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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cash for Goals

The following is an exchange between my son's soccer coach and myself. 

Thu, November 17, 2011 3:36:59 PM

So the tournament is Saturday first game at 9:00 AM. I have been told that there is somethng else going on at the church so parking is going to be crazy. Please arrive early.

I really want to win this first game. I don`t want to do something any of you are against so let me know if you have a problem with this but I am going to offer financial incentives to the kids (of course unless you say not to for you child.) The deal is as follows:

$3 per kid for a win
$3 per goal
$2 per assist

Here is why. On Saturday I was at an indoor game for 3rd graders. The coach for the team we were playing was within ear shot of me. Another parent walked up and the coach said "hey nice draw on the first round of the tournament." The guy answered "yeah. St. Roch." I recognized the guy who answered since we just played the team he coaches the week before. We only lost by one and had no subs. But the way he answered was as if we were the most terrible team ever. Well I disagree. I think we have a very solid team as evidenced by our last game. I think with a full roster at every game there are several we would have won. I know it is not feasible for everyone to make every game and I do not expect that. I am merely pointing out that we are better than our record. So I want to win this game badly to put this guy in his place!

If you have a problem with this let me know and I will make sure I shield your kid from my incentives! This only counts for the first game.

I took a moment to respond. I wrote the email that night, but did not decide to send it until the next day.

Fri, November 18, 2011 5:22:45 AM
I am speaking as a parent and as the coach of both the baseball and basketball team, and as such I am concerned by the precedent that this will set. This does not conform to my philosophy of sports.

Financial incentives have no place in youth sports, particularly team sports. I am not just saying this because the salary structure would preclude Evan and any other defensive minded players from being compensated. Our players are motivated because they want to do their best. Your proposal would only encourage players to keep the ball and score goals instead of passing or defending. Furthermore, it will create a rift between the players that have had additional training and those that have not. Our boys are a team and as such support each other in there efforts. There is no need to upset the team chemistry.

The goal of sports is to build better young men that have not only the physical skills that may later result in a compensation, but the social and mental skills to deal with both winning and losing. Introducing an arbitrary reward system will undermine both of these goals. Youth sports are a learning experience and winning is the reward for hard work and team play. Intrinsic motivation is infinitely better than a financial reward.

There are other leagues in which winning is the primary goal, but even in Evan's USA swim team the emphasis is on self-improvement, team work, and dedication. The winning comes as a result of the mastery of these skills and personality traits. We all enjoy winning, but we have to decide if it should be done at all cost especially in the CYC league.

With that said if you want to form a team of parents to totally go and kick this other guy's ass on a soccer field, basketball court, baseball diamond, or Trivial Pursuit board, then I will be there with my game face and a case of beer.

Apparently I wasn't the only one to respond.

Fri, November 18, 2011 8:42:36 AM

I got various feedback on the proposal I laid out. IN a busy moment I may not have thought through it all the way. A great suggestion was to change the amounts to reward an assist higher than the goal. Makes sense since passing is the key to the game. Another was to reward goals as a pot to split for the team. Another was to remove it all together.

So here is what I suggest. I certainly do not think this is the most appropriate thing for this age, I just want to beat this team.  So rather then compromise the spirit of what we are doing here I will tell the boys that if they win I will have a pizza party for them to which I will most definitely pay for it myself as the victory will be worth it for me. I certainly want them to play the way they have been since the teamwork has come a long way this year and I do not want to disrupt that as it could actually backfire.

Remember, be there early since parking is going to be an issue. Remember, if we cannot field a team we get fined $100. Have a great breakfast and come ready to play soccer!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We Need To Moneyball This Thing

Scientist have been sciencing education for years, yet there still seems to be a myriad of unanswered questions, answers that are abused by those with an agenda, and queries that have not been adequately pondered. Before we can begin to discuss the answers to any of these questions, we must decide on a common goal. The main issues seems to be educators and political leaders desire a different product from education and we use one instrument to measure both.

I'm not sure what these are, but I don't think they will test well.

Since Thomas Jefferson said that democracy needed an educated populace to function, it has been the goal of free public education to produce well informed citizens/white, male land-owners able to make intelligent decisions about how to best govern the country. The conflict arises when we are being measured by government entities that don't seem particularly interested in good citizenship. Our students are pitted against students from all over the world, and I am willing wager that Chinese and Finnish schools are not overly interested in producing U.S. citizens. I am forced to conclude that we are supposed to be produce engines, not for Ford trucks, but for the economy.

"We love the electoral college!"

We need to Moneyball education. Teachers need to realize we are not be asked to create fine young people, life-long learners, or model citizens. We deal in human capitol. Our client is corporate America, and they demand good workers. Not drones and automata, but workers that will help them turn a profit.

Now before you chuck your iPad across the room (into the appropriately cushioned iPad chucking area) and start calling me an idiot, I would like to suggest that this is not a bad thing. Wealth is an accurate gauge of success. Our puritanical forefathers thought wealth indicate God's grace, which is exactly right if by grace you mean intelligence, ingenuity, and endurance. Given the nature and history of this country we would have to figure "park effect." When such things as parent education and social class, gender, and psychological makeup are factored out we should be able to figure how much value a person has. Insurance companies do it all the time.

Once we figure each students value to society, then society should pay back a certain percentage, say 60%. So if Microsoft hires one of our graduates then that school should get a signing bonus equal to 60% of the profit that human will produce. (I'm not entirely sure what to do if the product becomes a burden on society.)
"One data processor please."

