Monday, October 31, 2011

"There is no sight quite so terrifying as ignorance in action" -Johann von Goethe

WARNING - Bad language ahead

You gotta love teenagers. They are often so smugly sure of their own brilliance, even when they make complete asses of themselves.

On a typical day, after I get off work, I pick up my two kids (aged 7 and 5) from school, and then when we get home, they love to play on the driveway. They ride their bikes, Ripsticks, and scooters on the driveway, climb the tree on the front lawn, and basically wind down. It is especially nice to do now that the Sacramento summer is over, and the late-afternoon weather is positively beautiful outside.

How angry I was then when on Friday afternoon (10/28), I looked down my street to see a pack of about ten teenagers from the local high school walking down the middle (literally, the middle) of the street. They were dressed in their finest slacker gear, with shaggy uncut hair spilling out their backwards baseball caps, and their skateboards being carried alongside their sagging skinny jeans. If that had been it, I would have tolerated it and moved on. What I could not tolerate was the filthy, vulgar language that was loudly pouring out of their mouths as they swaggered down my quiet residential street. I had to send my kids into the house, it was so bad.

As they walked past my house, I stood there on my driveway and watched them pass by; their filthy conversation continuing unabated as the words "fuck", "fucking", "motherfucker", and all other manner of words violated our quiet neighborhood.

I couldn't let this one go. I yelled, "Excuse me. Could you please not talk like this in our neighborhood? I just had to send my 7 and 5 year-old kids into the house so they wouldn't have to hear your foul language."

One of the boys turned toward me while continuing to walk, gave me a mocking salute, and said, "Yes, Sir!" in a very mocking and disrespectful fashion. One of the other boys yelled, "First Amendment, my friend! We can say whatever we want!"

I yelled in response, "First Amendment? I'm not the government! How about just common decency?!"

They continued walking.

And there it was, one of the major problems of our society on full display: The exercise of rights without regard to responsibilities. Although I could make an argument toward the budding lawyer's ignorant comment that you indeed do not have a right under the First Amendment to yell vulgarities as you walk down a residential street (disturbing the peace, anyone?), for the sake of argument, let's say that you did have that right. Should you exercise it? Where was that little voice inside their heads, that realization that perhaps cussing like that in front of my children wasn't exactly a good idea? Where was that sense of shame when confronted by me about it where instead of mocking me, they could have given a quick apology for possibly corrupting the innocence of my children, and moved on without further comment?

I wonder the same thing when I walk down the halls of the school at which I teach and listen to the atrocious and vulgar language uttered by my students as they flitter down the hallways and the lunch grounds outside.

When I am around my friends, do we cuss like sailors? On occasion, you bet! But the difference is that I do it out of earshot of my kids, and my friends' kids. And when I slip on occasion and say a bad word in front of my kids, such as when I drop something or hurt myself, I profusely apologize to them for having done it. I make sure they know that it is not OK to publicly cuss with abandon.

Too bad no one taught these boys the same lesson. Whether or not they learned anything, that lesson was left to me to give in front of my house on a Friday afternoon.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson

Monday, October 24, 2011

And I thought *I* have it bad...

When it comes to posting, I love nothing better than a juicy story about something that happened to me at work; a story that serves as a microcosm of the problems with our nation's education system.

I have had school years in the past where certain class periods caused me to drink entire bottles of wine when I got home. So it is rather refreshing that so far this year, I honestly don't have much to complain about. I am now just a bit over two months into this school year - plenty of time for the honeymoon to end - and overall, my students are pretty darn well-behaved. Is every day going to be all sunshine and bunny rabbits? Yeah right. But for the most part, I tell my students to calm down or quiet down and they... do.

My wife on the other hand...

She teaches first grade in a different district than mine. Her student population makes mine look like a bunch of private school Stepford children. She teaches in a very poor area full of apartment complexes, drug use, family dysfunction, and victim mentality. When we get home at the end of the school day, my report of how my day was can usually be summed up with a succinct, "No problems; I had a good day." Whereas, my wife usually has a couple tales to tell. Today was especially true.

