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Sunday, December 25, 2005

All That (Other) Jazz 

So this week, one of my CW students made me a disc of good time jazz music. To reciprocate, I told him I would offer him some jazz music that he hadn't heard; alas, everyone I can think of (Coltrane, Coleman, Ella, Monk), he's heard of.

So I've whipped together some of my favorite hip-hop/electronic jazz fusions into this week's SynCast. We've got jazzy selections from:
  • DJ Krush
  • Ben Neill
  • Digable Planets
  • Guru's Jazzmatazz
  • MC 900 Foot Jesus
  • WhatIs
  • Nonplace Urban Field
  • and many more!
So check it out and get your jazz on. Big ups to the kid who gave me the disc and all the rest of the CW crew -- thanks for making me smile every day.


Check out The Best Christmas Lights Display Ever! Pretty wacky.

Today I'm listening to: Jazzmatazz!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Eleven Fine Films from 2005 (and Three Which Sucked) 

Everyone always does these stupid Ten Best Films of the Year lists, and while I've resisted for a while -- mostly because I usually have trouble thinking of ten films I really enjoyed seeing that year -- I figure I'll give it a go for some reason. Let me say that these are grouped by style and theme, not in order of preference. I don't think it makes sense to say one film is The Best. And I forgot about McLibel so I just made it 11. (TPCQ: "That's ridiculous.") Okay, here goes.

Real Life (Documentaries)

Something has always bugged me about movies -- when you walk into a bookstore, fully half the shelves are for non-fiction books, right? So why sre there so few documentary films made? Anyway, three good ones from 2005 are:
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Like the best documentaries, Enron mixes style and substance in a splendid way that skimps on neither. We get the full story and get to know the people involved -- which often makes the difference between a decent non-fiction film and one which really shines. Visit the official site.

    Now where's the WorldCom movie?

  • The Aristocrats. While I hate their politics, I did thoroughly enjoy Penn and Teller's indulgence in behind-the-scenes comedic let-loosism. Best telling: Dana Gould. Second best: Hank Azaria. Biggest surprise: Bob Saget. Visit the official site.

    It's hard to dislike a documentary film featuring George Carlin. Too bad they couldn't find a version from Mr. Hicks or Mr. Hedberg.

  • March of the Penguins. While I acknowledge that I'm a herb schoolteacher, I think National Geographic did a very good job with this look at penguin life. While we don't have actual characters to follow (apparently the French version had wacky voices attached -- yuk), we do see these very cute creatures in some very dramatic situations. A bit esoteric, I suppose -- but a touch of fresh air in the theatre nonetheless. Why not visit the official site?

    How about a movie about the pika next?

  • McLibel. I just realized this also came out in 2005. A very intriguing look at the famous activist lawsuit that happened in the UK over claims that McDonalds is unhealthy and bad for our planet. Visit the official site.

    Next up: A film about how the Coalition of Immokalee Workers took on Taco Bell -- and won!
Based on Real Life

These two take real events as their starting points, and may or may not stay very close. One tries more than the other, but they both do a good job of representing a scenario. (And they have one other thing in common: hubba hubba!)
  • Syriana. George Clooney stars as a guy who works in the Middle East. I won't really say any more, because I know many of you haven't seen it -- and I don't like to give things away. But of course it deals with oil, fanatacism, politics, money, and hegemony. And any movie which is brave enough to broach a topic like hegemony (in a serious way, no less) gives me hope.

    Matt Damon! Visit the official site.

  • Good Night, and Good Luck. George Clooney stars as Fred Friendly, a co-producer of Edward R. Murrow's television news show during the McCarthy era. Not since Quiz Show have we seen such an engaging and important movie about television. (And before that, Videodrome. I guess they put one out every 10 years or so.) The jazz music interludes are a bit odd in GN&GL, but overall the mood and method is right on. Go now and visit the official site.

    Now where's the movie about Nelson Algren's life?
Based on the Original

Some people say Hollywood has run out of ideas -- but I daresay certain recent movies prove this wrong. Still, it seems like more and more films are based on older movies, books, and comics. Either way, there were a handful in '05 which I enjoyed.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was skeptical -- very skeptical. Why didn't they do the Great Glass Elevator? Why go after something we already love so dearly? Well, if ever Jon Broad's bit about how "a remake can stand on its own merits" made sense, this is it. Tim and Johnny did a superb job, and I didn't find myself missing Gene in the least. I was disappointed that they didn't reprise the song Charlie's mother sings with the big spoon in the laundry room, tho.

    Johnny's best? Easy. And his worst? Even easier.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Forget what you heard. Mos Def. Yarn vomit. 'Nuff said. (Hmm, I seem to have given up on the official sites, eh? Well shove off! It's late and I'm tired.)