This goal would also align with student desires. Very few of them desire knowledge for knowledge's sake. They go to school so that they can get a job. This is so import that it often has to be spelled out J-O-B. We need to all agree on a goal. The reason Moneyball worked for Oakland is because they were able to shift their focus to the real goal which was getting on base. Education should be producing money-makers, and schools should be judged based upon how much wealth their students produce above expectations.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Allegory, Symbolism, and Metaphor in Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Alien seed pods have taken root in lovely Santa Mira, California, the fictional suburban paradise that is the setting for Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dr. Miles Bennell has just returned to town, and is surprised to find his patients suffering from a hysteria that leads them to believe that their close family has been replaced by something. He later finds out that they weren't hysterical at all, and there is not "a human being left in Santa Mira." There are many theories about what the pod people symbolize, but whatever your specific idea might be, it is clear that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an allegory for the homogenization of American society. There are several incidents that would suggest that this dehumanizing homogeny is an allegory for the threat world domination by communism.

Immediately upon entering town Dr. Bennell nearly runs over Jimmy Grimaldi, who is running in terror from his mother. Screeching to a halt Miles jumps out to question Mrs. Grimaldi. She claims that Jimmy doesn't want to go to school. Also of interest is the Grimaldi vegetable stand that in less than a month has fallen into disarray. He asked if her husband was sick and she replied, "We gave the stand up; too much work." Those who criticize communism believe that this is a natural consequence. If citizens can not have the fruits (vegetables) of your labor, then why would people even bother working?

Later we find out that their labors have been redirected toward growing alien pods to distribute throughout Southern California. Any ambition they had to keep their road side stand open had been redirected to supporting the global domination of the pod people, or state. This seems to be the case with most of the citizens because later that night when Miles goes to a club with his girl Becky they find it deserted and devoid of music. It is just a well because they are quickly pulled away by an urgent telephone call from Jack, a writer. We find out that Jack has a "blank" corpse lying on his pool table. This is our first encounter with a preformed duplicate, and it is interesting that it is an artist that is being taken over. Toward the end of the movie our protagonist are briefly encourage by the faint sounds of an opera singer. They are certain that it means that there are still others like them. Of course, if we are taking from each according to his ability and giving to each according to his need, then the arts would seem to be superfluous since it does nothing to enhance the wealth of the state (increase the production of pods)

Production began when "a seed took root in a farmer's field."  This image drawn by the town psychiatrist brings to mind soviet propaganda promoting communal farms. And just like those farms a little coercion was required to get everyone go along with the program.
"We like farming. Yes we do. We like farming, how 'bout you?"

He goes on to say that the pods have eliminated "desire, ambition, and faith." Both ambition and faith are the traditional victims of communism, and it is unlikely that out of all the qualities the writers could have chosen, that these two made the list accidentally. Karl Marx referred religion as the "opiate of the masses," but later adherents to communism instituted state atheism. The Agrarian Reform Law enacted in 1945 in Albania banned the practice of religion. A year later all Roman Catholic clergy were forcibly removed from the country.

Whether the filmmakers intended to or not, the political climate of the Red Scare and McCarthyism was bound to seep into the production of this film. They have gone on record to say they were just commenting on the blandness and homogeneity of Americans, but in the rhetorically charged atmosphere of the 1950s viewers were bound to see this film as an allegory for current events. However, the film still resonates today because we must always safe guard our individual freedoms. The attacks on 9/11 rekindle the debate over the balance of freedom and safety, and without constant vigilance "you're next, you're next, you're next."

Thursday, October 06, 2011

White Flight? Affluent Fluidity

Three districts in the state of Missouri failed to meet standards.  St. Louis Public, Riverview Gardens and now Kansas City have lost accreditation, and according to state law students from those districts can attend other schools. This morning on the radio a spokesman for the Missouri Education Reform Council stated that he favored open enrollment. After my initial throat scorching scream, I reconsidered and still thought it was a horrible idea.

The exact quote that set me off was this:

“I’d ask that you think of the plight of these students and parents that are kind of trapped by their zip code 
into these unaccredited or so-called failing schools, and hopefully a solution can be found for that," Knodell said.

Trapped? Such an obvious pathos move conjuring images of students peering at education through locked bars or snared in a net dangling just above a pile of textbooks. I thought, "This is a man that has less support for his ideas than my students do for their sagging pants."

Knodell is Joe Knodell. On Joe's linkedin page I learned that, well I learned absolutely nothing. Joe is a lobbyist with no prior jobs or interests.

I did learn a little about his rhetorical skill at the Columbia Business Times. Apparently he doesn't like to waste time with facts and figures. He merely states that unless you are an intellectually stunted recluse, then you already know them, and they must support his point of view. 

"I could list the statistics that show Missouri lags behind in student achievement and how the United States stacks up against other developed countries in math and science — but these facts have been in front of us and in the media for quite some time." Columbia Business Times

As a supporter of anecdotal evidence Joe would also like you to know that teachers are slackers.

Oh so now we know that he was a former superintendent, but I am even more concerned now with his rhetorical style.

When a pitcher is "cruising" we are happy. It means that he is being successful without struggle. Even cruise control in a car is designed to take over the mundane task of moving one's foot from the accelerator to the brake and back again, a task that though vital probably uses more computing cycles than necessary. If a teach has become so good at their job that the lower level tasks have become automatic then we should applaud those teachers. We have developed muscle memory. The repetitive tasks of our profession are now second nature.

Joe Knodell must be right, however, because he was a superintendent, and most superintendents I know spend a majority of their time observing all of the teachers in their district. I am sure he has extensive data to back up what appears to be a poorly fleshed out anecdote.