While my wife has plenty of challenging students, her first grade teaching partner in the room next door is fighting what appears to be a losing battle. My wife often gets a call from him in the middle of the day because he needs her assistance reining in an out-of-control student (or two). Today, she got that call and walked in to see one student standing on the teacher's desk, and another student tossing the classroom computer monitors on the floor. At the same time, my wife had been babysitting yet another student from her partner's class - a female student who my wife describes as "pure evil." Keep in mind, this girl is a six year-old first grader. This girl also began seriously acting up, to the point where my wife ended up having to carry this girl to the principal's office while the girl struggled, tried to bite my wife and spit on her, and upon being delivered to the principal, slapped my wife on the arm.

Of course, one of the reasons behavior like this has become the norm at my wife's site is largely due to the administration's inability or outright refusal to do anything about it. Between fear of lawsuits from belligerent parents,; fear of loss of ADA money if the kid is suspended; and fear of damaging the self-esteem of the precious little monsters, these students act out in the most disruptive and atrocious ways, yet they are right back at school the next day, ready to do it all over again.

And my wife is right in the middle of it all.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

If they don't like this bathroom policy, wait until they get a load of mine!

It seems some parents and students are in an uproar about a new bathroom visitation policy at a suburban Chicago high school. The school has a rule in place that limits to three the number of times a student can leave class to go to the bathroom during a given semester.

In typical overbearing, helicopter parent-type fashion, these overprotective parents - of high schoolers, mind you - gnashed their teeth for the news cameras as they denounced this horrific policy.

One parent, Bea Bailey, said, "This principal -- let him find out he's got diarrhea, and he's only told that he can go to the bathroom three times a semester and we'll see how this policy holds up with him."

Sorry, Bea, but you apparently have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Judging by her quote (and the way she said it, if you watch the video at the news story I linked) it almost seems like she believes the school is only going to let students go to the bathroom thrice in a semester under any circumstances. Uh, no. Again, the three time-only limit only applies to leaving class to go to the bathroom. Students still have before school, after school, during lunch, and passing periods between classes to go potty as much as they desire. I wish I could inform Bea that I teach straight through from 9:00am to 12:15pm, when my lunch starts. At that time, my morning coffee is ready to be purged, and off I go. How is it that I am able to make it long periods of time without having to use the bathroom, but these pitiful students, with their enabling parents, aren't able to go the distance? Are you telling me that the bladder of a high schooler isn't yet fully developed?

I learned early on as a new teacher that there are plenty of students who will ask to go to the bathroom every class period of every single day. Quite often, students who have different classes with their friends will coordinate their clocks and ask their respective teachers to go to the bathroom at a designated time, and then the friends will meet up to do God-knows-what.

You think three visits is harsh? For years now, I have had a ONE-visit-per-quarter policy that has worked quite nicely. At the beginning of each quarter, I issue to every one of my students a bathroom pass that is good for one visit to the bathroom. The pass is the size of a half-sheet of paper. I have it saved on a Word document with two passes on one sheet of paper. After I make my copies, I cut the stack in half with a slicer.

This bathroom pass has been one of the most successful policies I have ever instituted in my classroom. Every quarter, I enter the bathroom pass as an extra credit assignment on my gradebook. After I hand out the passes, I record on the gradebook that the students received their pass. I then inform/remind them that this is their one and only chance to go to the bathroom for this quarter. If they absolutely, positively have to go now now now, then that is what the pass is for. If they don't use the pass, and they hang on to it without losing it for the entire quarter, then at the end of the quarter, they can turn in their bathroom pass to me for a 3% bump on their final quarter grade. For example, if their final quarter grade is an 87%, the unused bathroom pass moves their grade up to a 90%. If a student actually uses the pass (and I do everything I can to remind them of what they are giving up if they use it), they turn it in to me upon their return from the bathroom, and I record in the gradebook that they used it. This way, it does no good for a student to make copies of his pass, as I check the gradebook to make sure they haven't used it.

I usually have between 160-180 students. Every quarter, I get an average of maybe 5 students who actually use their bathroom pass. Before I instituted my bathroom pass policy, I had dozens of students going to the bathroom every day.

We teachers see the reality of what it is like if visits to the bathroom are not regulated, which makes me shake my head in indignation as I watch these parents in that news clip with their knee-jerk reactions against the school's very reasonable and overly-generous bathroom policy. I actually think three visits is too many. One has worked just fine in my classroom for years.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What was the worst song of the 1980s?

