Sunday, March 23, 2014

No surprise in the tastes of movie critics

Wow. Out of curiosity, I went to Rotten Tomatoes to see what the reviews were for the new flix opening this weekend… in particular, I wanted to see what was said about the new Kevin Sorbo movie, God's Not Dead. Interestingly, there were THREE critic reviews for it, while Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 had a healthy 135 reviews, Divergent had 136, Muppets Most Wanted had 122, and even the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune had nearly 3 dozen, but ONLY THREE critics could find in themselves the stuff to brave a movie with a positive message examining Christian faith. Again, 135 went to the unrated (read: filthy and/or gratuitously violent) film about the recollections of a nympho…go figure.

Make Your Own Dazzling Wand for the Cat

Some pets know how to play hard.

A killer of tassels…

Maus has chewed through the expensive wand toys I've picked up for her over the years. It takes her virtually no time at all to destroy them. I'm assuming mine is not the only fuzzy bunny-head with that kind of destructive talent.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share with you my ultra-cheap, and ultimately satisfying (for both of us) solution: wrapper-fringe wands.

I started with breakfast:

Le Package du munchables.
I'm just a little CDO (for the uninitiated, that's just like OCD, only in correct alphabetical order). When I open any package, I do my best to keep the wrapping undamaged. It's a little tricky, sometimes, but with most of these items, there's a way to pull the seal apart at one end, then gradually work open the rest of the wrapper. If I fail, I grump and growl and throw the whole thing away in a fit of pique. When I succeed, I save it for future projects.

If you don't feel like handling everything delicately, you can probably use scissors to trim it open, though I, personally, would have to throw that away.

I have about 20 of these, right now, washed and being pressed in a drawer. That's about 40% of my work.

But I digress. 

Wrap-a-wrap-a-wrap, they call me the wrapper…
Anyway ––

Once the wrapper's completely opened up, I rub away any and all adhesive which may remain on it, and then wipe it down with a Clorox- or other-saturated cleaning cloth to remove any other residue, so that I have a clean start (no chocolate for the wee beastie).

Sometimes, you may receive active, participatory supervision.

With a pair of scissors (or, on a cutting board with a rotary blade), I cut strips to within about 1 1/2 inches  of the top of the sheet, at about 1/8-inch intervals (it's not all that important that they be even in width, or that they all be super-thin, but I like to use the serrated cut at the end of the wrapper to gauge how wide my strips will be).

Que serrate, serrate…
A word of advice on this particular stage of the project: don't start it when you're all wired and wound up for action. Slicing requires a somewhat steady hand and the ability to approach that zen state. A good wand needs at least three wrappers turned to fringe.

Flashback to the wardrobe of my youth…

If you are following along, you will also need a straight stick. I use long cheap wooden chopsticks.

This is not a magic wand. But don't tell the cat.

I take a tab of handy-dandy tape and attach it to one corner of the first sheet of fringe, then attach that to the end of the stick, wrapping around tightly. Then I take the next sheet of fringe, repeat, and do the same with the third sheet of fringe. When that is done, I give it a little pull downward so that there is a little bit of each layer showing beneath the next, in a faint spiral. This is so that the top layer of tape will grip each, if only a small amount. (It isn't crucial, but it will make the base of the tassel more durable).

The I wrap tape around the top of the fringe tassel two or three times, to give it stability. Then, using a piece of tape about 6 to 8 inches long, I begin to wrap in a spiral up the stick. (Give the tape a good amount of pressure as you apply it, and then rub it down into place once it's all wrapped.)

Then, I find the wee beastie and wave the toy around. It makes a spiffy rustle, and, even if the cat isn't in the mood at that moment for an assault on glitter, I can still pretend to be a fairy godmother…

It didn't take her long to turn her first one into a tattered tangle.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

I do not like thee..

Since early on in his stay in the limelight, I've been a little less enthusiastic than many about the popularity of Chris Christie. Granted, I did enjoy seeing him take down so many union shills, but, somehow, I wasn't quite as comfortable with his success as I was with, say, Scott Walker's. At first, I thought it might simply be my Midwestern provincialism. However, in light of recent news concerning New Jersey's administration, I now have an excuse to share my qualms about having their current governor as the lead name on the Republican ticket for 2016.

