Thursday, July 31, 2008


I can't decide whether I'm more appalled by Obama calling McCain a race-baiter or by the Obama campaign's sophistry in telling us that Obama meant something else entirely.

Here's what Obama said:

"Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name, you know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."
And here's how his campaign spokesman tried to spin it later:
"What Barack Obama was talking about was that he didn't get here after spending decades in Washington. There is nothing more to this than the fact that he was describing that he was new to the political scene. He was referring to the fact that he didn't come into the race with the history of others. It is not about race."
Of course this doesn't even qualify as competent sophistry, as the facts contradict the attempted spin. One could argue that George W. Bush was a Washington insider because of his family connections. But that argument is just plain wrong when discussing Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and many others. Obama and his people are not only slimy sophists, they are completely ignorant of recent history as well. (Alternate explanation: They think the American voters are too stupid to realize that Obama and his people are lying through their teeth.)

I believe this is possibly the slimiest stunt I have ever seen from a major party nominee. The worst thing about this is that Obama himself is the one who constantly talks about how hard it is for America to elect a black man.
Addressing supporters Tuesday night at a fundraiser in Springfield, Obama said, "It's a leap, electing a 46-year-old black guy named Barack Obama."
I have said in comments and/or emails elsewhere that I believe that an Obama Presidency will take permanent campaigning to new heights. Clearly it will also take things to new depths as Obama slanders and smears his opponents in every way possible.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Name of the Day!

Rev. Christian Action - no I'm not kidding!

I stumbled across this name while researching Presidential campaign contributions. At first I thought it was a made up name but I've found a news story that mentions him. Awesome!

PS I wonder if Pastor Jeff and Mark Daniels will be jealous?

PPS I must admit to a rather unChristian reaction. I'm doing some data scrubbing and I keep stumbling across this name. And I keep shouting at my computer, "That name fucking ROCKS!"

Is this another example of news media bias?

Or is it another example of news media incompetence? AP had the following story this morning.

By GREGORY KATZ, Associated Press Writer
Fri Jul 25, 2:56 AM ET

LONDON - Barack Obama's campaign has received roughly 10 times more money from declared U.S. donors living in Germany, France and Britain than his Republican rival, reflecting his popularity in Europe as he makes his first tour of the continent as the presumed Democratic nominee.

Federal Election Commission reports show Obama has raised at least $1 million from donors who identify themselves as Americans living in Great Britain, Germany and France, while John McCain has taken in at least $150,000.
Hmm. The numbers given in the story aren't exact, but 150 goes into 1000 ~6.67 times. 6.67 is less than ten. (Even for arbitrarily small values of 10, as a friend in grad school liked to quip.) In fact, 6.67 is much closer to five than ten. Or put another way, 10 is ~50% larger than 6.67 Is this an example of a another biased reporter fluffing up Obama in the press, or is this just another example of a reporter that can't handle numbers in a competent fashion?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It's Obama's World...

And we just live in it. (Hey, Sinatra's dead - someone had to inherit the Earth.) I caught his press conference this morning in Israel. There he referenced his Senate Banking Committee. The problem is that Obama isn't ON the Senate Banking Committee. I'm trying to find a transcript now. When I do so I will add a link to his specific comment.

Update: As of 1:00 am July 24 I can't find transcripts or video of his damned press conference. For all the media fawning on the man it would be helpful if they would actually REPORT THE NEWS. Are transcripts, or even just posting the raw video, really beyond their capabilities? Our press corps is worse than useless.

Later: The Huffington Post is NOT useless. They have put up video of the press conference. Go to the first embedded video at this link, the one following the sentence that begins "Obama discusses his position on Jerusalem...." At about the 1:08 mark in the video Obama states the following:

Obama: Now in terms of knowing my commitments, uh, you don't have to just look at my words you can look at my deeds. Uhhh, just this past, uhh, this past week, we passed out of the US Senate Banking Committee, which is my committee, a bill to, uh, call for divestment from Iran as a way of ratcheting up the pressure to ensure that they don't uh obtain a nuclear weapon.
Only five "uhs" in two sentences. That's actually pretty good for Obama. Of course there's still the problem that the Senate Banking Committee isn't "his" committee, but what are facts among friends? (Presumably, by "his" he means the committee of which he is a member. But perhaps he really does think he owns the thing.)

Incidentally here's a summary description of the bill, courtesy of Senator Dodd's website.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quotable Rockford

This bit's from an episode of The Rockford Files entitled "The Man Who Saw the Alligators". Jim is recovering from oral surgery when the following conversation takes place:

Rocky (Jim's father): How ya feelin', sonny?

Jim: Miserable - I never felt so bad in my life. The pain is excruciating. That clown didn't know what he was doing, he went to the Bigger Hammer School of Dentistry.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I don't understand.

Why have we put all of the stupid people in charge?

Thursday, July 17, 2008


It's summer in Florida, the AC is NOT running, and I just discovered that holding my hands over the toaster felt good. That may be the most startling evidence of impending old age that I've experienced!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Could there be a better title to a news article??"

