketing for Hickman’s Family Farms, the largest egg producer in Arizona, said sales to supermarkets and grocery stores that cater to Latinos dropped 20 percent in the wake of SB 1070.

“Eggs are not easily substituted, so it wasn’t that there was some other foodstuff that was being substituted,” he said. “It was a real loss of consumption because the people aren’t here any more.”

Kavanagh said the drop in sales suggests SB 1070 was a “very effective deterrent.”

“It makes me feel good,” Kavanagh said. “Mr. Hickman (will have to) have less hens. You don’t overproduce. I am not going to maintain a large population of illegal immigrants who drain our economy and cost us in benefits just so that Mr. Hickman can sell 20 percent more in eggs.”

(apologies for the videos.  I’m still learning how to format those.)

The Haircut Debate

I went to get my haircut today.  My stylist is an older gentleman, in his late 50’s I guess.  He’s also conservative and not afraid to tell you about it.

Usually, I just keep my mouth shut.  Why bother?  After all, is it likely I’m going to change his mind during the 30-45 minutes I’m sitting in his chair?  Probably not.  But, today, I decided to calmly, politely refute his claims.  Why?
He brought up teacher’s unions.
So, basically, he posited that teacher’s unions are “out of control.”  How so? I asked.  He said, “In every way.  We pay more for education and get less now.”
So, I couldn’t let that stand.  Test scores have actually risen over the last 30 years.  He was positive that the majority of teachers are simply cruising in the classroom, but I don’t believe.  That.  I would say that I can only think of 1 or 2, maybe 3 teachers of 80 at my high school that might be accused of “cruising.”  That’s 3 percent!  I bet there’s another 5-10 that are not doing their best.  That’s 12 percent.  That means that I am betting that 80 percent or more of the teachers at my school are doing pretty good and trying hard to be better.  That’s not scientific, but I bet it’s close.
He said that in the corporate sector, those 15% – 20% would be fired for incompetence.  Oh really?  I told him that maybe, unless they knew the right people or had the right family.  Oh no, he said, things have changed in the private sector since I worked in it.  Oh?, I said.  In ten years?  Oh yes, he responded.
See, as we talked, I calmly tried to present him with information.  Yes, there are some bad teachers.  But, is it the Union’s job to get rid of them?  No, it’s the job of administrators to fire them.  Show me a bad teacher that still works and I’ll find you an administrator unwilling to document why that teacher is bad and unwilling to take the steps to fire the teacher.
Well, he said, that’s because your union is good.  Los Angeles is out of control.  L.A. Unified is completely awful.
I began to see that, no matter what I said, he was going to position my experience, my information as the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.  He even said to me, “If all of our teachers were like you, we wouldn’t have these problems.”  See, even I was an exception because I was being polite, thoughtful and reasonable.
Then he said, “Times are tough, we all need to tighten our belts.”  I said, Teachers are sacrificing.  We haven’t had a raise in five years and we have taken a pay cut by taking furlough days.  He laughed and said he doesn’t get raises.
Now, bear in mind, this is a hair stylist who sets his own prices and can go cut hair anywhere he likes.  He does a good job, knows what he’s doing.  Truthfully, he should be getting $25 per cut, if you ask me.  He charged my $18 and I tipped him $4.  It took him half an hour to cut my hair.  So, if he lined up clients, then he could, conceivably, make over $40 an hour.  That’s more than I make!!!  But, he pointed out that times are tough and it’s not his fault.  But, honestly, I’ve been in a lot of hair salons.  I go back to this one because they’re cheap and this stylist is charging less than he could.  The salon is poorly managed and, compared to a high end shop, dirty.  You get what you pay for.  Usually.  In this case, I could care less about the dust on the counters and hair on the floor.  I get my hair cut for less than I would elsewhere.  And, moreover, he can do a flattop which most hair stylists either balk at or butcher.
But, I digress.  My point is that he’s pissed off because I make more money than him.  He doesn’t have a college degree, he said, but he’s had as much education as me.  Now, I respect his craft.  He is an expert hair stylist.  But, I don’t think his education is the same as mine.  Getting training in a vocational area is not the same as a college degree.  It doesn’t make me smarter than him, but it’s totally false to suggest that all education is the same if it’s the same amount of hours.  He’s pissed off that I’m in a Union and have protection against being fired according to the whims of administrators (which I have been the victim of already).  He’s pissed because he believe that “Fox News is telling the truth.”  Those were his words.
Anyway, I guess my main point is, the man is a nice guy.  He cuts a good haircut.  He is ill-informed, misogynist (When I said that I had some bad haircuts, he said, “Well, I bet those ladies are typing in an office now.” Cause, only women give bad haircuts, see.)  He’s borderline racist (“The other problem is that we have to pay for all these illegals in California, too!).  And, he doesn’t give a crap that Wall Street and the banks are what crashed our economy.  I said to him that teachers didn’t get us into the problems we’re in, that they’re getting plenty of raises and bonuses on Wall Street lately.  He said, “Well, I don’t work on Wall Street.”
That’s where that ended.
This is what teachers are up against.  It’s all our fault.  Teachers are responsible for the whole thing.  It’s not the administrators who are hiring bad teachers or not firing them.  It’s not the district office for making poor decisions about how to spend money and use resources.  It’s not the parents who don’t support education.  It’s not poverty that keeps kids from doing better in school.  It’s not kids being lazy and unwilling to work.  It’s teachers and the unions who are wasting money and making kids stupid.
It’s sad because education is really important and too complex to reduce to such simple terms.