In honor of this moment, I offer a small bit of doggerel:*

I do not like thee, Mister Christie,
The reason why is greatly mistie,
But this I say while shaking fistie,
I do not like thee, Mister Christie.

*With apologies to Ogden Nash and Thomas Brown

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Newly Released Photo: Secretary of State In Negotiations with…

John Kerry negotiates with…you choose. Iran? North Korea? Russia? China?

Dishonest John at work…

(With respect and apologies to Robert Clampett and his brilliant creation, The Beany and Cecil Show.)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Thinking on atheists and looking at cats…

I keep seeing reports of atheists trying to shout down or shut down Christian celebrations, displays, and observances. The comparison which comes to mind is of a kid who wants into the neighborhood treehouse club but doesn't want to climb the tree to get there, so he demands the tree be cut down. 

Their little stompy boots almost make me feel sorry for them…


Friday, October 04, 2013

Ancient Lesson, Modern Context

Sometimes, when cleaning out closets, store rooms, and such, a person can find something to bring a smile to everyone, floating to the top of otherwise useless documents. Today, Mom and I had just such a discovery:

What, I can hear you say, is so special about a page from a Sunday School lesson? Well, it's not this side, actually. Although the simple, cloying language of this particular telling of the parable of the good Samaritan might be viewed as charming by some, it's nothing exceptional. What makes this a prize is the other side of the page:

(click to embiggen)

Now, that's tending to his injuries! (And, yes, it is a genuine adhesive strip attached to the page.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Eletelephony in the 21st Century

Eletelephony in the 21st Century

Once there was an elephant
Who tried to use the telephant

No matter where he tried to call
The NSA would hear it all.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Message from a former teacher to a high school teacher

I just stumbled across an article from last February's WaPo, the contents of  Kenneth Bernstein's  Warning to college profs from a high school teacher.

Having lived in the household of one college professor, and having served in education in several different capacities, I wholly understand the complaint he makes, that teaching to the tests is not an optimal method for preparing children for the next stage of education, or for life in general:

No Child Left Behind went into effect for the 2002–03 academic year, which means that America’s public schools have been operating under the pressures and constrictions imposed by that law for a decade. Since the testing requirements were imposed beginning in third grade, the students arriving in your institution have been subject to the full extent of the law’s requirements. While it is true that the U.S. Department of Education is now issuing waivers on some of the provisions of the law to certain states, those states must agree to other provisions that will have as deleterious an effect on real student learning as did No Child Left Behind—we have already seen that in public schools, most notably in high schools.
 Bernstein does his best to describe the bleak situation

From what I saw from the free response questions I read, too many students in AP courses were not getting depth in their learning and lacked both the content knowledge and the ability to use what content knowledge they had.

Further, he asks

As a retired public school teacher, I believe I have a responsibility to offer a caution to college professors, or perhaps to make a plea.
Please do not blame those of us in public schools for how unprepared for higher education the students arriving at your institutions are. We have very little say in what is happening to public education. Even the most distinguished and honored among us have trouble getting our voices heard in the discussion about educational policy. The National Teacher of the Year is supposed to be the representative of America’s teachers—if he or she cannot get teachers’ voices included, imagine how difficult it is for the rest of us. That is why, if you have not seen it, I strongly urge you to read 2009 National Teacher of the Year Anthony Mullen’s famous blog post, “Teachers Should Be Seen and Not Heard.”

When you get right down to it, then, Bernstein's "apology" is more of a complaint, that government policies are what prevented him from being a good teacher, and now he's sending his problem upstairs, to the colleges.

The funny thing is, many of what he labels as "mindless and destructive patterns of misuse of tests"  have their roots in the establishment of standardized tests created, to begin with, so that parents, teachers, and students would all know what is to be expected of them by a certain point in their educations. Further, No Child Left Behind was developed as a policy because so very very many students were not meeting those simple expectations by middle school and high school, that parents  pleaded with the government to come in and fix their broken school systems.