    Bring on the Restaurant movie!

  • Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I was way excited for this one, and all I will say is that I was not disappointed. Not as many nods to the hardcore fans as I may have wished for, but it was fun from start to end.

    Perhaps next up will be a Creature Comforts feature?

  • Batman Begins. While I was hoping for a closer alignment with Year One, I was duly impressed with the scope and performances in this new approach. (I didn't even recognize Gary Oldman until the very last scene.) I doubt I'll ever concede the original's top spot, BB does a very nice job of realigning how the public conceives of the Dark Knight, away from the Schwarzenegger & Silverstone garbage of the late 90s.

    Now how about a movie based on the best Batman story ever? (TPCQ: "Batman?")

  • Sin City. Yeah, it really is as good as everyone says. Read some of the comics first. You'll never look at Frodo the same way again.

    Geez, I'm just licking Frank's boots here, huh?
You Stole Six Hours of My Life and I Want Them Back

These movies sucked. Do not waste your time or your money. Go bowling instead -- or stick forks in your eyes.
  • A History of Violence. Did you know this is based on a comic book? Yeah, well .. David Cronenberg needs to spend more time fusing Jeff Goldblum with a steel door, and less time filming eroticized violent sex-slapping scenes. Yeah, it was real deep. Like as deep as my toilet.

    Instead, go watch: La Haine.

  • Broken Flowers. Oh dear gods -- it's Lost in Transfusion, but without all that brilliant plot and character development. (That's sarcasm. I hated LiT.) Bill Murray drives around the country and looks sad. They should have made the movie about the way-cool sidekick instead.

    Instead, go watch: Coffee and Cigarettes. Jim Jarmusch in better days. Maybe it's tied for his best?

  • Monster-in-Law. Trans-Pacific flight. Couldn't sleep. Too worn out to read. Shut up. The only good thing about this movie was Wanda Sykes. Too bad she doesn't get the leading roles she so obviously deserves. Oh, and there was a mildly funny scene where Jane Fonda attacks a Britney Spears-alike because she's completely ignorant about Roe v. Wade.

    Instead, go watch: Antonia's Line.
There. Now go forth and post comments about all the things I'm wrong about. Also, go away.


Tis the season for Sober Santa II. Watch out for the tracks -- they's electrified!

Today I'm listening to: PWOG!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Collect Call from Jail 

We got a really odd message on our answering machine the other day. Sometimes we'll get the odd recorded telemarketing spiel, or misplaced message for someone who doesn't live here. (For a while in Florida, I was getting calls on a regular basis for the VA hospital.)

But this one was just weird. It apparently came from a correction facility, but it wasn't from Jefffff. We can't figure out who it came from. You'll just have to listen to This week's SynCast and check it out for yourself.

I Am a Loser

And in other news: I lost! This weekend I got the letter from Wisconsin's CESA #2 informing me that while I am wonderful and manificent and glorious and superb, I'm a worse teacher than the 26 individuals who were chosen to represent our region in the Kohl fellowship runoff.

Insofar as I would never dream of giving a student a poor grade on an assignment without some kind of explanation, I'm tempted by the desire to write a letter asking for a reason why I wasn't chosen. Of course, this would just make me look angry and bitter and petty -- but I can't help wondering how in the world they choose these things. They ought to make all the applications available online.

And of course, I'm second-guessing myself.
  • "Why did I put all that stuff on there about Paulo Freire?"
  • "I shouldn't have pointed out the grammatical mistake on question #5!"
  • "Maybe I should have slipped some cash into the application."
Naturally, if I had won, I would have been very happy and proud of myself -- so I can't pretend like it doesn't matter. And yet I know that it's all a bunch of hooey, as I so recently mentioned in this space.

Still, the saddening effect this is having on me today is real. How ironic that an award designed to recognize and reward teachers is having the exact opposite effect on me.



Video editing magic (QuickTime). Pretty cool stuff, even if there are some sketchy bits at the end involving adjusting women's faces.

Today I'm listening to: Freedom Isn't Free!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

All Teaching Awards Are Hooey 

Today I saw another announcement about some teacher winning a big award for her Wondrous Ability to Inspire Students and Achieve Powerful Educational Results in the Classroom. And I realized once again -- as I've said before -- all such awards are total hokum.

Before I explain why, let me state right up front that I was nominated this year for a Kohl Fellowship by an administrator at my school. My application was approved at the district level, so now we're waiting to hear back from the regional office, which should happen sometime in January. I want to post this now so that I won't be seen as some kind of Sour Grapes whiner when the results come back. (The only reason I entered is so I can use the $1000 reward for something useful.)

