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Archive for September, 2011

Ten Best Simpsons Episodes

Wired celebrates the new, 23rd season of The Simpsons with a list of top ten episodes.  They have some good ones (notice that most of their choices come from the first several seasons), but this is hardly the best of the best.  My choices:

10. “Bart the Daredevil,” season 2, writtern by Kogen and Wolodarsky

Great quote: “Bones heal, chicks dig scars.” 

Why I love it: What may still be the single funniest joke in the history of television:

9. “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love,” season 3, written by Kogen and Wolodarsky

Great quote: “Bet the eight ball didn’t see that one coming.”

Why I love it: The brilliant Raiders of the Lost Ark opening sequence, perhaps the entire series’ best parody.

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As writers, we wield the cold Darwinian erasers of editorial evolution.  Scrutinizing the compositional gene pool, we are a vehicle of natural selection, finding the weakest words and the unfit phrases.  We exercise the instruments of the delete keys at our fingertips, and thus remove the dead weight that threatens to hold back the success of the prose herd.  Our task is nothing less than to kill off those unlucky aspects of our writing that simply aren’t strong enough to deserve propagation. 

This should be the attitude of anyone who writes: student writers all seem to be born with a case of excessive compassion for every word they write, even the ones so obviously inferior that they can do no more than infect the surrounding writing with their ineptitude.  The mark of a good writer is the evolved ability to remove themselves from their emotional attachment to their own writing and do what must be done: the execution of those elements which simply aren’t worthy of seeing the light of day. 

This task is hard enough to develop in ourselves, much less in student writers.  Yet it is necessary for growth as someone with any talent for writing at all.  It’s been my experience as a teacher that most students can write far better than they do, but they hold back because the more intense effort needed to justify the existence of every word is more work than it’s worth: a chatty first draft is usually “good enough.” 

One thing that often helps students develop a more critical mindset, however, is discussing with them the rather morbid metaphor I opened with above.  Kids really respond to that.  Today in class I advised students to delete all of the extraneous on’s from their writing.  Someone joked that I was “killing all the poor little on’s!”  I replied, “I plead guilty to the crime of prepositional genocide!”  A hearty round of applause erupted.  Disturbing, possibly, but productive. 

 

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The Dance of Joy

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Post #990

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Where Are All the Fat Kids?

Heard more on the radio last week about government initiatives to help fat kids lose weight.  This is an area where I find all the scary statistics (“10 out of 5 kids are a thousand pounds overweight!”) hard to believe.  I’ve worked around thousands of teens every year for over a decade, at several locations around town, and there just aren’t that many fat kids. 

Yes, some people are overweight, but is there an epidemic of morbid obesity?  I just don’t see it.  The number of kids I’ve ever seen who are so overweight that their health is in danger could probably be counted on my fingers. 

I’m skeptical of the whole anti-obesity witch hunt, anyway.  We’re almost treating people who are a little larger than average like they have the plague.  Frankly, it doesn’t make sense to me–if being a bit heavy is so incredibly dangerous, then why are there supposedly so many fat people?  Shouldn’t most of them have dropped dead by now?

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I cringe when I hear people say of teachers, “My taxes pay their salary–they need to be more cooperative and responsive to my needs!” 

What this really means is, “Give me what I want.”  What’s so wrong with that?  It’s wrong because schools are not customer satisfaction factories.  Our job is to educate future generations, even when it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, or even upsetting to any individual or group.  In fact, real progress usually has to entail those things.  Public schools exist to safeguard the success of society, not to pander to the whims of individuals.  Sorry if that sounds cold or collectivist, but it’s true. 

Parents rarely seem to consider that all those exceptions, changes, and special favors they ask for don’t just affect their own children–while Mom and Dad often only care about the short-term outcome of a single issue, we teachers must be cognizant of long-term precedents and the ripple effect on an entire campus.  Just giving Junior that higher grade or privilege you’re agitating for will ultimately cause far more harm than good. 

But surely nobody thinks that good schools will make everybody happy all the time anyway!  It doesn’t matter that most parents are reasonable, decent people.  No public institution can function as a pure democracy–imagine if everybody (or only the good people–you know, like you) got what they wanted every time they were upset at a school.  It would be chaos!  How often do you think parental special interests contradict each other, anyway?  Sometimes people will say of rival gangs, “Just put them in a room and let them fight it out.”  Teachers often feel that way about parents. 

So, yes, parents are paying teachers, but not to be at their beck and call.  We’re paid for a service that, by its nature, must ruffle feathers at times. 

And it’s somewhat of a simplification to say that “your taxes” are paying teacher salaries, anyway.