Toward the end of the last century, schools – especially those in strongly rural and densely urban regions – suffered from increasingly high failure and dropout rates. In answer to that, there had been attempts to negotiate with teachers' unions, to work a solution to the problem, by rewarding the more successful teachers and removing those who could not teach. Unfortunately, there was some difficulty with that plan: by what metric to we choose to keep or to clean house? It's entirely too easy to allow politics or personal feelings interfere in a performance evaluation, especially if a teacher is persistent in challenging the little hothouse flowers, and they whine that he's "picking on them," or something comparable. We needed an objective means of assessment, in order to decide which teachers should be promoted, which should be advised to find new careers… We needed, they said, a standardized testing system.

We had a problem, we asked for solutions – including allowing for the firing of those who can't teach – the unions balked, the failing teachers stayed, the problem got worse, largely due to lack of accountability on all sides, so we invited the federal government in. What could possibly go wrong, when Big Labor and Big Government collude to decide what the rules in the tax-funded classroom will be?

Yeah, that went well.

In other words, this didn't start with No Child Left Behind, and it won't end with any program imposed on a grand scale, regardless of how much the parents, teachers, and everybody else may whine.

The entire of the American public school system is now at a crossroads. Not only do we need to reassess what we expect of the students at each level, and of the teachers, as well. We need to decide what we expect of the system itself. Do we truly still believe that it is possible to mass-produce intelligent thought by government fiat and multiple-guess tests? Or do we look at each district, each school, each classroom, each teacher and each student as independent and dynamic? Do we continue to sell the notion that every child, whatever his field, must suffer years of  boredom and crippling debt to acquire a doctorate or perish, or do we reshape our own views so that those whose gifts lie in their hands are respected and treated as well as those who read Latin or calculate pi to the umpteenth decimal? The mindset shapes the system.

Those parents who are able, have sent their children to private schools, parochial schools, or have even home-schooled rather than allow their children to fall through the cracks which are the system. Theirs are the children who grow to shape the next generation of innovation and industry.

So, some families have adapted, either by financial advantage or by sheer will. Will the public schools learn to adapt, or will they and their employees go the way of the spinster school marm?

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Great Loess

My father's best friend passed away, this morning.

The phone call came at supper time. It was, in truth, a call we had been waiting for, expecting for these past few years, since it became evident that Alzheimer's had claimed what had been the greatest part of a fine man, and left behind a lost and frightened child in a wizened body. His ultimate departure from this mortal coil is something of a relief to those who loved him, even as it brings us all sorrow.

I can't tell you the life history of the man, other than what can best be described as hearsay. I have heard he had taught at East Tennessee State University, and later at Philips, in Enid, Oklahoma, and finally at Interlochen, Michigan. I knew him in his years at Monmouth College, in Monmouth, Illinois, where he and my father became friends.

My father is not a terribly approachable man. He's polite, and, under the right circumstances, can be viewed as genial, but it took a special talent to get Pop to drop his guard. It took a nerd with a love of really bad jokes and puns. It took the only other man on campus who, without trying, sounded like Bullwinkle J. Moose. It took Lyman O. Williams.

You wouldn't expect Pop to cotton to Lyman. After all, Pop seemed to be in pain at the sound of bagpipes carrying on the wind, and Lyman was not only a fine player, but a gifted instructor on the pipes. Pop has spent years overcoming his shyness, and Lyman was generally outgoing and enthusiastic. But they were both boy scouts, both scientists, and both, on frequent occasions, unafraid of a little silliness, even in the classroom.

Pop's humor has always been more crisp, more efficient than most, often with puns which waited until several minutes had passed before they hit you. By comparison, Dennis Miller has years of practice to go, before he catches up with my father. Lyman, on the other hand, told stories – some of them long, rambling shaggy dog stories which he would adjust to fit the time and place he told them, which didn't always work. In his telling "a rabbi, a priest, and a lawyer" would be changed to "a Monmouth student, a Knox student, and a professor." Often, he was the only one laughing at the end of his story, and his laughter was filled with such delight, it became contagious, regardless of how little anybody comprehended his tales. We always ended up laughing with him.