Joe lobbies on behalf of  Missouri Education Reform Council, which as far as I can tell is a blog. MERC doesn't even think they are that much. From their own "about" link we learn that, "The Missouri Education Roundatable Council’s mission is to promote improvement in Missouri’s K-12 educational system, including increasing performance, accountability and transparency." 

It's as if they took the mission statement formula and created that sentence.

[name of organization] + [linking verb and positive infinitive]+
[parallel structure of catch-phrases and jargon]=Our Mission

And they even got the name of the organization wrong. From the time of their creation to the time they wrote their mission the word "reform" changed to "roundtable."

From this same website we learn that Joe's curriculum vitae includes a litany of rural schools that come no closer to St. Louis, or any of the unaccredited schools, than Poplar Bluff.

Concerned educators, students and citizens will be happy to know that Joe bases his decisions "on what is best for the student, and what will further their educational goals." As a reformer this is a distinct break from the stated goal of most educators.  Perhaps that is the reason MERC recently changed to a roundtable instead of a reform.

I am going to ask for a seat at this table because just from a logic and logistical point of view I don't see how open enrollment would help anyone that isn't part of the entitled class. If we are in this for the students as Joe says then we should consider that some students won't have access to open enrollment because trap was designed by our whole society and its economic structure and not by a bunch of teachers on "cruise control." These students will be left behind in economically depressed districts with nearly empty classrooms and a disheartened and unappreciated staff.

White flight (affluent fluidity, in our post-racial era) is not reform. It is a return to the lunacy of the Topeka school board, racially motivated tracking, and classic classism.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Disneyburg (GettysWorld)

We had come to expect a certain subtlety from ranger stations and visitor centers. I like to think it is because of the well thought out plan to blend into the environment. They are always a welcome sight. Whether they use existing buildings like in Harper's Ferry or Cuyahoga, a low dark wooden structure blending into the forest as in Shenandoah, the barn like structure on the battlefield of Monocacy or the doorway into the hillside beneath the Frederick Douglas home, the rangers within have always been helpful.

The exception was Gettysburg. The monolith that rose before us seemed as out of place as those discovered by early man in 2002: A Space Odyssey and had nearly the same effect on our mood. The sign declaring a ban on backpacks was situated like a Wal-mart greeter at the start of the concrete path from the parking lot to the Cracker Barrel building perched at the end of a slight rise. So while I took our belongings to the car Colette and Evan went on in.

"I really wish I had a white slat-seat rocking chair instead of this concrete bench"

Colette confronted me when I walked in after placing our bags in the car and tells me to deal with the tickets. It is then that I realize that the massive room is dominated by a ticket counter protected by a labyrinth of retractable nylon straps extending so far from the cashiers that I was sure that my 20/20 vision had failed me.

You should know that Colette and I often play the "Craigslist Game" in which she flashes a picture of some piece-of-crap Spanish influenced sofa or an onyx figurine and I have to guess the price. I know she wouldn't show it to me unless the price was extravagant, but I invariably guess over a hundred dollars below the asking price. From the tone of her voice I could tell that I was going to lose the game again. When I saw the prices for the museum, movie, bus tour and something called a Cyclorama, I just assumed I saw it wrong, but no, in order to enjoy any one of the activities offered I would have to pitchfork over $100.00.

"House payment, early 90's entertainment center, hmm I just don't know."

The only thing comparable is the ride to the top of the Arch, which our family has never done. The NPS often partners with other agencies. In the case of the ride in the Arch it is Metro, the public transportation system in St. Louis. And in the case of Gettysburg it is the Gettysburg Foundation whose objective it is:

We did manage to finally find the park rangers tucked away in the corner. We signed Evan up to be enlisted in the UNION army primarily because it was a requirement for the junior ranger badge.

This is not the first time Evan has enlisted in the UNION army. He marched and drilled at Whitehaven for Junior Ranger Day, came under fire at a Civil War reenactment in Mississippi, and shot a musket at the Battle of Booneville. He has visited battlefields at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, Antietam, Manassas, and Monocacy. If it wasn't for his tendency to confuse The Clone Wars with The Civil War, I would say he was, for an eight-year-old, and expert. (General Grant's brilliant victory at Geonosis is legendary.)

At least we had found the rangers, a respite from the tour-bus friendly commercial cavalcade of cyclorama. At every other battlefield or national park there has always been a free film or a fiber optic map detailing troop movements. Now all we had was a ranger program and the $30.00 driving tour CDROM we purchased at the gift store. Before I go on I should mention that if you ever encounter the TravelBrains CDROMs at any of our national battlefields, you should buy it.

So the enlistment starts with the basic physical requirements. If there is a Civil War school, then there must be an entire class devoted to the delivery of the two-teeth joke. Basically the only requirement for a Civil War soldier is that they have two teeth, one top and one bottom. Though it is never mentioned, these two also need to be within close proximity. Without this rather mundane physical attribute soldiers would not be able to tear open the paper cartridge and load their muskets.

Next came a question and answer session. Evan excitedly announces his favorite fact about bayonets, that they are frequently planted in the ground and used as candle holders. The topic soon turned to food. Since Colette and I are both teachers it was intuitively obvious that the ranger was trying to steer the musket volley of responses so that she could talk about hard tack. (Apparently it is hard.)

Unfortunately, before she could order a cease fire, Evan said, "Goober peas!"

The ranger looked confused, stunned, and to be honest a little shell-shocked.

The pause in the presentation was long than Sarah Palin trying to answer a policy question. I wasn't sure what was going on. Burl Ives had consistently informed us that the Georgia Militia enjoyed, "peas, peas, peas, peas, eating goober peas."