So asks my good friend H5N1 about the following headline:

Boyfriend Smacked With Toilet Seat After Being Caught Smoking Crack

I'm inclined to think there could be a better headline, but only if hookers were involved. In fact I believe the following might have been as good if they had substituted 'Hookers' for 'Prostitutes':

Daytona Prostitutes Hunting Serial Killer
Woman: 'We Will Get Him First'

But I guess we need to stick to what has actually been printed, not what should have been printed. Otherwise the top headline could have been improved to the following:

Boyfriend Smacked With Toilet Seat After Being Caught Snorting Blow Off Hooker's Ass

Okay, so this doens't match the facts of the story. But it's still a better headline. Alas.


Post Script: Think this will get me nominated for the weekly Watcher's Council Award?

Monday, July 14, 2008

To the Bastille!

In honor of Bastille Day I offer some tubage. YouTubage, that is.

First for something completely silly, footage of the traditional Washington DC Waiters' Race:

No wonder they hate us! Incidentally, storming the Bastille seems like a less silly way to kick off a revolution than dressing up as Indians and committing acts of vandalism. On the other hand our Revolution actually worked so maybe we had the right idea all along.

And now - Lumberjacks! Canadians!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Words of Wisdom

"I just wanna smash guys in the mouth. It's a lot easier than working." - Randall "Tex" Cobb

Saturday, July 12, 2008

This is what I'm sayin'....

This is why Disney employees need to pack their own heat - because we know the guests are armed and dangerous!

Father shoots self in leg in Downtown Disney parking lot
Keith Kohn Sentinel Staff Writer
10:21 PM EDT, July 12, 2008

A man preparing to go to the movies with his son at the Downtown Disney shopping complex shot himself in the leg Saturday night, authorities said. The man, who was not named, was treated at Orlando Regional Medical Center for a non-life-threatening accidental gunshot injury, Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Solomons said.

And now for something completely different....

Not to mention more fun! The Muppets will be taking over a section of The Smithsonian Institute for a little while, to be followed by a tour of several cities. I can't wait until they get to Orlando.

My family lived in DC for a stretch back in the 1950s. (That was well before I was born.) Mom has told me that the original Muppet show "Sam and Friends" was THE must-see TV for the city of that era. She has claimed that the entire city more or less shut down during showtime. I am really excited by this!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Speaking of stupid politicians....

Former Senator Phil Gramm, currently one of McCain's top advisers, stepped in it Wednesday. In an interview with The Washington Times Gramm said:

"You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession.... We may have a recession; we haven't had one yet.... We have sort of become a nation of whiners," he said. "You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline...."
Mr. Former Senator Gramm, I've been out of work for three months as of today. I've been LOOKING for work, but the job market is very tight right now and work hasn't been available. Am I allowed to whine yet?

Slightly more seriously ('cause I wasn't really kidding above), his comment looks a little better in context. But this is still an incredibly stupid thing for a politician to say about the electorate. (If you want to see the context read the article.) This is still better than Obama's comment from the other day, since at least McCain didn't insult the public himself. Nevertheless this is not a good thing for McCain's campaign.

Here's some (free!) advice to all you politicians: Don't insult your constituents!

Incidentally I believe that this disdainful attitude about the electorate is common among Senators. (At least it seems common whenever I pay attention to those gas bags. Disdain can be a two-way street!) I'm sure other politicians have the same attitude too. But I think that the large constituencies of Senators and only having to run for election every six years (often in very safe seats) predisposes them to this attitude more than other politicians. In fact it damn near guarantees it.

H/T to Amba for pointing this out.

(Also a H/T to Reader for pointing out a seriously strange story.)

It seems that I have been spamming my own comment section.

Or is that definitionally impossible?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The 2008 Presidential Election Disclaimer

Since I'm writing the occasional political post I should clarify my position on the 2008 Presidential Election.

Short Version: I'm not voting for either of these clowns!

Long Version: I'm really really not going to vote for either John McCain or Barack Obama for President. There are several reasons for this, some of which apply to both candidates and some of which apply to specific candidates. And there is one overriding reason that I will address last.

The biggest issue is that neither of these men have the requisite experience to handle the job. McCain has an edge here, actually a pretty large edge. However, just because McCain is a lightweight and Obama is only a flyweight doesn't really matter. The Presidency is a job for a heavyweight. Both of these men are attempting to punch way above their weight class and I doubt that either of them will be up to the job.

Unfortunately what's true of boxing is also true of American national politics at the moment: There is a real dearth of heavyweight talent out there. Nonetheless I feel that both parties seem to have gone out of their way to choose the weakest serious candidates they could have chosen.

The second issue is that I don't trust the character of either man. Specifically I am referring to the public character of the two men. Obama has been an incredibly shifty character, and his only interest seems to be in gaining ever higher office. He seems to have been willing to do anything in order to promote himself. Unfortunately for him the Presidency is as high as it gets in this country. What is he going to do when he realizes that he may actually have to do the job instead of run for the next office? My suspicion is that we will enter an era of permanent campaign to make the Bush and Clinton years pale by comparison. (Actually I think the Bush Presidency's reputation for permanently campaigning is overstated, but that is a post for another time.)

My problems with McCain are perhaps even deeper. I must confess to suffering from "McCain Derangement Syndrome". I have been afflicted with this for some time and there doesn't appear to be a cure. But through the years I have come to believe that McCain has a disturbing mix of preening vanity and a "How dare you question me?" arrogance that make for a bad combination in a President. All Presidents probably suffer from these afflictions to an extent, but I believe that McCain is an extreme case. I've commented on this topic on many blogs, and I have linked to many stories to demonstrate my point. Unfortunately those links are no longer available to me and I'm too lazy to look them up now. Besides, I'm unlikely to change any opinions about McCain at this late date.