And, having more or less lived on the Monmouth College's campus during my formative years, I can tell you that their sense of humor often went unremarked by all but the brightest students. I can still hear some of my friends coming back from class, saying in shocked tones, "Do you know what HE did/said, today?"

But I took a class or two from Lyman, and, thirty years and change later, along with my memories of him in family settings, I can still see him in the front of the lecture hall, I can still visualize the things he described of the earth, and, best of all, I still see him standing beside a road, showing us students the exposed layers of soil that define our region. He was glorious in his element, joking about rocks and dirt, and the great loess other regions suffered so we could have rich savings and loam. The laughs, there, were tools to keep us remembering, and they worked.

I will remember him, and I will be grateful for what he taught me in class. I will be thankful he was my father's best friend, too, because that made him a friend to me. And, that, indeed, has been a gift.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Basement cat reaches out to you

Mom's little boogerhead takes his half of the bed out of the middle, and brooks no argument about it.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Not World Police, Just the Kids Who Can Fix the Problem

I have one problem with the isolationists of all parties: bullies.

As the Greatest Country On Earth, just picture yourself as one of the biggest kids on the block, and some other big kid has started pushing around one of the other kids. Your first response is usually to talk directly to the bully, right? And if the thug continues to menace the other kid, you (a) go to the other kids in the neighborhood to see if they want to stand up as a group, tell the bully to quit, and nobody gets hurt, and, when the rest of the kids say, "send him a letter and we'll sign it, but that's all," you (b) as an isolationist, let the thug pick off every little kid on the block until you have a hellhole instead of a nice neighborhood (and the thug burns down your house, too), or (c) as a responsible, capable, bigger kid, make it clear - both verbally and physically – that picking on little kids is not something you will tolerate. You're not the world's cop, but you *are* strong enough to help out your neighbors and friends in hard times, and, therefore, have a social and a moral obligation (as well as a modicum of self-preservation) to do what you can to keep your neighborhood safe for yourself and for everybody else.

I'm not expecting perfection. I'm pretty sure that's still an impossibility, whether we talk of individuals or nations. What I'm saying is, we do our best to keep things nice, and, if we have hard times ourselves, there's a better chance that we'll have others standing with us, keeping the block safe from most threats.

It's sort of an extension of the "Broken Windows" thing. Letting it remain broken encourages more breakage.  If you can fix it, you should, or, eventually, nobody will fix anything, and civilization devolves once more into the dark ages.

This is, I think, the one great weakness of the Libertarian Party (other than some of its past leaders being totally bug-nuts). Too many of them think that the US involving itself in foreign matters makes us "the World's Police Force," but we're just the kids who CAN fix the problem, and therefore, should, before it gets worse.

Between a Barbecue and a Science Lecture

I posted this on a social medium before I remembered I have a blog… I guess I'm tired. Still, after a day of hard work, I was faced with two separate people trying to sway me toward opposing sides of a thorny issue, so here is where I ended up:

I'm neither a conservative Christian nor a progressive atheist. I'm somewhere in the middle, the way a lot of people are, in this world. 

I'm also not terribly interested in converting to any one set of beliefs, because, well, because. 

That's all. 

But one thing I can tell you about being out here in the non-aligned state. While both the Christians and the atheists have spent much time trying to convert me to their views of the universe, the big difference seems to be this: it's as if the Christians are saying, "We have this awesome deity, and He's made some totally spiffy promises, so we have a party going in His name, and it's up to you whether or not you want to join in."

The atheists rely upon the government to keep the Christians from inviting me to their party, and forcing me and mine to attend their somber, scientific functions.

The more I watch the two sides trying to sway me to their cause, the more inclined I am to respect the Christians, and the more I am inclined to pity the atheists as the humorless local bullies who call the cops every time their neighbors have a weekend barbecue and stay up singing camp songs until midnight.

Even though I'm not much of a party animal, it's nice to know I'm welcome, in one yard, to have a 32-ounce pop or a mass-produced beer, a greasy burger, and a song uninterrupted, if I want to.