I might be the world's biggest '80s music fan. If a song was in the Billboard Top 100 during that decade, chances are that I can tell you not only what year that song was popular, but which season of that year.

I therefore took great interest the other day when Rolling Stone magazine released a list based on a reader poll of the ten worst songs released in the 1980s.

What can I say? I agree with some of the choices; some I don't. Here is a rundown of the list, along with my thoughts:

10. Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give You Up (Winter 1988)
I'm not sure if this one belongs on the list. It is definitely high up on the cheese-o-meter, but it has a beat and you can dance to it. The most memorable thing about this song was the reaction from people when they saw the video. The deep baritone that people heard on the radio had everyone assuming that it belonged to some black Motown singer. Imagine everyone's surprise when they saw that voice emanating from a waif-ish, wimpy Brit who looked like the skinny version of a Bob's Big Boy statue.

9. Taco - Puttin' On The Ritz (Summer 1983)
This one so belongs on this list. In fact, I believe this song should be in the #1 spot. How bad is it? Take a Jazz Age song, synthesize it and add some Eurotrash vocals, then make it sound like some jam session where the studio engineers were making stuff up as they went, and Voila! You have what I believe is the worst song of the 1980s.

8. Toni Basil - Mickey (Fall 1982)
Yeesh! Oh Mickey, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind.... While Toni's mind is being blown, I am blowing chunks. I can't stand this song; never could.

7. Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry, Be Happy (Fall 1988)
I could think of other songs that should be on the list instead of this one, but this a capella stinker from the soundtrack to one of the worst movies of the 1980s - Cocktail - is still pretty bad. When your song has lyrics like this: Your landlord say your rent is late; he may have to litigate - it can't help but make people want to put the song on a "worst of" list:

6. Falco - Rock Me Amadeus (Spring 1986)
This song bugs me for three reasons. First, it was such a nakedly shameful attempt to capitalize on the success of the movie Amadeus, which had won the Best Picture Oscar the previous year. Second, the strange halting rap that Falco strains through during the song was his obvious attempt to cover up the fact that he barely spoke a lick of English. And third was the annoying bridge in the song where, while the synthesizers were still going strong, some strange far away voice begins listing Mozart's life accomplishments. Right in the middle of the song!

5. Men Without Hats - The Safety Dance (Summer 1983)
Whoever voted to include this song on the list ought to be ashamed of themselves. This is a great song.

4. Wham! - Wake Me Up (Before You Go Go) (Fall 1984)
This song is so impossibly happy, it is evil. Add in the short shorts that George Michael wears in the song's video, and there is just nowhere to go but down. This song does NOT make me want to do the jitterbug... oh do the jiiitterbug.

3. Chris DeBurgh - Lady In Red (Spring 1987)
The ultimate in '80s high school slow dance cheese. By the way, when I was a junior in high school, my prom date wore a red dress and we danced to this song. Cool huh? Of course, since Chris DeBurgh really laid on the thick British/Irish accent in this song (just like the Psychedelic Furs liked to do), my prom date wasn't "dancing" with me, she was "dah-ncing" with me.

2. Europe - The Final Countdown (Winter-Spring 1987)
The ultimate in pretentious hair band cheese. I don't think this song is terrible, but there is something about it that bugs the heck out of me. Obviously, it has the same effect on others, since it is in the #2 spot. If you want to hear a much better song from Europe, try Superstitious from 1988.

1. Starship - We Built This City (Fall 1985)
Oh the irony. The 1960s counterculture group known as Jefferson Airplane had, by the 1980s, morphed into a canned, corporate schlock factory called Starship. One of their biggest hits was this atrocity that includes a radio weather forecast/traffic report during the song's bridge. I think what makes me despise this song even today is not so much that it is so bad, but that it got so much radio airplay when it was released, that 26 years later, I am still sick of hearing it.