The third issue concerns policy: Namely I don't like the bulk of the policies for either candidate. This is hardly a surprise with Obama, given that I am what passes for a small government conservative and Obama is a progressive Democrat. But McCain troubles me just as much. He also seems to think government is more likely to be the solution than the problem. And his campaign finance stance is complete anathema to me. I have other issues with McCain's policy preferences, but there's no reason to do a laundry list.

Finally there is that overriding issue I mentioned. Unlike most people in America, I just don't think this particular election matters that much. I believe that the next President is going to find himself largely constrained by circumstances which will greatly limit his most important policy decisions.

In Iraq, for example, the next President WILL find himself drawing down troop levels. The current levels of deployment cannot be sustained, and in fact we should see troops being redeployed out of Iraq this fall. Furthermore, the next President is most likely NOT going to want to admit defeat in Iraq, although that was originally the sole purpose of Obama's campaign. But once in office there is no way the Democratic Party would allow him to retreat from Iraq in a reckless fashion. The combination of our military and diplomatic limits combined with a desire to avoid being held responsible for "losing Iraq" will most likely result in similar policy decisions no matter who is elected.

I believe that our options concerning Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea are similarly constrained. And neither party has shown any real coherence on how we should approach relations with China. Most other matters of foreign policy aren't really critical.

On domestic policy I just don't think there will be that much difference, except on tax policy. We have already over-committed on the spending side because of entitlement programs. With Bush's additional Medicare drug benefits we have almost reached the limits of what we can reasonably do. Nonetheless I expect that the winning candidate will likely attempt a huge overreach on health care policy. Regardless of plan or President I don't see that working out terribly well.

Taxes might be an area of true difference. An Obama Presidency, coupled with a Democratic Congress that will likely have larger majorities than they do now, will likely greatly increase overall tax rates. I suspect that is a disaster in the making, and that if McCain were President that the situation would be marginally better. But on this issue perhaps it is time that the Democrats once again had sway to do as they wish. They haven't really been able to take the country in a serious leftward direction since 1965. The Republicans had plenty of time to fuck up the country on their own, we may as well let the Dems have a turn.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

This is it!

Below is some video that captures the EXACT MOMENT when Barack Obama lost the Presidency.

I'm just getting around to reading the Internet today and I'm sure the Right-o-Sphere is already all over this. But this is simply incredible! Obama states that there is no need for any public concern about immigrants not learning English. Instead he tells us we need to worry about teaching our children Spanish! (No doubt through the auspices of our government.) As if this wasn't bad enough he goes on to state that he's embarrassed by Americans as compared to Europeans!

My God, this man is a total moron! I had thought he had some brains in his head but clearly I was wrong. Beyond the stupidity of saying this in public is the arrogance entailed. Does he really think that he can get elected by insulting the electorate and telling us that he's embarrassed by Americans? Wow!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Good news!

Finally, some good news! I have a VICTORY!

I will explain in a few weeks, but for now I am TRIUMPHANT!

Drawing the wrong conclusion

Here's part of a conversation from earlier tonight.

Me: That green [office] chair is on its last legs.
Wife: That's hardly a surprise. We've had it since before we were married.
Me: Really?
Wife: Yes, we got it when we bought our first computer [in 1996, a few months before our marriage.]
Me: Wow. I guess it's a good sign that our marriage is outlasting our furniture.
Conclusion: The key to lasting marriage is cheap furniture!

The coolest story I've seen today.


Oh how it hurts....

... to be defending McCain, even tangentially. I can't wait until after the election so we can move forward to the improtant business of slagging whichever idiot gets elected President.

The difference.

Via Althouse I see that her son JAC has linked to an MSNBC attempt at a "GOTCHA" regarding McCain & patriotism. Back on March 13, 2008 McCain appeared on Hannity & Colmes. Discussing McCain's time as a POW in Vietnam the following exchange took place:

Sean Hannity: What does that do to a person, to spend that much time in solitary confinement.

Sen. John McCain: I think it makes you a better person, obviously. It makes you love America. I really didn't love America until I was deprived of her company. But probably the most important thing about it, Sean, is that I was privileged to have the opportunity to serve in the company of heroes.
McCain has repeatedly made this kind of statement through the years. MSNBC's Dan Abrams seems to think that this is EXACTLY the same as Michelle Obama's comment from a few months ago. To provide context, here's Michelle Obama's quote:
Michelle Obama: For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country … not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.
Apparently some people think the two comments are equivalent, but they are not.

McCain's comment means that he had not loved America until he was laid low. Not until he was a wounded, tortured POW, deprived of contact with home, both the grand things and the little things, did he come to love his country. (I imagine that it's probable that he had never considered the matter.) By McCain's a great many people who are otherwise in miserable circumstances can bee proud of their country.

Michelle Obama's comment means something else entirely. She states that she is proud of America not just because her husband is doing well but because the country is finally doing what she wants it to do. That is, for her to be proud of the country it apparently requires that her husband be seriously considered for the highest honor in the land. It also requires that the country behave according to her wishes. Leading a life of privilege and already being near the top of the America heap was not enough. Any position lower than the very top could ever be cause for pride. By Michelle Obama's standard only a very few people at the very pinnacle can feel any pride in the country.