Along with "The Battle of New Orleans," "Goober Peas" is Evan's favorite song on our ipod. I doubt, however, that the ranger had the same play list so she asked Evan to repeat his answer. Still stunned, she then said, "no," and rephrased the question.

"Did the soldiers eat pizza and nachos and stuff?"

It is at this point that Colette and I diverge in our analysis of the situation. Colette insists that the young lady mistakenly thought that Evan had said pizza.

I had a hard time ascribing that level of ignorance to a human being and assumed that the near homophones of "peas" and "pizza" were a coincidence. However, as of this writing I am beginning to doubt myself.

The presentation continued running the new recruits through drills until a cry of charge. Quite to the ranger's surprise, many of the soldiers, including Evan, charged into the head high weeds. Upon returning to the ranks, Evan followed the ranger around assisting that the weeds would have been good cover.

"Come on boys I smell a double pepperoni."

Colette and i had quietly decided that we would talk to the ranger to let her know about goober peas. Historical accuracy is extremely important in our family. I was still making excuses for her. Maybe since we enlisted in the Union (our army of choice) and boiled peanuts were more a staple of the rebels, she was trying to be hyper-accurate as well. Unfortunately, this was not the case. We explained it to her as Evan sang the tune in the background.

She responded nicely enough, "I'm always glad to learn something new."

Colette has since decided that she will only listen to over-weight, gray-bearded guys when it comes to the Civil War. I understand because these are the same guys I look for in the hardware store. Rangers and hardware-store-guys should be teaching me something new and not the other way around.

At least we had the well-reviewed TravelBrains CD. It did an excellent job of creating the action, a cyclorama if you will, at the various locations along the driving tour. Though I should mention that they gave General Grant a fictitious middle name to go with the "S". This phantom initial came about because of a clerical error and stuck with Grant standing for everything from Uncle Sam to Unconditional Surrender.

In another dubious comment Abner Doubleday is referred to as the "legendary creator of baseball." The may or may not be yet another error. It depends on the conotation of legendary. If by legendary the narrator means a fictitious story unsubstantiated by historical data, then he was correct. If, however, legendary means famous, then this would be another error. I'm always willing to give them the benfit of the doubt.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

I'm YouTube Famous

That is me in the red KC hat. I came in second. The winner used water, which I was under the impression was against the rules.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Poem

So this is going to come off a little negative. I love teaching, and that is why I get so frustrated. I often feel like I am having no effect. The following is a rough draft of a poem I wrote as an example to a student.

I can't believe there is still fifteen minutes.
Fifteen! And I could have sworn it was five.
Fifteen more minutes of gold teeth flashin'
while students are laughin'
out loud at inside jokes.
Fifteen, maybe Fourteen now of
students starin' at blank pages
reflecting the despair on blank faces.

I need a student to succeed,
exceed my expectations,
but they sit and swat at F's
that settle on them like flies on the dead.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cyberword Association: A Tour of My Subconcious Mind

Motivate: Isn't it ironic? It's like banning phones the day after METC, taking ipods away when just downloaded I Have a Dream, The networks down and you just need a device, getting mad a the Goth kid for texting Anne Rice.

Transform: Students are the transformers taking everyday tools . . . no wait the teachers are the transformers giving students a new way of looking . . .no the technology is the transformer becoming whatever we need it . . . no I was right the first time it is the students, or maybe the teachers. Definitely the technology. Yup, the technology is the transformer, or the students.

Engage: Total geek check. This was the first thing I thought of when I heard the word "engage." I mean seriously, if your are going to engage something it might as well be the the warp drive.
Connect: Voki is one of the new tools I took away from the conference. Not sure how I will use it in class yet, but that is half the fun. The other half is when a student comes up with a way to use it in class.
If I trust you Facebook
dishfunctional on Flickr
and soon the holdenmorton channel on YouTube
Home Address

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Windows on the World: A Metaphor for Reading

Special thanks to my wife, Colette, without whose brain I would be drooling on myself in the corner.

While exiting the Saturday matinee of Tron: Legacy I looked out the glass doors of the theater and realized that clouds had darkened the day and threatened imminent downpour. I passively plodded behind the herd dreading the gloomy milieu that awaited. In anticipation, and to avoid eye contact, I was marveling at the garish colors and psychedelic patterns of the lobby carpet. The mind melting miasma of flooring had so entranced me that I was barely aware of my hands pushing the lever of the exit. A piercing light popped my textile induced trance inducing an audible "gaaaack," as if I were a vampire about to dissolve in flame.

You would look at the floor too. Trust me.

It was the sun. The tinted windows of the doors had deceived me. Designed so that the contraction of the iris is not too sudden or painful the tinted glass had distorted my perception of reality, but it had also handed me a brilliant metaphor for the media. Granted the media has been, for a long time, referred to as our window on the world, but at that moment I realized that without accurate data on the nature of the window I had no idea about the truth of what I see.

Sometimes it is obvious, the window is stained glass, filled with spiderweb cracks, or the shade is pulled, but more often than not the window is tinted, smudged, warped, or in some cases the window is a wall. You may actually have to search for the window or occasionally take a sledgehammer and make it.

Even when dealing with a window that you frame and glaze yourself you still don't get a clear picture. Every photon of information must pass through the lens of your eye and diffuse through the filter of bias call the brain. Eye witness testimony is notoriously faulty because the brain sees what it wants, and what it misses it fills in with whatever sexist, racist, istist bullshit it wants.