Since I expressed my misgivings about the presence of some of the songs on this list, you are probably wondering what I would have put there instead. That's easy. The following songs are so awful, that they are forever seared into my memory. Whenever I hear any of these songs on the radio, I immediately turn the station:

Blondie - Call Me (Winter-Spring 1980)
Irene Cara - Fame (Summer 1980)
Blondie - Rapture (Winter 1981)
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - I Love Rock 'n' Roll (Winter-Spring 1982)
Soft Cell - Tainted Love (Summer 1982)
Wall of Voodoo - Mexican Radio (Spring 1983)
Thomas Dolby - She Blinded Me With Science (Spring 1983)
Prince - Little Red Corvette (Spring 1983)
Donna Summer - She Works Hard For The Money (Summer 1983)
Pat Benatar - Love is a Battlefield (Fall 1983)
Night Ranger - Sister Christian (Spring 1984)
Mike Reno and Ann Wilson - Almost Paradise (Summer 1984)
Twisted Sister - We're Not Gonna Take It (Summer 1984)
Cyndi Lauper - She Bop (Summer 1984)
Stevie Wonder - I Just Called To Say I Love You (Summer 1984)
New Edition - Cool It Now (Fall 1984)
The Time - Jungle Love (Fall 1984)
Glenn Frey - The Heat Is On (Winter 1985)
Katrina and the Waves - Walking On Sunshine (Spring 1985)
Timbuk 3 - The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades (Spring 1986)
Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle - On My Own (Spring 1986)
Kenny Loggins - Danger Zone (Summer 1986)
Simply Red - Money$ Too Tight To Mention (Summer 1986)
Stacey Q - Two Of Hearts (Summer 1986)

Whew! That felt good to get off my chest. Any decade is going to have its stinkeroos. For the 1980s, those songs were definitely it!

On another note, I am happy to report that the 1980s sound is beginning to make a comeback! There are bands that are recapturing that happy, poppy, synth sound but with a post-modern angsty twist that we can't quite seem to shake these days, as the 2010s are not exactly Morning in America. One of the best examples is a group that is currently tearing up the sales called Foster the People. What great music they are producing! Another group making "new waves" is One Republic. I am happy to see music from these groups showing up on the charts and supplanting some of the dominance we have seen in the last two decades from shi*-hop and (c)rap music. I remember ten years ago or so when so-called music from that genre occupied every spot in the Billboard Top Ten. That's not the case nearly as much any more. My wife and I have both noticed a shift in music and we are tickled about it.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Checkmate complete: Statist governor and legislature outlaw open carry of handguns in California

Back in August, I wrote a post about Assembly Bill (AB) 144, which called for the outlawing of the open carry of handguns by law-abiding citizens in California.

Being a "may issue" rather than a "shall issue" state when it comes to handing out concealed carry (CCW) permits, the one way that law-abiding citizens in California could still exercise their right to self-defense as guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was by carrying their handgun in plain view, usually with the use of a holster on the hip.

Now, California gun owners will no longer be able to openly carry their handgun. Late Sunday night, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 144 into law. As I have been saying: Checkmate. Most Californians are already unable to obtain permission to carry their handgun concealed; now they no longer have the option of carrying openly either. For all intents and purposes, the carrying of handguns in California is now entirely illegal.

I fully expect this newly-signed law to be challenged in court, however, there is the matter of a federal court case that has already been decided, but the basis for the decision has been negated by the signing of AB 144 into law.

In the 2009 case of Richards v. Prieto, Adam Richards sued Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto after Prieto refused Richards' application for a concealed carry permit. The federal district court judge found in favor of Prieto because, after all:
"...even if Plaintiffs are denied a concealed weapon license for self-defense purposes from Yolo County, they are still more than free to keep an unloaded weapon nearby their person, load it, and use it for self-defense in circumstances that may occur in a public setting. Yolo County's policy does not substantially burden Plaintiffs' right to bear and keep arms."
Translated: Even though Richards got turned down for a CCW permit, he was still free in California to open carry, so quit complaining.

Uh, now what?

In the meantime, Open Carry advocates are not going to give up. AB 144 does not go into effect until January 1, 2012. After that, people will start walking down the street with rifles and shotguns strapped around their shoulder, as AB 144 only applies to handguns.

Anthony Portantino (Democrat, naturally), the legislator who created this noxious bill-turned-law, cited as one of the reasons he wanted AB 144 passed was that some people were "uncomfortable" at the sight of someone with a pistol holstered on their hip. Awwwww.