Yeah, the comments are exactly the same.

"Major Boobage!"

South Park tried to spoof the movie Heavy Metal a few weeks back, and uncharacteristically failed miserably. It turns out that Heavy Metal is spoof proof! That movie is so incredibly idiotic that even Matt & Trey couldn't do anything to it. However, they did manage to create maybe the two best lines ever spoken in an animated medium:

"I see that you're enticed by my daughter's awesome rocking tits. Then bathe with my daughter in the Fountain of Varnoth. Appease the gods by lathering her boobs with soapy suds." [Start the sequence at 3:05, the quote begins at 3:29.]
"HOLD! You cannot yet caress my daughter's awesome boooobage! There is another suitor...." [Start sequence at 16:48, quote begins at 17:09. And yes, the extra "o's" should be in there.]
You'll have to watch the Comedy Central promos, but it's a small price to pay. Besides, I discovered other benefits to this episode, benefits that had nothing to do with cat urine....

At least I'm not the only one....

Last night I saw a feel-good headline from the US Olympic Swimming Trials:

Torres, 41, still making big splash
My first thought was of Roger Clemens and his improbable dominance beyond the age when most athletes in their respective sports had retired. We now know that Clemens had been using drugs to enhance his performance. Barry Bonds similarly dominated his sport at a similarly advanced age, too.

Torres is making her record setting fifth Olympic Team. She has already retired twice and last competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she won five medals (2 Gold, 3 Bronze) which made her the most decorated female athlete of the Games that year. She has won nine medals over-all in an Olympic career that started at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Regardless, Torres schooled the youngsters this time around. The second and third place finishers were aged 25 and 22.

Naturally, I thought of drug use. So has everyone else, it seems:
OMAHA, Neb. -- Even with a racing cap over her ears and her head in churning water, Dara Torres could hear the rumors.

When you're 41 years old and capable of breaking American swimming records, when you've recently had a baby and surgeries on your shoulder and knee, when you're one of only five women who have swum 50 meters in less than 24 seconds at a time of your life when you should be president of the PTA and organizing local chapters of Oprah's Book Club -- people are going to whisper: She's doping.
Rumors had actually started after her performance at the Sydney Games in 2000. To combat the rumors this time around Torres has taken extraordinary measures:
But instead of being heralded, her triumph over age is being met with suspicion, by fans and reporters and fellow competitors who have watched one unbelievable sports achievement after another circle the drain in a wash of chemicals. Torres said that after an initial draw of six blood vials, she has been tested "six or seven times" since April, "12 to 15 times" since March."

I want to be an open book," said Torres, who has a 2-year-old daughter. "I told them, 'I'll do whatever you want to do.' ... I get blood drawn. I give urine samples. They come on my days off. They come at 6:30 in the morning. They come at 3 in the afternoon. They come any time. Sometimes I have to turn around and come home and get tested. Sometimes I have to go to the lab. It's a pain. It's a real pain. But I asked for this. I want to prove I'm clean."
This still won't end the rumors, though. Lance Armstrong was the most tested athlete on the planet during his series of Tour de France victories and the rumors concerning his alleged drug use have never been quelled. The sad truth is that the only way the cloud of doubt around Torres will go away is if she actually gets caught doping. Otherwise her accomplishments will always be viewed with suspicion. That is just one of the downsides of modern medicine and technology: We never know whether to celebrate someone for pushing the limits of human accomplishment or chastise them for stepping over the line.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Coming Attractions

  • A comparison of the acting styles of Jack Lemmon and Charlton (Chuck Effin') Heston.
  • Commentary on the dangers of meeting one's heroes, especially if one's hero is Stephen Sondheim.
  • Reflections on a visceral reaction to The Enemy, occasioned by how I almost joined them.
  • More 2007 Awards! (Or maybe just the old ones, now long hidden from view.)
Immediate Update:
  • And maybe, if I can form a coherent post, BRAINS!
Not So Immediate Update:
  • If I can find it, a legendary, nay, INFAMOUS college paper.
Also, I really need to get a digital recording device. For one thing it would be great to record the howler monkeys from the backyard. And maybe the call of the local pterodactyls.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

One thing the Global Warming proponents have accomplished...

... is to give the insurance companies yet another reason to raise rates:

Scientists say the jury is still out on whether rising sea temperatures will cause more hurricanes to hit U.S. coastlines. Yet some insurance companies are boosting premiums based on assumptions that they will. Others are withdrawing from coastal communities altogether.

So much for that back-up career plan as a barista....

Starbucks closing 600 stores in the US

Yikes! This probably reduces their total number of stores by, what, half a percent?

Yearning for the Carter Years

It is amazing to me how much yearning for the Carter Years exists in this country. For example consider all of the studies one hears about concerning income inequality. Invariably (or so it seems) the studies always use 1980 as the year everything went to Hell. I ask you, would you rather have in today's economy with its growing income gap or in 1979s economy with its more level income levels?

Today I read a recent Paul Krugman column that also yearned for the Carter Years. Here's the relevant quote:

Reagan, for better or worse — I’d say for worse, but that’s another discussion — brought a lot of change.
Now I'm willing to acknowledge that not everything that Reagan did was an unalloyed good, but how can one reasonably think that the country was in better shape in 1979 than in 1989?

