Friday, June 29, 2007

"Call You Up On The Telephone"

So the iPhone comes out today. I have to admit, I'd really like to be able to buy one (so would Michelle), but it just ain't gonna happen. For one thing, I don't have the time or patience to stand in line all day for the chance of maybe getting one. For another thing, it's damned expensive. Seriously, $400 or so dollars is a lot of money to shell out. And who gets one first, me or Michelle (the answer, actually, is Michelle. The deal was she would get an iPhone, I would get a guitar. Dunno if either is gonna happen for awhile, though)?

The other thing to consider, of course, is that this is just the first generation of the iPhone. It'll have bugs and kinks to work out. I figure it's like the iPod: I went several iterations without one, so I can probably last awhile before getting an iPhone as well. Second generation at the earliest, I think. Get all the potential issues with the touch screen worked out, maybe a bit of a price drop, things like that. And my phone--despite its aquatic adventures a couple months back--seems to be doing okay. It'll hold a charge, though it usually holds it in the one-to-two-bars-left region rather than the three-to-four-bars. Such is life.

This is the last non-weekend day of my two-week vacation. Summer school starts on Monday. On the one hand, I'm excited, 'cause summer school is fun and it'll be great to have that pulling in extra money this summer instead of it being my only source of income (I'm lookin' at you, last summer!). An extra $3000 for six weeks of fairly easy work is not a bad deal. Granted, I'm a little concerned with the student list we've got for this summer. Lots of difficult-to-work-with kids, often lumped into the same class. And so many of them are signed up for all six weeks! It's like someone has it in for me or something.

I've got a lot accomplished this past week. The apartment's in pretty good shape: I got the spare room finished up yesterday and all of the clean clothes put away, the downstairs is in a fairly decent state of repair, etc. I haven't finished as much on some personal projects as I'd wanted, but I still have the rest of today to work on stuff (and to mail out mom's birthday present so it gets there by Tuesday. Crap, I always forget something!).

Anyway, guess I can't really complain about the two weeks off. Most jobs don't have as many breaks as teaching does. When you think about it, I get more than a month's worth of paid vacation every year: a week and a half at Christmas/New Years, a week in the Spring, two weeks now and two more after summer school, and various three-day weekends scattered throughout the year. It's a pretty sweet deal, though I still don't think we receive the pay our job deserves (seriously, some of our teachers are at school until 10:00 every night working on crap for students so they can succeed in life. That's dedication and often thankless).


Song of the Moment: Kings of Leon, "Holy Roller Novocaine"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"We Don't Need No Education"

Apparently even former supporters of No Child Left Behind are finally seeing the light and speaking against it.

As a teacher, I've had to contend with this steaming turd of a piece of legislation for the past couple of years now, and I don't think it's actually accomplished anything. The thing about government initiatives in education is that it takes the better part of a decade before they're really implemented, and then it takes two or three years to actually see any effect. So the claims that NCLB has already had an impact is absurd. The improvement in American children's reading and math test scores are more likely the result of something Clinton implemented back in the late '90s than of Bush's NCLB.

The other problem with the law, of course, is that it puts so much weight and importance on those damn standardized tests. Standardized tests (like Virginia's SOLS)have consistently been proven by independent research to be one of the worst ways to measure what a student knows. In some instances, such as with the Woodcock-Johnson III assessment, they can be a useful way to measure ability in basic skill sets, but using them to see if a student learned anything in History or Science or Algebra? Crap. So many students suffer from nigh-crippling test anxiety or simply cannot take standardized tests. And at the other end of the spectrum, you've got the students who test higher than they actually are. I was always good at standardized tests. I knew how to work the test, knew how to pick answers and guess when I didn't know the actual answer. It's no more an accurate measure for someone like me, then, than it is for someone who has difficulty with word problems and test anxiety.

