Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Daggers in a Sleep-Deprived Brain...

With the birth of our new baby girl, my wife and I get to experience the joys of sleep-deprivation again, after 9 years of rest, and at this point, my ability to recover is not what it was. It's not all bad. One of the greatest things about sleep-deprivation are the hallucinations. And the complete and total loss of control of my thoughts. Trying to write anything cogent gets to be fun. But a few things pop in and out. Why not get them down?

  • Dick Gregory is the only consistent anti-death penalty activist. While most were protesting the execution in Georgia of Troy Davis, Gregory was in Texas on a hunger strike on behalf of Lawrence Brewer. To be honest, it is easy to see why the crunchy left would spunk their undies over Troy Davis, a black man convicted of killing a white cop is the perfect "stick it to the man" scenario that gives them palpitations. I bet even Michael Moore (no relation, Deo Gratias) was able to get some lead in his pencil at the excitement. Who would protest the death of Lawrence Brewer? He was one of the white supremacist jackholes who killed James Byrd by dragging him by the neck behind a truck. Brewer deserved to be executed. A lot. Run a current through him and stop, then start again and repeat a few dozen times just to see him twitch. Dick Gregory is opposed to the death penalty to such a degree that he was willing to stand up for Brewer and advocate the more merciful punishment of anal assault for the rest of his life (okay, Gregory didn't include that part, I just thought it would make death look inviting to Brewer). Gregory alone was consistent, and I have to admire that. I disagree, of course, but at least there is a lefty I can admire.

  • Another point to consider: If Bush said any of those, they would be leading headlines for a week. Of course, he did bless the English language with the pronunciation "nucular".
        • I have no idea where Steven Moffat is going with this season of Doctor Who, but I am bracing for a serious let down. I did enjoy getting to know Amy and Rory, though. 
  • There are few things that make you feel more impotent than your child crying hysterically. 
  • No matter how many times you go through it, you never quite master the dirty diaper. Especially the ones that require a call to the EPA.
  • It is odd to be congratulated for the birth of a baby, sort of like being a baseball fan congratulated for the victory of your team. I had nothing to do with it, but I'll take credit for it anyway.
  • The decline of human creativity is directly related to the amount of time we spend  looking for parking or stuck in traffic. 
  • Monday night, taking the girl to her gymnastics class, I saw the sun setting behind the bank of storm clouds, and the evening sky looked like it was on fire.
  • Why do we say "slept like a baby"? Doesn't anyone grasp the fact that it means we were up every 2 hours, screaming?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Just remember, there are no such things as miracles.

The great advantage to writing a blog that no one reads is that I can rest assured that I will not end up beset with criticism from all corners for a stray comment I may have written. I’m not sure about ignorance, but you’re pretty hard-pressed to beat anonymity for bliss. It is liberating, not having to watch my language.

This past year was, without hyperbole, excruciating. And excruciating in its etymological sense, stemming as it does from the Latin word crux, meaning cross. Each day was its own particular hell. At the end of the year, I couldn’t get out of the building fast enough, and I dreaded my return.

To be fair, I was teaching 8th grade for the first time, and I was teaching a group reputed to be the worst the school had seen (even though I also heard a number of times ‘how much better’ these kids were). We were also in difficult physical circumstances, the physical plant was not optimal, and the conditions lent themselves to bad behavior. The promise to me when I was approached to come back for 2011-12 was that the rising 8th grade for the next school year would be ‘so much better’.

News flash. When that is your selling point, you really are in a lousy place to negotiate.

I agreed to come back, but in the back of my mind, I dreaded the prospect. I didn’t want to see these kids again. I wondered if I should be teaching at all. During this year I was out sick more than I had been in the past 5 years. An argument could be made for psychosomatic illness.

And then, and I write this without a whiff of irony, a miracle occurred.

Two, really.

The first, and best, was my wife’s pregnancy. Baby number five is due in less than  a week.

The second was found at a meeting. And here I thought meetings were a product of the devil.

The ETS, the testing service that produces such tests as the SATs, APs and GREs, was holding a panel of Latin teachers concerning the Praxis II test for Latin. The Praxis series of tests are designed to help determine a teacher’s qualifications as a step to employment and earning a teaching license. The conference was called to help set up a measuring stick for the “just qualified” candidate. I went, largely because I wanted the day off from Washington Latin.

There I met a friend from years past, when we both attended a National Endowment of the Humanities seminar about Roman poetry. She and I hit it off then, but lost touch. When she saw me there, we struck up a conversation, and she asked “Do you want to come teach at my school?”