H/T Reader_Iam.

Time for more old posts.

As mentioned previously, I used to blog under another pen (keyboard?) name at other blogs. I have also stated that I plan on reposting some of the material. Today, reading a post and the comments at Althouse, especially the comments of my fried friend Reader_Iam, I've decided it's time to recycle repost a series that I began over two years ago. I plan to return to my little educational autobiography soon, but the college years will take a fair amount of time to write and will require some painful admissions on my part.

But in the meantime I'm going to repost the first five "real" posts from my old blog. I'm going to post them in reverse order so that the first of the old posts will appear at the top of my blog with the older posts to follow. That should make it a little easier to read for any so inclined. Also I will adjust the time stamps so that this post is actually on top.

A word of warning, though - The following posts are over 4600 words long.

Some Backstory - My Brother

Originally posted on 1/28/2006 01:53:00 PM
For explanation of this post go here. New comments in in [brackets].

Over at Either End of the Curve the other day, I got involved in another discussion about education. [Reader has since taken her blog off-line. - Outis 7/1/2008] Taking a customarily humble approach I told Reader_Iam (RIA) how to go about educating her son. Specifically, I told her she and her husband should home school him. (He's currently in kindergarten.)

I said this based on a combination of my loathing of the US education system and my opinion of RIA's abilities to pull this off. Admittedly, I don't really know RIA, so I can only judge by what I've read. But for the moment let that pass. Let the idea that someone is going to take the advice of someone they don't know when it comes to child-rearing slide as well, because clearly they won't.

Still, I've promised to comment further on my position, and that requires giving some family background.

My mother and father, while perhaps not a great match marriage-wise, were an excellent match genetically. My brother and I both have IQs that were (and maybe still are) in excess of 140, and my sister was in the 125-140 range. (Actually, she may be brighter than that, but she's convinced that she isn't. It must have been frustrating growing up around my older brother.) My brother is 18 years my senior, and my sister is 13 years older than I am. (Yes, I was a bit of a surprise.) We've all been fairly healthy, although we all seem to be disposed to depression. So we're not in bad shape out of the gate. None of this is meant as bragging, as I'm long past being impressed with my own or anyone else's intelligence. It is merely meant to set the stage.

My brother was destined to have problems in school. He was an astounding test-taker, but refused to do any of the work for any of his classes. Or at least that's the common story. I know there is more, but I don't know how much.

One year my parents managed to scrape together the money to send him to a private school for 8th grade. By all accounts, it was his happiest and most productive year in school. Many years later I found one of his textbooks from that year. It was a history text, and quite challenging. I didn't see a textbook as difficult until I got to college. I find it no coincidence that the most challenging year he had was also the happiest.

But for whatever reason, that was the only year he spent there. No one has ever told me why, but I've always assumed that it had to do with my father's drinking and financial incompetence.

So the next year, my brother ends up in Maynard Evans High School. Or Hell, as some of us remember it. Whatever challenge he had faced academically before couldn't prepare him for this. Evans at that time (as opposed to my time, or currently) was a good school. But like most schools, it was rather regimented, complete with all of the requisite make-work and social weirdness. He did not adapt. It was here that he discovered drugs, and probably sex as well. (Rock and roll had been discovered much earlier, I'm sure. My sister was an Elvis fan from birth. She must have picked it up somewhere.)

Despite all of this, he learned something somewhere. At some point, he was subjected to some standard test. His result was a near perfect score. That fact that this miserable student had scored so well could mean only one thing to the school administrators: He had cheated! After proclamations of innocence, as well as protest from my mother, they gave him a chance to take another version of the test, this time in a highly controlled environment and closely watched. The result was predictable: This time he did manage a perfect score.

At this the school took note. As all school systems do when confronted by a challenging student, they set out to make an example of him. They patiently waited until he was about to graduate, and then informed him and my mother that some of his credits from the 8th grade wouldn't count. (Previously my parents had been assured that all of those grades would count.) Since he was going right into the Navy, he was completely screwed.

Fortunately, my mother can be a terrifying woman. She took it to the school board, and her threats to take the matter all the way to the governor proved sufficient to make them back down.

The main lesson from my brother's school career? They don't give a damn if you've actually received an education. They only care that you do what they told you, when they told you.

More Backstory - My Sister

Originally posted on 1/29/2006 04:13:00 PM
For explanation of this post go here. New comments in in [brackets].

Most people that know my brother, my sister and me think that my sister runs third in the intellect department. This may be true, but there can be no question that she was the most prodigious of the three of us.

She taught herself to read by age three. This was discovered when she started asking strange questions about what certain words or phrases meant. At first, everyone thought she was just repeating things she had heard. And then they caught her reading the newspaper. While it was clear a lot of it was over her head (Hey, she was three!), a lot of it wasn't. While I'm sure my parents and all her other relatives had been doing the normal stuff to teach a small child letters and numbers and such, no one had taught her to read. (Here's a crazy idea: My brother, five years her senior, may have taught her. It's the kind of thing he would do. [I just called my brother to check on my idea. He says he didn't do it, that reading was difficult for him until he got older.])