FYI: The image? Here, The Cheat, have a trophy!

Why All Teaching Awards Are Hooey

All teaching awards are bogus and meaningless, because there is no fair way to measure how excellent a teacher is -- and certainly no fair way to compare two different teachers. Where could we possibly look to make such an assessment?
  • Standardized Test Scores. Ha! Test scores are as good a way to tell how well a teacher's doing as garbage collection rates are to measure a mayor's performance. Which is to say: If the garbage backs up in the streets, the mayor's probably doing a bad job (but maybe not). Apart from that, there's no correlation.

  • Applications. How can this seriously be reliable? What is a teacher going to say? "I totally suck in the classroom. I start crying whenever someone's late with her homework." A teacher isn't an objective judge of his own abilities in the classroom! The bad ones always say they're doing swell, and the good ones always feel like they're never good enough.

    I don't see why they even bother with applications for these things. Even if the applicant stands out somehow, this is a demonstration of a teacher's writing abilities, not teaching skill.

  • Adminsitrator Evaluation. I love the administrators at my school. But they observe me -- at most -- twice or three times each year. Basing any kind of award on such a random sampling is laughable.

  • Student Feedback. This is getting closer, since the students are the only other people in that classroom every day. But to say that they're impartial observers is absurd! Even if all your kids love being in your class (like mine do), they're being evaluated -- and therefore we have a reverse Heisenberg in effect.

    Besides, which students are the ones speaking on the teacher's behalf? Those hand-selected by the teacher (or someone else with a vested interest)! It's like Bush's "town hall" meetings.

  • Parent Recommendations. Again -- who is the teacher going to ask? "Mr. and Mrs. Jerkface, your kid has vowed eternal revenge for the way I ridiculed him in class -- and I once told you that you were the worst parents I ever met -- but would you please write me a letter of recommendation?" I got a very nice letter from the parents of a great student of mine for the aforementioned fellowship, and it was lovely. But I expect every other teacher applying got similar letters. (And, again, this is more a measure of the parents' writing skills.)

  • Community Members. Give me a break. What? "We heard from Lou, the owner of Lou's Pizza, that you were doing some great stuff in your classroom." Feh.

  • Pig Entrails. Okay, I just put this in to see if anyone read this far. But of course, this is as valid a way of choosing a winner as any of the above criterions.
Now, of course I know that these awards are given because We the Community Want to Recognize Excellence in Education and Give Super Teachers an Extra Boost and Blah Blah Blah. But all these competitions do is pass out some small wads of dough and make the losers feel bad. If you really want to Honor Excellence in Education, cut our class sizes in half and pay us more -- all of us!


The Cheat is a Millionaire! Can you sense a theme here?

Today I'm listening to: Braindead Soundmachine, an album I haven't owned (because I couldn't find it, not even online) for ten years! Woo! (Danger: That site has mp3s and bad words.)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

We'll Be Right BACK 

I want to apologize to all of you who took great PAINS to come BACK to our site here. Alas, it PAINS me to tell you there will be no SynCast this week. You may recall BACK when I started doing this, I said I would do a show every week -- even when it PAINED me to work so hard. Well, I take it BACK. For you see, I am dealing with some rather wicked PAIN in my BACK. I woke up yesterday, ready to get my grades ready for progress reports and -- WHAM! -- my back just started spasming and hurting like nobody's business.

So: Sorry. No SynCast. I'm even taking off school tomorrow so I can get rid of this BACK PAIN. Just takin' it easy. Hopefully I can get rid of this head cold too. Stupid hectic schedule where I push myself too hard so that teenagers will be interested in Lord of the Flies..


Go build a virtual snowbeing. Via MoFi.

Today I'm listening to: Deep Forest!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

This Could Be Such a Lovely SynCast 

For this week's SynCast I've done something a little different -- it's a reading of one of my personal favorites from the past, This Could Be Such a Lovely Civilization, about the mall and its impact on America. I had the idea during Thanksgiving, when Kate's sister (if I'm not mistaken) commented that she enjoys spoken essays like the ones on NPR's This I Believe. (TPCQ: "This Things I Believe." "Is that close enough?" (siren) "We have a weiner!") I tried to find a picture of the album cover Homer is reading (poorly) from, but I had no luck. I did find this, however.

Enjoy the show!

Site News

As you may have noticed, I redesigned the site a bit to make it Internet Exploder-compatible. This means that the left and right-side menus are not fully-flush with the sides like they were -- and I also had to take out the footer. Stupid Microsoft.

Also for some reason Blogger will only publish 94% of my blog right now. So if you find missing pages, lemme know.


Super Michael Bros is well-made, even if it's a little weird and lengthy.

Today I'm listening to: Brian Eno!