After that, I sent off a series of emails, and met with her and the principal and the dean of faculty for an interview. Halfway through I realized I was being pitched, not interviewed. They were trying to sell me on their school.

After some months of phone calls and emails, I signed a contract to work at my new school, and I am convinced that it is the result of divine providence.

This is the point when, if this were a popular blog and widely read, I could expect a flood of comments from rationalists who would deny providence and cite statistical evidence supporting the fact that this is the result of random chance. They are probably right. But again, there is bliss in anonymity.

Besides, the rationalists can get bent.

When my wife told me about the baby, she worried that I would be mad, and I assured her that this was the one bit of good news that I had in a year, since I was let go from PVI. I was confident something good would come soon, because each time we had a baby, something good followed on, usually linked to employment. God has always ensured I could meet my obligations.

See if you can follow my non-logic:
  1. I am working at Paul VI High School, where I am very happy. I enjoy my subject, I like my colleagues, and I love my students. Due to budget cuts, I am let go.
  2. I secure a job which I hate at a school where I find little to enjoy. I make attempts to go back to my old job when a position is opened up, and am turned down.
  3. I end up getting a call to come to teach at my present school, making substantially more money with better benefits.

  • Had I stayed on at PVI, I would not be making as much money.
  • Had I stayed on at PVI, I would not have gone to that Praxis II conference.
  • Had I been able to go back to PVI I would have felt some sort of obligation, and would not have taken my present job.
  • Had I been happy at Washington Latin, I would most likely have stayed and earned more money.

·         As it is, I was cut loose from PVI and had no further hope of returning. I hated where I was and wanted a way out. And I found one by going to a conference which I wanted to attend because I wanted to have a day off from the aforementioned hated job.

At this point, I am reasonably happy and I will be a father in less than a week. I presume there is a perfectly logical, rational, naturalistic explanation for this. But the coincidence of events seems to be an awfully powerful argument. 

Monday, September 05, 2011

If Eureka is Greek for "I have found it", what is Greek for "Corporate Douchebags"?

So, Eureka has been cancelled. It was one of the remaining original, compelling, entertaining shows left on SyFy (it used to be SciFi, but they decided to change, to move away from science fiction), one that gained in audience share over the past 4+ years it has been on air, and therefore NBC/Universal has decided to cancel it.

I watch too much TV to begin with, I admit. And I really don’t need another reason to waste my time in front of the idiot box, but this was a good reason. It was appointment TV for the family. The shows are funny, the tech is presented without pretense, and the characters are multi-valent. You care about the fates of the people of the small town of Eureka. And it’s fun to watch geeks getting to be the heroes. On top of all that, it was a show that I had no problem allowing my children to watch, less for the lack of offensive content, more for the “what if” factor that science fiction engenders within its genre. As a kid, I remember plowing through book after book of Asimov, Heinlein, Doc Smith (okay, not science fiction, strictly speaking, but great space opera) on summer vacation at the beach. I remember watching re-runs of The Twilight Zone, and seeing the same “what if?” kind of thinking. I like the idea that my children get a chance to see that on SyFy.

Until NBC/Universal decided to cancel Eureka. What’s left worth watching? Warehouse 13, perhaps. Alphas. Both are interesting shows, but Alpha is sinking in the ratings.

Soon there won’t be any scifi on SyFy.

What will they use to fill in all those blanks? WWE pro wrestling of course (Monday Night RAW). Reality ghost shows (Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters International, Ghost Hunters:SVU), reality shows of all strips (Legend Quest, Hollywood Auction), and of course the low-budget, poor acting, bad special effect laden monster films (Dinoshark v. Supergator, Flu Bird Horror, Mansquito – these are not jokes). What is the one factor that all of these programming gems have in common? They are cheap to produce and air, and can be aired frequently. A scripted drama, with actors, talented actors, special effects that don’t look as if they were cooked up on my laptop and a story line worth watching costs money. And NBC doesn’t want to spend it.

This is short sighted, to say the least. SyFy is falling into that unspeakable porridge that has become cable television, due in no small part to reality TV. I remember when MTV played music videos. I remember when the History channel showed programs concerning history. I remember when the SciFi channel pretty much owned our TV set.

I won’t mourn too much. I own the DVDs, and I have plenty of ways to waste my time, because there are still channels on cable that seem to want to keep the cleverly-written, well-acted dramas on the air. And that doesn’t just mean the BBC.

So long, SyFy. Hope your advertisers didn’t spend too much to attract my consumer dollar. There is a tight economy out there, you know, so I have to be careful with my money. No way I want to piss away my cash on a product made by a company so brain dead as to advertise on your black hole network.