But this wasn't the end of it. My mother liked to be involved in small local theatres. Theatres often have need of small children for their plays, and my sister fit in naturally. She started picking up acting and dancing quickly. In fact, a local Russian couple (refugees, naturally) wanted my mother to send my sister to New York City to study ballet at one point. My mother resisted this at the time, but I often wonder how things might have gone if she had taken them up on the offer. My sister also became very adept at various forms of Polynesian dance. And with her dark hair and her amazing tan, she was often mistaken as Hawaiian by other Hawaiians.

But back to the theatre. My sister had an amazing capacity to absorb information. She would not just memorize her lines, she would memorize whole plays. All of this by age five! I still can't fathom this. She knew every line of several Rogers and Hammerstein plays at that young age. I couldn't do that now, although maybe I could have before turning twenty.

All in all, my sister had remarkable "verbal" abilities. When she was set to start school, my mother went to meet with the principle and teacher. Mom told them all about my sister's talents, and of my mother's concerns about how school would handle my sister. The answer was classic: "Don't worry. By Second Grade you daughter will be reading at the same level as all the other students." My mother was not impressed by this statement! But there was nothing she could do, and so my sister entered the public school system.

School was tough for my sister for entirely different reasons than it was for my brother. When my brother would bring home his horrible report cards, it would cause HUGE problems. While Mom and my brother would be in his bedroom, with her giving him what-for, my grandmother would be telling my sister to keep her report card, with its straight A's, out of sight and out of mind. I have no idea where my sister ranked in her class, but if it wasn't right at the top, then she was holding back.

But my sister was a more traditional student than my brother. She was involved in all kinds of extra-curriculars, on top of the all the dancing she did, and was popular to boot. Unfortunately, she did not go to college. I'm not sure why, other than the family's poor financial situation, but as far as I know she never even considered it. I can't blame the school system for this. At least not on current information.

My only problem with my sister's story is that the public school system wanted to reduce my sister's abilities rather than increase them. This idiotic desire to homogenize students' abilities instead of encourage them is something I've observed again and again, personally, from the stories of people close to me, and in every story I've read.

My Story - Education's Not Bad

Originally posted on 1/29/2006 04:55:00 PM
For explanation of this post go here. New comments in in [brackets].

This gets me to the part of the story I know well.

I was born in 1968, in Orlando Florida. This was a good place to be at that time. When the Apollo moon shots would be launched, we'd watch them lift off the pad on TV, and run outside to the driveway. The road in front of our house ran east-west, and down the street was a small lake. (Yeah, yeah, it's Florida. There's at least a small lake at the end of every street.) So we had a perfect view of the rockets rising above the horizon. We could watch them for a pretty long time. I'm told that when I was little I would want to run outside whenever I saw the replays on TV. I was hooked on science and technology right from the start!

As far as I know, I didn't display any great genius at the start. I started talking kind of late, I'm told, but when I did start it was in full sentences and paragraphs. I must have liked it because once I started, I never shut up. I was a fairly good student, but not spectacular. I was also a happy child, which would amaze anyone who has only known me as an adult. I did take up chess at a young age, but this was the years of the Fischer Boom, lots of people of all ages took up the game. Nothing really notable.

In fact, at the time Orange County did have an active gifted student program. All first grade students would be given a preliminary test. Those that did well enough would be given another, much more individualized test. (I now know the second test was an IQ test of some variety.) Well, needless to say, when I took the first test I ... didn't do very well! There was to be no second test for me, and no gifted program. I don't remember any disappointment, as we were too young to really know what was going on. We just knew it was another test to take, so we took it. I doubt we were even told there were any consequences.

When Third Grade came around, I was fortunate enough to get Mrs. Pinder as my teacher. She was great! Very friendly, very interested in her students, very good.

Once again we were given a batch of standardized tests. These were the tests given to all third graders nation-wide, I believe. I scored through the roof - above the 95% percentile in most categories. I seem to remember a 99 or two, but also one score down around 90. Between those scores and Mrs. Pinder's insistence I was eventually given the second part of the gifted test in Fourth Grade. I thought at the time it was my Fourth Grade teacher who had pushed for this, but many years later my mother corrected me. It is amazing how oblivious children can be, given what sponges they are.

Well, this time I tested quite well indeed, and they put me in the gifted program. Which really didn't mean much of anything. I said the program was active, not extensive. So for a few hours every week we got to go to another classroom to be taught some of this, and some of that, and be exposed to a wider variety of material than most students. A nice change of pace from the usual stuff.

But it was around this time that things started to go south for me in school....

My Story - Education Sucks

Originally posted on 1/29/2006 05:36:00 PM
For explanation of this post go here. New comments in in [brackets].

In Fourth Grade, things were going pretty well. I tested into the gifted program, which told all my teachers that I had a decent brain in my skull. And I was on the 'advanced' track in all my subjects. (We had still had tracks at that time, although each class would have a mix of students in all three tracks.) Things were going well.

But I was starting to get restless. School was starting to seem repetitive and full of makework. Doing homework started to become a chore, with requisite friction between me and my mother, and a drop in grades at school.

One set of assignments sticks out. Our teacher handed out a LARGE stack of papers one Friday. It was a set of science assignments that we had to complete over the next eight weeks. Very daunting to a fourth grader. That night, I got home and went through whatever routine I went through. Right after diner I started in on the first assignment. Less than four hours later, I was done with the whole stack. So much for eight weeks of work! (I recall that I had made two small errors in the whole of the assignments.) This kind of dedication was (and is) rare from me, but occasionally it happens. I'm an all or nothing kind of guy!