A random items post for this first day of June.

I have a headache. Not a bad one, but it won’t go away. It’s bad enough that I don’t want to think too much.

We went to the movies today and saw Kung Fu Panda 2. It was okay. It was in 3D. That didn’t help my headache, I’m sure. I hate 3d movies. It’s such a gimmick. Mostly it makes the movie look dim and takes me out of the film. And, it costs more. I don’t think it’s better. Avatar, the poster child for a well-done 3d film is still just as entertaining in 2d.

Kung Fu Panda, and every other animated film these days, reminds me of how freaking great Pixar is at making them. The worst Pixar films are still better than anything Dreamworks does, or regular Disney films. The difference?

The writing is much smarter and the art direction is way more clever. But, mostly, it’s the writing. Great characters and perfect plots. Every time. That’s amazing.

I watched “The A-Team” movie from last year tonight. Very poor. Completely gratuitous action lacking most of the charm of the TV show. Even Liam Neeson couldn’t save the film.

Louis C. K. is hilarious. Watched his “Shameless” tonight, also. Short, but very funny.

The Twitter scandal with Rep. Anthony Weiner smells like a setup to me. Rep. Wiener is an outspoken critic of business as usual in Washington and a friend of Jon Stewart. When they can’t kill you then they have to kill your name. It’s the best way to deal with someone making you look bad and who won’t stop. You besmirch their character so people won’t listen to them anymore.

I studied more Spanish today. I am annoying my Favorite Woman in the World with questions. I am working on personal descriptions and occupations and learning verbs. Llevar is my favorite right now. Love that verb.

I didn’t install anything today. But there’s still a lavatory faucet awaiting me when I feel skippy.

Me and my FWITWW went to the teacher store today. Bought some paper for the walls, borders, posters and such. I got a new stamp for essay grading (6 Traits of Good Writing, woot!) and a fancy timer for keeping me on track during lessons (plus it has a random number generator I can use to pick kids at random to read or participate!). We spent, um, more than you would think reasonable.

Devin Townsend’s “Deconstruction” is an amazing metal album. You probably wouldn’t like it. It’s like Frank Zappa but mixed with Slayer and a dollop of Enya.

I remember when you had to be very selective about the pictures you took because you had to pay to develop them and there were only so many exposures on a roll of film. I took pictures of my kids eating In and Out today because I felt like it. Times have changed.

Must sleep now. Thanks for reading, hope it wasn’t a total waste of time for you.