The other issue I have with NCLB is that it's supposed to create "accountability." Okay, yeah, we want to make sure kids are actually learning something in school. I get that and can appreciate the concern. But there's a quote in the article I linked by Bush where he says that he wanted to "insist you measure in return for the billions we spend on your behalf."

Because, y'know, the best way to get a school that's performing below expectations is to threaten to cut their federal funding. That's freakin' brilliant.

Of course, the very notion of this administration asking for someone to be accountable for something would be laughable if it wasn't so depressing. Between the President throwing money at the Iraq conflict, the Vice President deciding his office basically doesn't belong to the Executive Branch (the fact that the Vice President's office was created in the same constitutional article that created the executive branch notwithstanding), and the way they've handled everything from taxation to immigration to classified information and documents, it's absurd that they'd want someone else to be accountable when they still don't even seem to know the meaning of the word. Of course, at the same time, it makes perfect sense: someone else has to be accountable, not Bush or his administration. It's SEP: Somebody Else's Problem.


Song of the Moment: Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, "Teach Your Children Well"

Monday, June 25, 2007

"Coin-Operated Boy"

One week of vacation down, one to go. I've enjoyed not having to go to work all week, but it'll be nice to have structure to my day again.

Admittedly, I've got plenty of things to do around here. I need to clean up again downstairs, the upstairs still cries out for attention and organization, Michelle's car needs to be taken in for inspection, and I need to work on some personal projects. All in the next four and a half days.


I don't know what it is about unstructured time that encourages sloth. Maybe it's the realization that one doesn't have to be anywhere by a set time, so one has all the time in the world to do what one wants before one has to meet obligations. Possibly. Alternately, I might just be really lazy. Don't think that hadn't occurred to me.


Song of the Moment: Dresden Dolls, "Shores of California"

Friday, June 22, 2007

Oh, and...

Rob Sheffield, you are a freakin' moron who wouldn't know good music if it walked up and started insulting your mother.


Song of the Moment: The Traveling Wilburys, "Handle With Care"

"This Is Bat Country!"

Vacation is a great time, though I find the unstructured nature of it to be a bit problematic. See, as much as I hate being constantly busy with something-or-another, I also need structure to keep me focused. The time I was most productive was when I was in my first year or so of graduate school. I was taking a full load of classes, writing and researching papers all the time, working 30+ hours a week, and getting at least three comics drawn per week. I was also writing a song or so a month, traveling to Ozarks once a month, and writing short stories and the like. Every day was full of things to do, and I excelled under the pressure of constantly having things to do.

Now...well, I sleep in late, which is nice, but it means I'm wasting three or four hours per day when I could be doing important stuff. I lounge around quite a bit rather than working on things like comics or papers or stories or songs (or chores, even). Sure, I still get stuff done--I've washed all our clothes, cleaned up the kitchen, and cleaned up the living room just since Wednesday, not to mention making a trip to the grocery store, getting replacement bulbs for Michelle's brake lights, and making a trip out to Target for needful things--but I get the feeling I could have accomplished more.

Really, there's a sense of complacency that I don't much care for, a feeling of apathy towards the things I know I love to do and would enjoy doing if I just sat down and did them. I've got plans--big plans--for the future, but I have to get off my ass and work for them. Is all this the result of having to work full time as an actual adult? Or am I just giving up on things too easily?


Song of the Moment: The Eagles, "Take It Easy"

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"I'm Working On My Abs"

With the school year officially over now, I've got time to focus on a few things that I've wanted to do for awhile. One is work on getting the comic on a more regular updating schedule, which means drafting out ahead of time so I can just draw and go. There's also, oddly enough, a rather academic paper I want to work on about Bruce Springsteen's use of the road as a metaphor for salvation and desperation. I've jotted down notes and know several songs I want to use, but I need to do some deeper research into a few elements before I start actually writing.