"I didn't see him clearly, but I'm pretty sure he was a Mexican."

Our view of the world is a shadow of a reflected silhouette passing through three windows. The window of the media, the mind's eye, and before the data even makes it to the media it passes through the mental sieve of the author. To truly understand any message a reader must know as much about the speaker, the medium, and himself.

So is there an objective reality? Probably. That is why we should take Windex to our minds, study the glass, and only buy our windows from the most reputable dealers.

Clear your mind

A good reader must know themselves. This requires brutal honesty and acceptance of her innate isms. The reader is racist, ageist sexist, phobic, philic, friendly, fiendish and fickle. More specifically her mind possesses these qualities subliminally. The reader must look inward to gain knowledge of the polarized lenses she wears at all times so that she can sharpen the diffuse glow of information. Don't believe me? Take on of these tests.

I'm pretty sure it also smells like roses

With this newly developed focus the reader must now turn his attention to the speaker. The speaker filters information twice, once through his own pair of D&G sunglasses and again as it exits his mind through a much more deliberately designed cut glass picture window. The reader must backwards engineer these lenses by looking for the signature frequencies created intentionally by the author and subconsciously altered pixels mutated by the radiation of his bias. Simply put, who is this guy, and why is he talking to me?

Finally the reader should be welled versed in the art and craft of the medium, or window itself. What tools did the speaker have at his disposal to create the message? What are the limitation of the medium? Imagine the reader had no knowledge of digital effects. He may assume after seeing Avatar that dragon-riding blue people are real. This is hyperbolic of course, but apply the same standard to a reader that is encountering his hundredth or thousandth iteration of a popular TV trope and he might assume that every middle class white person has a black best friend. Without knowledge of the medium a reader can easily be manipulated by a couple of metaphors or a dash of alliteration.

A "real" piece of tail

Authors are repeatedly asked to bow to the limitations of the medium and the restrictions of the market. The collaborative effort to produce the final product has a profound impact on the message. Whenever possible readers need to study the "making-of" documents for whatever they are reading.

Can a reader sit back and passively enjoy a message? Of course . . . . . . . . NOT. Unless the reader enjoys the constant shock and pain of a flash of realization or revels in the ignorance and fear of never knowing what lies on the side of the door. Then he must rage against the obscuring of the light.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mutant Message Down Under

When approached with the idea of doing an all school read of the Mutant Message, I agreed. I was under the impression that it was a slightly fictionalized version of actual events. I also believed that it had been written by a journalist, though I now realize that was entirely a construction of my assumptions and bias. I thought that, like A Million Little Pieces, Mutant Message Down Under may embellish a few facts or even completely fabricate characters and events, but the quality of writing and core truth of the story would more than make up for a few flourishes of falsehood. What I found instead was a tome loaded with sentences barely recognizable as English, enhanced by a "gravy" (185) of convoluted figurative language and constructed on a foundation of 17th century "noble savage" racism cemented into a grotesque argument for new age philosophies, pseudoscience, and quackery.

Marlo Morgan, author of this book, must have been the grand inquisitor's understudy in 15th century Spain and water-boarded with the best in Guantanamo in order to so effectively torture sentences into submission. The mangled beauty of her diction and fractured complexity of usage combine to create a macabre masterpiece. I am not a peevish matron concerned with a linguistic status quo, but the sentences in this book border on incomprehensible. While fragment sentences can be used by authors to prove a point, Morgan seems to use them out of desperation. She says to herself, I have words. They must be important if I thought them. Therefore they must be written.

In a conversation with one of the Aborigines about a grave they stumble across in the Outback her guide says, "There's nothing left here, you see, not even bones! But my nation respects your nation"(75). My guess is that the speaker is trying to say that his actions are based on respect for her nation and not for any remains that are in the grave, but that is a deep meaning buried under more sand than the six feet that covers the corpse.

Dig here to find meaning

Her word choice is frequently bizarre and awkward. When referring to telepathy she calls it "head-to-head talk"(63) Her cleavage is "nature's pocket"(14). Her diction sabotages any attempt by the reader to immerse themselves in the narrative. At one point I was reading the litany of things that she had left behind when I was blind-sided by a "grand elderly matron"(21) that was her landlady. Hopefully, Morgan will be able to return to her "employment position"(16) because her career as a wordsmith is limited. Balki Bartokomous has a firmer grasp on American idioms than Morgan displays here.

Probably the most jarring aspect of Morgan's style is her insistence on layering thick gelatinous globs of figurative language like a salve onto the bruised and bloody corpses of her sentences. When describing the expanse of desert she was about to cross she said that "like the Energizer battery, it seemed to go on and on and on"(15). So, when presented with the vastness of the Australian outback the mental image she finds most helpful is a giant pink rabbit beating a drum. This is still infinitely better than the phantom image we are given when she is talking about a drinking vessel and refers to it as "nonpottery" (21). Really, because all I can think of now is a pottery vessel. It's nonpottery? Sorry. Dang, I'm seeing pottery again. My bad.

What I'm not suppose to see.

Phantom images are still better than the phantom characters that populate the book. I understand that like Law & Order names must be changed to protect the innocent, but to eliminate names entirely and just refer to the character as a "large, expensively dressed female" (33) reduces her from character on L & O to a random corpse on CSI. In fact Morgan goes on to meet this female who was a guide at an unnamed science museum at an unnamed restaurant located in the center of an unnamed town. The lack of specificity is bordering on criminal. If Morgan was the key witness in a murder trial prosecutors would be forced to hide her for fear that her lack of details would necessitate reasonable doubt.