This story sounds great... until one stops to think about it. Either I was incredibly brilliant, or the assignments weren't that challenging. As it turns out, I really was that brilliant. Somewhere between First and Third Grade I had turned into a genius. School became a drag.

Then Fifth Grade started. This was a watershed year. We had two black teachers in the school. In Third Grade I got the first one, whom I loved. In the Fifth Grade, I got the other. Oh boy, did I get the other.

This teacher (who shall remain nameless) was a bit ... militant. Black militant to be precise. The year started innocently enough. We got to learn about various black luminaries from American history: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and a host of others. As far back as I can remember, I've always loved history, and this was no exception. American history is rich with under-dog stories, and the Abolitionist Movement has some of the best.

As the year went on, the stories we got became a bit more extreme. Did you know black people had built the Pyramids? Did you know that the ancient Greeks and Romans had stolen all of their ideas from Darkest Africa? And the Chinese had, too! It turns out that Africans had done EVERYTHING first! Every last possible thing, until Whitey came along and enslaved them all and stole all their stuff. [Consider this a much darker shade of the New Chronology.]

I may have only been ten and eleven, but I knew I was being given the business, as Wally and the Beaver would say. It was an unpleasant year, and I learned that teachers really don't know all that much, and to weigh what I was told with some skepticism. (Okay, a lot of skepticism.) Actually, these aren't bad lessons to learn, but the time, place and manner in which I learned these things wasn't right. Anyway, I started to hate school.

But Sixth Grade was where it really all came together for me. I got lucky and landed in Mrs. Noname's class. And there is NO WAY I will mention this name. Mrs. Noname was a trip. She was in her fifties, dedicated to her job, patriotic and religious. And an evil sadistic bitch, too. Every year she would pick one or two students to make an example of. I was lucky to be Chosen One that year.

It's really hard to describe what it was that she did that was so awful. It was a combination of little put-downs, ignoring students and their accomplishments, generally managing to make certain that the target was an outcast. If you weren't one of the targets, she was absolutely wonderful. Constant encouragement, a warm friendly demeanor, and a forgiving attitude to one's shortcomings. So it was a great arrangement for 29 out of 30 students. But every year she set out to break someone, and most years she succeeded.

I remember hearing a story about one of her students actually suffering a total nervous collapse and being institutionalized several years before I became her student. A friend of mine, currently going by the name Plasmaball, had her a year or two before I did. [Sadly, the blog where Plasmaball used to post is gone.] He got to be one of the 29, but will cheerfully acknowledge what an evil bitch she was. As will another friend who had her a couple of years after I did. Like me, he got to be the 30th. Not so good for him.

But so far, all I've done is talk about ostracizing people. That's kind of vague, so let me tell you a couple of stories.

I mentioned she was religious. Very much of the Protestant Christian faith. We had a couple of boys in the class who were the sons of a pair of local ministers. Every two or three weeks, as part of an assignment, they would get up and give sermons. Mind you, this is a public school! It was very clear that you'd better toe the line, or burn in Hell. The religious stuff went on constantly, and it was quite oppressive.

But my favorite story concerns geography lessons. We got lots of geography lessons. We'd learn about rivers and mountain ranges, languages and political systems, where the cities were placed, what types of industry and agriculture were practiced, etc. We focused predominantly on the Eurasian land mass. This was the admonishment were were given: "Someday, some of you boys will be in the Air Force. You may have to drop nuclear weapons on Soviet cities. But your planes won't have enough fuel to get you back to the US, so you'll have to bail out and make your way home on foot, avoiding capture. So you really need to know this stuff!"

We got this and similar stuff on a daily basis. Welcome to Sixth Grade. Now here's your M-16 and your marching orders! Make sure to bayonet the corpses because those Commies are tricky and may pretend to be dead to kill you from behind....

The whole year was like this. Every damn topic was about God and Country, and the need to blow up our enemies. And it was clear that I was one of the enemies. I came to look back on Fifth Grade as a time of bliss. By the end of it, I was so broken down that my mother finally got the whole story out me, and had me switched to another class for the final three weeks of the school year. It took a trip to the principal to get it done, but I was grateful. I mentioned that someone else I grew up with had her two years later. His parents got him out of that class after a half-year. Parents can learn!

From this point on, I hated school passionately. Even when I had good teachers it was oppressive. School would continue to suck until I dropped out of high school and started a long and storied career as a junior college student.

My Story - School is Hell

Originally posted on 1/29/2006 06:50:00 PM
For explanation of this post go here. New comments in in [brackets].

Sixth Grade sucked ass, but it nicely set up junior high (7th through 9th grades in my locale at that time) and high school. Mostly this stuff is the story of any outcast, so I'll try to be brief. (Not my strong suit, I know, I know.) (Later: Yep, failed miserably at brevity!)

Junior high consisted of just one boring class after another. This included the gifted class, which was an hour each day. The truth of most gifted programs is that they capture, and cater to, students who are bright and hard working, but not really the truly exceptional students. Most of what we did the gifted class was a combination of foreign language study, arts & crafts, and a bunch of other bullshit. (The foreign language study was not intensive at all, and therefore ineffective. Therefore bullshit.)