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One of my earliest exposures to classical music was the Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?”  Does this get played anywhere, anymore?  Do kids today get to see this?  Shoot, two generations of kids grew up knowing the theme from Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” because we all heard Elmer Fudd singing it here as “Kill the Wabbit!” 

Wikipedia’s article on this one is really good; it gives all the original operatic influences that are lampooned in the animated short, and lauds it superlatively:

Originally released to theaters by Warner Bros. on July 6, 1957, What’s Opera, Doc? features the speaking and singing voices of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan as Bugs and Elmer respectively. In 1994, What’s Opera, Doc? was voted #1 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by 1000 members of the animation field….

In 1992, it became the first cartoon short to be deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress, and thus was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

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There may be legitimate, albeit small, changes in aspects of the world’s climate that bear study and discussion, but the furious fervor one hears in the mainstream media about its apocalyptic implications is simply unwarranted.  I read an editor’s note in a science magazine earlier this year (I think it was Scientific American) that made this same point: the worst case doomsday scenarios that are regularly trotted out as the way of the future unless the most stringent, extreme green agenda is universally and slavishly adopted, are just not responsible. 

The ideas that humans are capable of “destroying” the earth, much less of “saving” it, both strike me as arrogant. 

More and more news supports this:

Exclusive: Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist Who Endorsed Obama Dissents! Resigns from American Physical Society Over Group’s Promotion of Man-Made Global Warming

Nobel Laureate Dr. Ivar Giaever: ‘The temperature (of the Earth) has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this ‘warming’ period.’

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  • Last week, a 15-year-old girl walking home from a friend’s house in an affluent Las Vegas suburb was attacked, raped twice, and stabbed more than 40 times by a 19-year-old predator.  He then set fire to her corpse and left it in the desert. 
  • This murder was similar to the 1997 rape and murder of little Sherrice Iverson, who was unfortunate enough to be left unattended in a casino all night while her father gambled.  A then-18-year-old playfully made contact with her, then took her into a bathroom where he ended up twisting the 7-year-old’s neck. 
  • Also last week, a man walked into an IHOP in Carson City, Nevada’s capital, and fired at random with an assault rifle, killing four people–including three uniformed National Guardsmen–before killing himself.
  • And let’s not forget the shooting in Arizona this last January which killed six people, including a judge and a little girl who would have turned ten years old today, on the anniversary of 9/11. 

These four tragedies have something in common.  They were all perpetrated by people who were known by those around them to be mentally ill.  (more…)

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This year, I’m starting my American Lit Honors classes with The Crucible, the classic play about the Salem Witch Trials.  I usually end my introduction to it with a joke like this:

“So this is a story about desperate, repressed, stressed-out people crowded into a little village in a hostile wilderness, whose desire for excitement and importance makes them break out in hysterical, paranoid drama, and then the innocent, unpopular people around them suffer greatly.  So basically it’s a lot like 7th grade.” 

One of my favorite jokes of the whole year!

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John Williams’ Greatest Hits

It’s uncanny how many of our favorite movie themes have been written by the same pop genius.  Ladies and gentlemen, presenting some of the greatest hits of John Williams:

 

 

 

 

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Earlier this year, a Catholic Archbishop in New Mexico made controversial national headlines because he dared to teach his flock about the sacred importance of marriage.  Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan wrote in a pastoral letter:

We are all painfully aware that there are many Catholics today who are living in cohabitation. The Church must make it clear to the faithful that these unions are not in accord with the Gospel, and to help Catholics who find themselves in these situations to do whatever they must do to make their lives pleasing to God.

First of all, we ourselves must be firmly rooted in the Gospel teaching that, when it comes to sexual union, there are only two lifestyles acceptable to Jesus Christ for His disciples: a single life of chastity, or the union of man and woman in the Sacrament of Matrimony. There is no “third way” possible for a Christian.

The reaction was swift and brutal.  (more…)

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Homer’s Iliad is great for the Halloween season.  I’ve been reading it, and I’m trying to finish so I can start on some easy, stress-relieving scary stories as summer ends, but I’m realizing now just how appropriate this ancient epic poem is for the new season.

I’m in Book 15 out of 24, and several recent passages have struck me with their grim, vivid obsession with the morbid. 

As Book 12 ends, the Trojans are invading the Greek headquarters, Hector urging them on:

They rushed to obey him,

Some swarming over the top at once, others streaming in

Through the sturdy gateways—Argives scattering back in terror,

Back by the hollow hulls, the uproar rising, no way out, no end—

To me, that conjures the kind of claustrophobic panic in the air felt in the Mines of Moria episode in The Fellowship of the Ring

But far more graphic horrors appear in the battles that follow.  Lines 655-666 of Book 13 describe the painful, gruesome death of Adamus at the hand of Meriones:

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