One thing I really want to work on, though, is my body and weight. I've let myself go since the heady days of 2002, when I could run three miles without issue in Oklahoma in August (and in less than 30 minutes, at that). Graduate school and my move to Virginia have both taken their toll on me, though really the only thing to blame is my laziness. I've gained a significant amount of weight, and I want to start working that weight off. I know it's going to take awhile to get back to where I was that summer of Yellowstone, but I think I can do it. To start, though, I have to go slow. I'm going to walk everyday for 45 minutes to an hour at least. I'm also going to do stomach crunches. And eat more healthfully. The plan, of course, is to get back to where I can run a mile or two by the end of the summer. I'm already off to a good start. On Monday, I played kickball with the school for a couple of hours and got quite the workout. Today, I walked for almost an hour and did 100 crunches. My goal is to lose 30-50 pounds this summer. If I stick to it, that will be in keeping with previous trends.

There are other things, too. I cranked out a rough draft for a children's book in school this year as part of a project the English class I team-teach was doing, and everyone who's read it so far says it's really good. I want to rework it a bit, fix some dialogue issues, and do up some illustrations for it and see if I can't get it published. That'd be sweet.


Song of the Moment: The National, "Start a War"

"The Gayest Show On Earth"

So on Sunday I attended the True Colors concert with The Denton and Laurmo. Michelle was supposed to go, but she got a deathy migraine and was down for the count.

The first half of the show was fantastic: The Gossip, Dresden Dolls, and Rufus Wainwright each put on a hell of a show. The Gossip had fire and punky chutzpah, the Dolls had quirky minimalism, and Rufus had...lots and lots of stripes. Like, everyone in his band was wearing a variety of conflicting striped clothes. He was also wearing lots of sparkly brooches. He also happened to play a fantastic, subtle set of tunes from Want One and his latest, Release the Stars.

The second half of the show didn't really click with me: Debbie Harry of Blondie (sporting an outfit I'd swear I've seen my grandmother wear--if buttoned a little more properly on my grandmother--and a white headband and looking totally stoned out of her mind), electronica gents Erasure (who did all of the instrumentation for their show on a MacBook Pro), and Cyndi "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" Lauper. None of whom I cared a bit about, I'm sad to say. They also had the luxury of longer sets, mostly because the earlier acts are all younger and stuff (which was criminal. I didn't need an hour of Erasure, and thirty minutes of Rufus Wainwright was only enough to whet the appetite). Cyndi Lauper's surprising acoustic rendition of "She Bop" was pretty cool, though.

Margaret Cho, world-renowned fag hag and funny woman, MC'd the evening. She offered up between-set banter ranging from politics to gay culture, and it was all fairly amusing if rather conventional (well, as conventional as anything at a gay pride concert thing can be, that is. Let's just say the topics and positions on said topics were not surprising). Rosie O'Donnell, surprise guest star, did an amusing stand-up stint following Debbie Harry that was quiet enjoyable (and got a lot of mileage out of her tussle with Donald Trump).

All in all, it was a fairly entertaining evening. Rufus and the Dresden Dolls made the evening for me, though watching hundreds or even thousands of gay men and women dance to Erasure was pretty damn funny to watch, too (and dude, someone needs to tell the lead singer he really needs to stop dancin' around. He doesn't dance gay, he just dances poorly. There's a difference).


Song of the Moment: Dresden Dolls, "Coin-Operated Boy"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band - Live In Dublin

I'm still of the impression that the Boss's We Shall Overcome is one of the best albums of last year. His reinterpretations of old traditional and folk songs were phenomenal and made for some of the most vital music Springsteen (or anyone else, for that matter) has put out in quite awhile.