A pivotal character.

It was this doubt that led me to question the book from the very first sentences of the introduction to the tenth anniversary edition of Mutant Message. In it she details the profound impact her book has had on the lives of the rest of the mutants. The closest she comes to naming any of these people is Lyle W. who was a "keynote speaker for a graduation exercise" (xiv) in a nameless federal prison.

These testimonials were also my first hint that this was not going to be a factual account of Morgan's journey. This was a self-help book designed to push the message of alternative and holistic medicine. Though I had suspected it of being filled with hokum and balderdash I was willing to go along for a while. I have tendency to believe in scientific theory, and just so we are clear theory means thoroughly tested and accepted by 99.9% of scientists. We are talking gravity level acceptance. However, out of courtesy and polite civility I would suspend my high standards for a sense of community during this all school read.

My career in politics lasted exactly thirty-two pages at which point Morgan mentions her "special microscope"(32).

"I had a special microscope that could be used with whole blood, not altered or separated. By viewing a drop of whole blood, it is possible to see many aspects of patients' chemistry graphically in movement. We connected the microscope to a video camera and monitor screen. Sitting next to the physician, patients could see their white cells, red cells, bacteria, or fat in the background. . . Physicians can use it for many conditions, such as showing patients the level of fat in the blood or a sluggish immune response. . . However, in the United States, our insurance companies won't cover costs for preventive measures, so patients have to pay out of pocket"(32).

Pictured here: Special

If at this moment Morgan had decided to view my blood in her special microscope I have no doubt that she would have seen absolutely nothing except the venom I was about to spew. Since Morgan was trying to dumb-down the procedure so that her apparently ignorant readers could understand what she was talking about, I had to rely on my Google-fu to find out that the procedure she was describing is called Live Blood Analysis which calls "high-tech hokum." LBA has not met CLIA requirements meaning that it is not recognized by our government as being a valid test. Morgan basically stipulates that when she says U.S. insurance companies won't cover it. She has hopes that "the Australian system would be more receptive"(33). I can imagine her profound sadness when an Australian naturopath was convicted and fined for false advertising when he claimed he could diagnose illness using LBA.

These claims made by homeo- naturo-, psycho- pathic practitioners constitute a grave threat to the health of all people. The most obvious example of gross negligence and downright fraud is the study that linked autism to childhood immunization. Because of this study and the ravings of Jenny McCarthy many people decide to forgo immunization. The problem with this is not just that now the un-immunized are at risk for the disease, but they also endanger the lives of everyone else because of herd immunity. No vaccine is 100% effective so immunity relies on the fact that others are not carrying the disease. Even if you have received the shot you may still be at risk because you belong to the small percentage of people for whom the vaccine did not work. The perpetuation of this alchemical hooey is dangerous and threatens to give a new lease on life for viruses that have not graced our sputum in centuries. This is just downright bubonic.

Later in the book she refers to physician's "bag of tricks"(90) and is "certain there has never been a doctor anywhere, at any time, in any country, at any period in history who ever healed anything"(90). The aborigines of course are aware of this and use their inside healer to cure themselves; even mending compound fractures in less than 24 hours. Apparently physical illness is caused by dis-ease in the soul, and our ailments force the body to slow down so that we can heal "wounded relationships, gaping holes in our belief system, walled-up tumors of fear, eroding faith in our Creator, hardened emotions of unforgiveness, and so on"(90). Later today I plan a trip to the intensive care unit of Barnes hospital to let all of the patients know that there medical problems are just manifestations of a faulty spirit. Chin up cancer patients, if you just forgive your cheating wife or stop blaming immigrants for taking your job you will be able to walk out of here tomorrow.

"That one over there is suffering from 'hardened emotions of unforgiveness', and the kid in the back has a 'walled up tumor of fear.' I'm going to leave this with you because I am coming down with a case of 'eroding faith in our Creator.'"

Of course, with that logic I am surprised that Morgan is not wasting away in a nursing home considering the latent racism housed in her maternalistic reliance on the "noble savage" to spread her message. In his essay about Cinethetic Racism Matthew W. Hughey describes the noble savage as the belief by eighteenth century Europeans that, "Africans and indigenous 'new world' peoples were said to have noble qualities: harmony with nature, generosity, child-like simplicity, a disdain of materialistic luxury, moral courage, natural happiness even under duress, and a natural or innate morality." Readers of Mutant Message will immediately recognize this description as the Real People tribe encountered by Morgan.

Many who believe in the noble savage, or its modern offspring the Magical Negro, view themselves as enlightened. I'm sure Morgan does not see herself as racist. She only portrays the Real People tribe in the most positive light. In her mind they are superior to us. Her logic fails on a couple of points. First of all the concept of the noble savage is a two-hundred-year-old, over-simplification of rich and varied non-european cultures that diminishes its subject to a philosophical concept rather than understand them as flesh and blood human beings. Secondly her idea of positive light involves enough radioactive libel to cause these "real people" to actually become mutants so simple that they are incapable of finding any other way of sending their message to the world other than abducting a nice white lady.

Our Savior

When the only English speaking member of the tribe expresses sympathy for her narrow nose holes and laments that she does not have "a big koala nose" (68) as they have, it is obvious that she is exalting the superior evolution of these animal nosed people. Or as some might see it she is comparing them to the Australian version of a chimpanzee which as we all know is a perfectly acceptable thing for a white lady to say about a person of color. Later, in case we may have forgotten about "these people" and their "broad expansive nose and large nasal passages," she reminds us of the "nasal shape of the koala bear"(131) that makes them so perfectly adapted to this desert environment.