But by now I was firmly ensconced as an outcast. This has its advantages. You don't HAVE to care what other people think, and the teachers start to accept the fact that you're going to be a failure in life, so they largely leave you to your own devices. This would be liberating if they would let you just go the hell home, but instead you just get to sleep in class.

Besides actually making it to high school somehow, there were a couple of other highlights. We took some more standardized tests in Eighth Grade. In one test, for us gifted students, I tested as having the vocabulary of a college graduate. This surprised the teacher since I had ignored all of the assignments concerning expanding our vocabulary.

Incidentally, in Seventh Grade I had started cussing a lot more. My vocabulary was becoming a bit of a hindrance in social settings. What social settings does an outcast concern himself with? Well, even an outcast has to talk to people in his classes. And it is a real pain in the ass when someone insults you, you insult them back, and they stare at you blankly. Explaining insults has the same effect as explaining jokes: it neuters them. So I learned to say motherfucker instead.

The other big achievement was taking the PSAT. And getting the highest score in the gifted class. I started getting reading material from small liberal arts colleges in the northeast. Of course, nothing could have ever come of that, but the attention was nice. It helped to highlight for all concerned exactly how badly I was fucking up my life.

Around Eighth Grade I also started to contemplate dropping out. But I made a critical mistake: I actually believed the people who told me if I dropped out I would never accomplish anything. Even bright people make mistakes, and this is one of my worst. I should have dropped out in the Eighth Grade, taken my GED and been done with it.

One story from Ninth Grade: While doing poorly in my English class, I was chosen by the teacher to be an assistant for her Eighth Grade class. My responsibilities included grading papers and administering tests. She was fond of saying "Out! Out!" when her classes would be particularly exasperating. It was later that I discovered it was a reference to Lady MacBeth. She was also the first teacher to openly cuss in front of me. One day, grading papers, we got to talking. And she told me, "You know why you do poorly in English class ****? It's because you just don't give a damn." I was more startled by her matter of fact assessment than I was by the language. Another great teacher in a lousy system.

High school was a bit more interesting. My academic downward spiral continued, but the counter-points were funnier.

My second favorite was getting chosen by my 11th grade Chem II teacher (the gorgeous Miss Elder the Younger) to set up the lab experiments. This despite the fact that by the time she picked me I was failing the class. I later got an award for helping out in that class. It was announced over the school loud-speaker system as part of our weekly update: "**** has been a helpful student, and a heckuva guy! So we're giving him a mini-football!" It was also announced a couple of days after I had been given 20 days of detention. I will leave it to your imagination to figure out what I had done that would have warranted all of that detention, but not suspension. I guarantee that it was something stupider than anything you think up! (Actually it was two separate incidents.)

But the best thing happened in what would have been 12th Grade. I dropped out right after the Christmas break of 11th Grade. A month or so later I took the SAT. I was already in college, but what the hell, right? I took the test on very little sleep, and because of a dispute with the proctors proving that I was in fact me, I took it with a time disadvantage. Several months later, the Principal of my former school gets on the loud-speaker and congratulates me for having the highest SAT score in the class. Absolutely priceless!

But since I'm running long anyway (Surprise!) I have to add the story of getting tossed out. At the half-way point of the first semester, I was doing poorly. A couple of Cs, three Ds and an F. I was on my way out, no question about it, but I didn't know how to make a clean break. So as the semester wore on, I became belligerent. (I know, another big surprise.) I went looking for chances to argue with classmates and teachers. One day, in Mrs. Paine's gifted English class (no joke, that was her name), I got in an argument about the police with the rest of the class. My point was that all policemen aren't necessarily good guys. (Yeah, a startling observation.) One of the other students was passionately arguing the opposite. Her main point was that she knew ONE policeman who WAS good, therefore ALL policemen ARE good. Finally, after some heated argument, Mrs. Paine told me to stop arguing because I was being illogical! I said, in great disbelief, "Bullshit."

That was it! I was sent to the Principal's office with all due haste. She was so mad she didn't even send a note until a couple of hours had passed. I got kicked out of her class permanently. A couple of days later, the school psychologist came by. (This person rotated among many schools. I believe Wednesday's were his scheduled stop at Evans.) I was summoned to the Principal's office, and told to talk to this man. We had a lovely chat over several hours time. I must have been a relief from what he normally dealt with. He told me to see him next week when he came back.

The next week came as Christmas break approached. He told me he had a solution to my problems. He said, "****, what you need to do is drop out of high school, get your GED, and start taking classes at Valencia [Community College]." My jaw must have been on the floor at being granted this Christmas gift. He explained further, "High school isn't really a good environment for some students. The material isn't challenging enough and the atmosphere can be stifling. You are one of those students. So this is what I think you should do. I had my three children drop out after Ninth Grade and do the same thing."

It took exactly no convincing to get my mother to agree to this, as she had suffered enough with my brother and me to know when to let it go. Plus, she had no great love of the school system either. But the most damning thing has to be the statement I bold-faced above. The school freakin' psychologist didn't want his children to go through the school system either, and he had his pick of schools!

Maybe I'll cover my college career later. But for now, I need to get to the point for Reader_Iam. [I never did get to the point, which was to be an explanation of why RIA and her husband should have home schooled their child. Fortunately that point is now moot as they eventually came to that conclusion themsevles.]