The live souvenir album from the subsequent tour is a rather different beast than the loose, shambolic studio record. For one, the band has really tightened up and gotten used to playing with one another. There's a connectedness between the musicians that's quite remarkable, especially when you think that they've only been playing together for a year or so and there are about 17 or 18 of them. That interplay is the real draw of Live in Dublin. By the time of the Dublin shows at the end of the tour, the Sessions Band was comfortable enough to really cut loose and dig into not only the We Shall Overcome material, but some of Bruce's own songs. These reinterpretations are both surprising and very, very welcome. "Atlantic City" takes on a sinister road song from down South of the Border feel. "Further On (Up the Road)" sounds more wistful and hopeful as an Irish ballad than it did as a straight-ahead rocker, which is much more in fitting with the lyrics of the song. "If I Should Fall Behind" is more affecting here than it ever was on Lucky Town (where it suffered greatly because of the production values of the late '80s/early '90s. Damn you, polished and glossy sheen of late '80s/early '90s rock!). "Highway Patrolman" is touching and achingly beautiful here. And damn if the jumpin' rave-up of "Open All Night," done in the most hopped-up swing ever committed to record, isn't a church-tent revival sort of revelation. "Blinded by the Light" is surprisingly effective in its gussied-up tango, too.

There are really only two complaints about the record: first, it's missing some of my favorite tracks from the Springsteen show I saw on this tour (namely, "Ramrod" and "Cadillac Ranch." Honestly, I could've done without "Long Time Comin'" or "Further On (Up the Road)"); second, Bruce really needs to relax. This is part of a trend in Springsteen's vocal histrionics I've noticed for awhile; while I dig the man's voice, he really does try too hard. He's straining when he sings. You can see it in his neck and forehead, and you just want to take him aside and tell him to calm down and take it easy.

But really, those are minor complaints to have. The album as a whole is fantastic, and it really took me back to that night at the Nissan Pavilion last summer when I had the chance to see the band for myself. This whole collection (and We Shall Overcome, coincidentally) have the feel and flavor of an old-time tent revival; there's joy, vitality, and energy in this music that's so often subsumed in the flavor of the week, style over substance crap we usually get from the music industry. It's nice to hear people who are out there playing and having a damn good time with what they're doing. Everyone needs to hear this.


Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band, "Highway Patrolman (Live)"

Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full

I admit a weakness for Paul McCartney albums. Ever since Flaming Pie, I feel like the guy's been on a good streak. And yeah, there are certain caveats with any McCartney record--you know there's gonna be filler, there's a good chance it'll dip into sugary-sweet, sappy love songs at some point--he's generally a very reliable songwriter. Honestly, if you take his body of work as a whole, he's written more excellent pop-rock songs than just about anyone else in the world. Period.

Memory Almost Full doesn't quite live up to the latter-day standards set by such fare as Flaming Pie or Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, but it's a solid effort with lots of bits to recommend it. The album's biggest flaw is that it feels so piecemeal; songs were recorded at different times with varying degrees of backup musicians (a handful of tracks featuring his backing band from Driving Rain, some feature just McCartney and another musician or two, and the majority are solo Macca). There's a disjointed, disorderly feel to this collection, despite the subtle overall thematic cohesion (many of the songs deal with death, dying, aging, and mortality). I can't fault McCartney for aiming too high--this is a record that tries very hard to be McCartney's definitive statement on mortality and the aging process, and manages to come across rather well in that regard--but the record as a whole falls short of this lofty goal. He seems to want the record to be a tour-de-force, an amalgamation of his previous efforts, styles, and experiments all rolled into a single tidy record. It's even got the Abbey Road-esque "pseudo-suite" second side, where there aren't any breaks between tracks in the second half of the album. Unfortunately, it ends up more sloppy than eclectic.

It starts out with the minimalistic "Dance Tonight," a song that Jack White could've possibly written (though in his hands, it would've been rather more menacing and less engaging than it is here). Mandolin, a simple thumping drum, and subtle bass and electric guitar give this song a directness and simple elegance that belies the arch blandness of the lyrics. "Ever Present Pass" sounds like a McCartney-ized version of the current mainstream rock trends (chunky guitar and synth riffs, thumping rhythm section, self-absorbed lyrics). Clearly, McCartney's been listening to the radio and taking notes. The trick, of course, is that McCartney plays the hook on a harpsichord rather than a guitar or piano.

It continues from there in fairly typical McCartney fashion. There are love ballads, song about wacky British characters, and trips down Memory Lane with detours into Nostalgia Drive. McCartney has a lot of tricks in his bag, as he usually does: vaguely hip-hop beats and rhythms in "Mr. Bellamy," a psych-out string intro to "You Tell Me," a straight-ahead rocker from left field at the end of the record with "Nod Your Head." The record sags in the latter third, weighed down by McCartney's efforts to be an Artist (capitol A) and an average guy down in the trenches of love or whatever making things a little too complicated. When he relaxes and lets the music do its thing--like on "Dance Tonight," "Ever Present Past," "Vintage Clothes," "That was Me," and "Nod Your Head"--the music is as good as anything he's done in the past decade or two. Sadly, he can't seem to leave well enough alone, and he constantly tampers with songs in the immaculate-bordering-on-fussy production style that he's always favored.

Ultimately, this McCartney album is a consolidation of his work, a look back over where he's been and what he's done. It's also a bit of a look forward; several songs hint that McCartney is still well aware of the trends in contemporary pop-rock and even a little willing to adapt some elements from those trends into his own work. While the record is more remarkable for what it attempts than for what it accomplishes, and it certainly won't bring any new fans into the fold who aren't already convinced of McCartney's excellence, it's still a solid record from a guy who's made enough albums in his life to know his craft. The craft here is undeniable, and when it's married to actual enthusiasm (such as in "Dance Tonight" or "Nod Your Head"), it's undeniably catchy.


Song of the Moment: Paul McCartney, "Mr. Bellamy"

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Flame On!"

I never saw the first Fantastic Four movie, just as I never saw the Daredevil or Electra or Ghost Rider flicks. I haven't really ever been all that impressed with most of Marvel's main heroes or teams (okay, I dig Spider-Man and the X-Men), and the movies based on those properties have been (with the Spider-Man flicks and the first two X-Men flicks aside) pretty damn horrible. Sure, people go to them, but I think we (by which I mean the geeks who dig comics) should demand better comic book movies, not this pappy crap.

That being said, why does Jessica Alba always look like a rather stunned squirrel? I swear, she's got this vacant expression that says, "I could be replaced by CGI all the time instead of most of the time and it would have been a better casting decision."

Seriously, why was this movie made? I didn't think the first one did well enough to warrant a second effort (if you can call it that).

Like I said, I haven't been that impressed with Marvel's offerings of late. Granted, I'm not much of a Marvel fan in generally usually (I do like Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men, and Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men is pretty groovy). My tastes run to DC's Vertigo imprint, mostly (Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Matt Wagner's Sandman Mystery Theatre, Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan, etc.). But even when I go for a superhero comic from one of the Big Two, it's usually a DC title (and usually Batman, for some reason). Maybe I just prefer their style more. Maybe it's the pulp tradition that seems to creep into their work more often. Maybe it's the fact that the angst isn't so teenagery (Marvel's heroes always struck me as kinda whiny).

All of this is by way of saying that I'm really not going to go see the new Fantastic Four movie. I don't think that makes me less of a geek (especially since I've spent most of the evening reading comic books).


Song of the Moment: Arcade Fire, "Neon Bible"

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Gonna Take 'Em Down To The Cadillac Ranch"

Graduation yesterday was good, aside from the commencement speaker's oratory turning into a recruitment speech for the military industrial complex. The school seems rather empty today, what with those eight seniors gone and a handful of underclassmen absent. Seems the end of the year apathy has gripped the student body in its icy, careless hand.

I woke up feeling vaguely ill today. For most of my drive to work, I fought the urge to throw up. I've improved in condition since then, but I still feel kinda funky and clammy (though that could be from the high humidity we're experiencing in the wake of yesterday's massive storms). Hopefully I'm not coming down with something.

I am sad to see this school year come to a close. We're losing some good teachers (and some good friends, coincidentally) and students. The character of this place will change subtly between now and September, I'm sure: we're getting a new director, several new employees, and a batch of new students and returning students who have to deal with all the changes. It's probably rather overwhelming for them; hell, it's almost overwhelming for me. But it's the nature of life for things to change, for circumstances to shift and alter as time passes. Change is the human condition, for better or worse.

Anyway, tomorrow is the last Friday of the year. Monday is a half-day. Tuesday is (aside from my education course that night) freedom.


Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen, "One Step Up"

Monday, June 11, 2007

"This Establishment Sells Intoxicating Beverages!"

We're down to one week of school. Wednesday is graduation, and the students are basically done learning as far as I can tell. A week from now, I'll finally be free...for a couple of weeks, anyway.

Michelle and I have been watching the Bruce Campbell series Jack of All Trades. We really don't know why the show didn't last longer than it did (about a season and a half). Sad, really.

I also recently watched the second volume of Justice League Unlimited. I have to say, i wasn't nearly as impressed with the second season as I was with the first.

Spent a lot of time last week digging the new Paul McCartney and the live Bruce Springsteen CDs. I know a lot of people rip on Macca for being too poppy and too melodic and saccharine, but the man still crafts a pop song better than just about anybody out there. I may try to post reviews of those two albums later this week.

I've fallen way behind in comicking. I hate that. Time was, I'd have comics cranked out and drawn weeks in advance. I thought nothing of creating storyline after storyline, random joke after random joke. Those were the halcyon days of '03 or '04, as I recall, back when Dim Bulb was more than just me posting a comic whenever I could get around to it.

It's now after 11.00 pm. I've had to stop several times for various interruptions. There was a time when a post like this would have taken a scant five minutes to write; now, the words don't flow as freely as they once did. Nothing does, really: comics, writing, songs...none of it is as easy and effortless as it was only a few years ago. What's changed? Is it that my work is more demanding? That I have more claims on my time? Have I just hit my creative peak and now I'm on the decline? Probably a little early for that; I'm only 27, after all. But it's frustrating none the less. I used to be much more prolific in virtually everything.

I also used to be unmarried and very single. Dunno if there's a connection there yet or not.

Anyway, I am ready for a bit of a break. I've got some ideas for an academic paper, actually, that I really want to pursue. It's gonna require some odd research, though, to make it work like I want. We'll see what a couple of weeks of solo work time offer up.


Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen, "Open All Night (Live)"

Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Who Drove The Red Sports Car?"

Things that have happened today:

1. My in-laws' planned visit was pushed from this evening to tomorrow afternoon, which gives us more time to prepare the apartment for their arrival.

2. I finally went to to the eye doctor and got contacts and new glasses. I'd almost forgotten what it was like having peripheral vision and not having to clean my damn glasses every ten minutes.

3. My knee (the one I hyper-extended a few weeks ago playing kickball with my students) is really hurting today. Michelle thinks I have fluid in there that needs to be drained off, but I figure that it would've been a problem long before now if that were the case. I have limited bending and full-but-painful rotation on the knee, it supports my weight, and it's a little inflamed around the offending joint. Also, it mostly hurts just above the knee and along the outside of the kneecap. Dunno if this is just part of the hyper-extension still healing up or something else, but it got so bad that I could barely get in and out of my car after my eye appointment.

Only a little over two weeks left of school. I have to say I'm glad it's reaching the end of the year, though I'd love to get farther in the curriculum for U.S. History and I'd love to have more time to cover music in Humanities. World History II ought to fit just about right, though I'm gonna have to rush the post-WWII stuff a bit (that's mostly just the collapse of imperialism, as far as the curriculum is concerned, so it shouldn't be that tough).

I will be sad to see some of the seniors leaving, I'll admit. They've been a good crop, and though I only have a few of them in my classes, I've enjoyed it.


Song of the Moment: Neko Case, "Timber"