I seriously can't tell the difference. I'm going with adorable stuffed Aborigine

Unlike African Americans who purportedly have extra muscles in their legs to help them run and jump faster and higher than their white counterparts, the Aborigines have "a sort of animal hoof"(22) that allows them to perambulate about the Outback will little regard to protective foot gear. Of course this is not a genetic trait as is the nose, but an acquired trait that Morgan aspires too. Hopefully, the Aborigines can teach her how to walk-about just like generations of African Americans have taught white kids how to dance. (In a nice twist Morgan later teaches the Real People how to square and line dance.)

Lest you think her maternalistic sense of awe and amazement is limited to the physical traits of the "Real People," Morgan points out that this tribe of "so-called uncivilized humans" have "virgin minds"(94). Amazingly in the same sentence that she tries to defend the Aborigines against claims of savagery, she infantilizes their brains and is grateful for being allowed into this unused, virginal space, a veritable blank slate.

Perhaps I am being unfair. It is not like she is saying that they don't use their brains. She would never say that they didn't use any of her "so-called important educational concepts" like "logic, judgment, reading, writing, math, (or) cause and effect"(133). Seriously? She just claimed that they have no need for the left brain because they live in a right brain reality in which they only need to be masters of "using creativity, imagination, intuition, and spiritual concepts"(134). With such pronounced hemispheric asymetry, I am surprised that the Real People are not falling over in the desert from epileptic seizures.

Ironically, the Real People vocabulary manages to work despite this left brain deficit. While our right brain society can only logically come up with one word for sand the Aborigines "have over twenty different words, which describe textures, types and descriptions of soil in the Outback." (84) This is merely an extension of the linguistic myth that Eskimos have anywhere from 20 to 100 words for snow. In an attempt to give credence to her belief that the Aborigines are more in tune with the earth, Morgan simultaneously perpetuates and extends an urban legend, and undermines her own "scientific"(20)(51)(97) musings concerning hemispheric dominance. (Added bonus logic failure: If you follow the parallel structure in the quote you will notice that Morgan says the Aborigines have words to "describe descriptions")

Aborigine IQ test: "Uh, sand. Seriously all I can think of is 'sand.'"

Considering the paternalistic racism, pseudo-scientific devotion to nature, and the clunky dialogue the closest literary comp for Mutant Message is James Cameron's Avatar. Though Cameron clearly made a work of fiction (the Na'vi were blue for Christ's sake) he was still accused of have a simplistic view of Native Americans and other people of color. Considering that every actor playing one of the Na'vi was a person of color and they were saved by a square-jawed, white Marine, it is understandable. Morgan may not have a squared jaw, but we are led to believe that she is the chosen one sent with this mutant message from the Real People. This has offended real Aborigines to the extent that they sent a group of elders to confront her and ask her to stop promoting the book and using their culture to push her hodge-podge of eastern mysticism, pseudo-science, and new-age spirituality. She has never offered a public apology.

Morgan's work is easily compared to a Hollywood science fiction movie, her diction indicates that she had a bout of childhood deafness, and her flourishes of figurative language are an effective argument that 100 monkeys with 100 typewriters could indeed produce a publishable work, albeit a work that is morally reprehensible, scientifically irresponsible, and grammatically incomprehensible. If you or anyone you know is considering purchasing this book don't. I suggest that you take up residence in the self-help (science fiction, malarkey, hokum, bunkum, hogwash, rot, drivel) section of your local Borders and harangue customers until they drop the book in fear. Then, even though Morgan says she has "saved you a trip to the public library"(xvii), I suggest that you go there and read about real Aboriginal culture.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Movies I Saw This Year

The Social Network - Sorkin's dialogue is awesome as usual, and Eisenberg delivers it beautifully. It was fun to explore the irony of the socially awkward Zuckerberg creating a social network. I don't know if it says anything about our world as a whole, but it is interesting that a plot about socializing, would have totally unravelled if any of the characters would just talk to each other.

Winter's Bone - Described as country-noir this film was not what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be about the devastation wrought by drugs, but it turn out to be a mob movie set in rural Missouri. It never panders to the audience and allows them to piece the story together.

Inception - Beautiful movie with little heart. I can only think that Nolan did not mean for the ending to be a twist since it was telegraphed from the beginning. A bigger twist would have been to give us a definitive answer instead of the "is he" or "isn't he."

Toy Story 3 - I wasn't as in love with this as other people. The ending was touching, but a lot of it seemed to service elaborate set pieces. I did tear up a couple of times. There just didn't seem to be as much depth to this world as there was in Ratatouille or Wall-e. Still the best animated movie of the year.

Black Swan - This makes me feel stupid for not seeing The Wrestler and The Fountain. Infinitely more complex and emotionally compelling than this year's other mind-bender Inception. Portman is awesome, even though I was a little ashamed of some of the things that Padme was doing. Aronofsky is amazing. It won't win picture of the year, but it will be nominated and should be seriously considered.

The King's Speech - M-m-m-my rrrrr-review of The K-k-k-k-k-k-k-king's Sp-p-peech. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush should both be nominated, and it was nice to be reminded that Helena Bonham Carter act and not just overact in movies by her baby daddy. "Excuse me, do you have Prince Albert in a can? Then let him out."

The Kids Are All Right - Julianne Moore nipple but after Shortcuts and Boogie Nights that not enough. Anette Bening will and should be nominated, but I never really understood the point of this movie. What is the take away.

127 Hours - Franco is a god and Danny Boyle is an underrated director. This movie is grueling, disgusting, inspiring, riveting, and amazing. It makes me thirsty just thinking about it. The cinematography was brilliant as well. We visited Canyonlands just this summer and even after seeing the ordeal he went through I was inspired to go on more adventurous hikes next time.

True Grit - "Fill your hand you son-of-a-bitch." Cohen brothers and Bridges 'nough said.

The Fighter - Christian Bale disappears into his role as a spastic, drug addicted, ex-boxer. In the final scene when I saw the real life people I was amaze at how dead on his portrayal was. Amy Adams is probably on my list after seeing this movie. The movie itself is fairly straight forward, but it is compelling and has you rooting for Mickey Ward to finally win in the ring and at home.

Greenberg - Okay, I only saw this one as I was passing through the living room. Ask Colette.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World - Edgar Wright's first movie without Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and he proves that he is more than capable of working without them. When I found out about the movie I started reading the graphic novels and I would recommend them as well. Michael Cera is perfectly cast and delivers his second great performance of the year (see Youth in Revolt). It also has a great supporting cast including Jason Schwartzman and Kieran Culkin.

Kick-Ass - Kicked ass. Again with the expectations. I thought it was going to be funnier based on the trailer, but that is not the case. I was also misled about the role played by Christopher Mintze-Plasse. Nicholas Copo. . . I mean Cage shows up and isn't embarrassing. Overall I think it was a good movie just darker than I expected.

How to Train Your Dragon - They cranked out another one. I don't remember a single gag from the movie and I didn't really care about the characters.

Tangled - If I was to rate this movie on expectations then it would score very high. Hopefully, John Lasseter's influence can continue improving the Disney product. Interesting characters and and some fun songs particularly Mother Knows Best and I Have a Dream. The film benefits from not having immediately recognizable voices that distract from the story.

Tron: Legacy - They took the cheesy movie of my childhood and try to add Matrix level mythology. The entire second act is a snooze and the character of Zeus is as annoyingly out of place and Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element. Cool special effects, but young Jeff Bridges still resides in the uncanny valley. Daft Punk created and awesome score.

Despicable Me - Of the two supervillian animated movies this year Despicable Me is the best. The minions are more memorable, and Carrell is able to deliver a more believable voice performance the Ferrell. The soundtrack also has a nice little title tune by Pharell.

Also what the hell is with all the "ell." I smell the Illuminati.

The Karate Kid - I have too much nostalgia mucking up my ability to review this movie. Jackie Chan is no Pat Morita and no villain can ever top those assholes from Cobra Kai. I think Evan liked it, but he has never spoken of it again.

The Other Guys - I went to see this with my brother-in-law Paul and enjoyed it so much that I rented it so I could watch it with Colette. I went in expecting a dumb guy comedy and growing tired of Will Ferrell. I got the dumb comedy, but I also got so brilliant set pieces, satire, and a hilarious monologue detailing how a school of tuna would defeat a lion.

Youth in Revolt - Bring back Arrested Development. Not that they will but I am required to say that about any movie starring Michael Cera. This a quirky coming of age story that everyone should see. At least that's what I would say if they wanted to use my quote in the ad campaign. Just because it is quotable doesn't make it not true. See this movie.

Alice in Wonderland - Unfortunately, I saw this at the $1.00 screen and was deprived of what was probably the only redeeming quality of this movie, Burton's visual style.
Salt - Bourne is better, but doesn't have the boobs.
Dinner for Schmucks - Best line: "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not." A good performance by Carell, and it is worth seeing just for the mouse taxidermy. Colette tells me that Paul Rudd is cute.

Cop Out - I beginning to believe that Kevin Smith does not have talent. I forgot to watch the last 15 minutes before I returned it to Redbox.

Hot Tub Time Machine - Funny as hell. Heavy doses of 80s nostalgia. If you have ever seen Better off Dead or Say Anything you will recognize the Cusack character, but the gags are funny enough to distract you from the story. Crispin Glover should be in every movie.

Date Night - If not for the greatest actor of our generation James Franco this movie may have failed. Just as the movie is about to slip into boredom Franco and Kunis pump life back into it. Wahlberg does a good job as well. I was disappointed mainly because of my high expectations of Carell and and Fey.

Iron Man 2 - Things blow up. I did you use it as a comp for Gilgamesh in my class this year.

Ramona & Beezus - Relatively innocuous kids movie. No harm, no foul.

Megamind - Not quite to the standard of Despicable Me. Character motivation was too subtle for kids and too cliched for adults.

Due Date - Downey and Gallifianakis are good together. Not as funny as The Hangover and a little derivative of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and you can't beat Martin and Candy. Still rent it if you want.

Day & Night (Pixar short) - Why?

Easy A - I enjoyed the references to 80s teen movies. It is better than most movies marketed to teens, comparable to Saved and Mean Girls.

Shutter Island - Oh yeah this is what a good director can do with a psychodrama. First of all the story is told visually and not like the exposistion laden Inception. Secondly, you get a better performance out of Leo and a character to actually root for. This movie made me realize that Nolan is just a slightly brainier Michael Bay, and that Marty is a genius even when working in pulp.

The Town - I'm not sure why I should root for a cop-killing sexual predator. I was into it while I was watching, but it does not hold up to a lot of thought.

Animal Kingdom - This may benefit from being compared to The Town, but this was a much more compelling crime drama. Now if you have a problem watching people continually do stupid shit, then this may not be the movie for you. The movie is from Australia and we all know that place was started by criminals so it must be good.


Exit Through the Gift Shop

Video and Starz

Ip Man (2008)

Moon (2009)