How would these faint-hearted wimps feel with me walking by them with my SKS 7.62X39mm carbine hanging off my shoulder? That is what this anti-gun madness is coming to.

Since carrying a handgun openly is so visually upsetting, the best thing for the California legislature to do would be to change state law so that we are a "shall issue" rather than a "may issue" state when it comes to issuing CCW permits. Better yet, we could change the law to make California like Vermont, Arizona, and Alaska. In those states, you don't need a permit to carry concealed, let alone openly.

What is the California legislature (and our Governor) so afraid of?

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson

Friday, October 07, 2011

"Occupy Sacramento" protesters seek publicity, but reject their opportunity to receive it

When a few hundred people hold a public protest in a public park in the middle of downtown Sacramento, you would think they would not only expect the media to show up, they would welcome the media's presence.

That thought was occurring to me as I watched this amazing bit of video from the local CBS (Channel 13) station here in Sacramento. Not only did these insipid people in Cesar Chavez Park not know why they were there, many of them did not want to tell the media even if they did know why they were there. Perhaps all they knew is that they wanted to piggyback on the Wall Street protests in New York, but that is only as far ahead as their drug-addled minds could think. Watch this and shake your head in amazement:

I have seen other public assemblies where protesters did not want to be filmed by bloggers with cameras (like me) or something like that, but I don't know that I have ever seen this kind of hostility directed at members of the news media by people who are seeking public attention.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Sacramento restaurant closures provide a lesson in free-market economics

The Sacramento Bee ran an article today about the travails of the eateries in downtown and midtown that unintentionally provided a wonderful lesson in the concepts of what in free-market economics is called "creative destruction."

Since the economic downturn began in 2008, quite a few restaurants in downtown and midtown Sacramento - some very well known - have gone out of business. Does that stink if you work at one of those restaurants? You bet. But a cursory drive around downtown/midtown quickly dispels any notion you may have that all the restaurants are going to go out of business. Many are doing quite well, thank you very much. In fact, the closure of one restaurant means opportunity for other restaurants that are succeeding:
Still, some restaurateurs are betting things will get better. They're snapping up vacated restaurant space at bargain rates for future expansion...

The silver lining for entrepreneurs is that the commercial real estate market is now full of bargains.

"The deals are good right now," [local restaurateur Randy] Paragary said. "What used to be $2 a square foot is now $1.50, or maybe you get six months' free rent. Landlords just want to get a new tenant."

Many restaurants that recently closed are being scouted by potential new owners. For instance, the space formerly occupied by California Pizza Kitchen at 15th and L streets is being remodeled into a sports bar by the families behind Mix Downtown and de Vere's Irish Pub.

Bazett of Golden Bear and his business partners are also branching out with Hook and Ladder Manufacturing Co., a bar and eatery that will occupy the former Hangar 17 at 17th and S streets come February.

"It was too good of a deal to pass up," said Bazett. "The next five years could hold some promise for Sac, but yeah, it's kind of scary at times."
The tough part about economics is that people only see half the story. When a business goes out of business, what people see are a boarded-up building and dozens of employees out of a job. What often goes unseen, however, is the opportunity for expansion of a competing business that is obviously delivering a superior product. How do we know their product is superior? Easy - they are still in business and the other is not. This expansion means the buying up of the inventory and real estate of the business that failed, and the hiring of many of the people who lost their jobs after the other establishment went out of business; or the opportunity for those people who have learned enough about their trade to try their hand at opening their own business rather than working for one.

If these restaurants were treated like the banks that were "too big to fail," Uncle Sugar would come swooping in with Joe Taxpayer's money in order to "save" Red Lotus, Brew It Up, Spin Burger Bar, L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen, Celestin's Island Eats, California Pizza Kitchen's 15th and L street location, Good Eats, The Terrace, Slocum House, and any other eatery that has been unable to attract enough customers to stay open in these difficult times.

As for the restaurants that are attracting enough customers to stay open? They don't need a taxpayer bailout; they are creating taxpayers with their successful business. What sense does it make to take money from the success stories and transfer it to the failed businesses in an effort to prop them up when they would otherwise close down?

Like I said, it's a great economics lesson.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson