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Archive for April, 2008

Boycotting the Olympics

Let me first start by digging into a little bit of the History of the Olympics, wikipedia style. The most common story is that after completing his 12 Labors, Heracles walked in a straight line for 400 strides and this distance was called a stadion. This not only lead to our current term of stadium, but also suggest why tracks are 400m long, as this was the distance that Heracles paced off. Initially the games were a sign of pure athletic prowess. It was quite literally a bunch of sweaty, hairy and naked men wrestling, running and performing feats of strength. Shot put. Hammer throw. Hurdles.

Knowing that the games are of purely athletic I think it is important that we realize that these athletes congregate every 4 years to win glory, prestige and honor not only for themselves but for their country. We have even seen this popularized in movies such as Cool Runnings. It’s purely about athletics. They have been training day after day after day to athletically represent their country in front of the entire world.

Recently it has been suggested by Nancy Pelosi and numerous others that we should Boycott the Opening Ceremonies of the games. I gather that this is viewed as a sort of compromise from boycotting the entire games so as to make sure that the athletes can compete. Pelosi was quoted as saying “If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China’s oppression in China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world,”

I absolutely and whole heartedly agree with Pelosi on this one. But my question is why do we suddenly speak out now that the Olympics are in town. Why haven’t we done something since? Umm…I don’t know. 1949? These are incredibly important issues, and we shouldn’t ignore them until we see them in protests or until a time when it is convenient. Why was no one saying anything about Tibet during the games in Athens, Greece? What about Sydney? Atlanta? Barcelona? Seoul? Los Angeles? Moscow?

Why wasn’t it convenient to speak out against oppression during those times? Are oppressed people simply supposed to wait until the Olympics come to their back door before they can rally for change and get international support? Shouldn’t this be something that we consider on a yearly basis? A monthly basis? A daily basis? What about Darfur? Need we wait until their is a summer games in Africa to fully acknowledge, address and bring the international community together to stop genocide.

I have an idea. If we are truly concerned with this issue. Why don’t we boycott Chinese goods? It doesn’t take long to figure out why we wouldn’t do that. Just type in two words to Google Search. China + Trade. Throw in ‘Deficit’ if you really want to get excited. China + Trade + Deficit = Lots of Money going to China. Our trade deficit in 2007 was over $250 billion dollars. In 2008 alone we are already at a $38 billion deficit.

If people are frustrated with China’s domestic policy decisions involving Tibet then why are we helping them to grow their economy to the tune of $250 billion a year. Aren’t we also concerned with the loss of jobs in the United States. We are going to get rocked soon. China is out-working and out-producing us…why are we paying them to do that? If they are such an immoral country in the way that they treat Tibetans, why don’t we adopt similar policies that are in place with other countries? Is it perhaps, because there is a buck to be made?

Interesting. China and California have an association to concrete business ties. Speaker Pelosi, can you perhaps address these issues in California as well. I want there to be change in the rights that Tibetan’s are afforded. But let’s not waste our time with an athletic tradition. Let’s instead focus on economic policy and foreign relations. We are not going to solve problems by trying to embarrass the Chinese by boycotting the opening ceremonies.

We learned our lesson in the Cold War with Russia. If we want change we can’t address these issues separately. They all have to be brought to bear. It’s about linkage. If we are truly upset, which we should be, with the way that China is dealing with Tibet then let’s use our economic connections to make changes. If they are unwilling then let’s make the conditions economically less favorable to do business. It’s about linking our human rights concerns with our economic policies. We have to link aid, or our trade status with China complying to human rights standards. If we aren’t enough, let’s bring in the rest of the G7, United Nations, European Union, whatever it takes

Boycotting the Opening Ceremonies to me is very half-hearted. It’s kind of like saying. Well, we only care about freedom and liberty enough to give you the time of day when the Olympics are in your region, and even then we aren’t going to bring our economic forces to bear. We are just going to ask our athletes to miss out on a cool opportunity that has nothing to do with foreign policy, or human rights.

If we want to boycott then let’s boycott Chinese goods. If you want to rally this country out of our economic slump lets start turning all of our ‘Made in China’ goods into ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ goods. For you economists out there, I’m not blind to the idea of comparative advantage and the fact that it may be better to send certain jobs out to China. But let’s be honest, there are tons and tons of low labor jobs that could be filled in the United States. Right now people invest little prestige in such jobs.. Let’s put some ‘Made in America’ stickers and stitching in products. Let’s give American’s a reason not to worry about whether or not they will have to forclose on their house, but rather a reason to wake up and be proud of a country that not only supports them at home but combats tyranny abroad, and not just when it’s convenient.

D.

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Deliciously Stagnant

Strawberries were $1.79 a pound at the grocery store. That means I can make some glorious smoothies for the entire week. Glorious. Smoothies are the absolute easiest and most delicious things that I know how to make.

Put the following in a blender:
6 ounces of yogurt, preferably vanilla, but throw in whichever kind you like to match fruit.

1 banana

4-6 strawberries (depending on size)

orange juice (until it covers the fruit)

Mix in the blender and that is it. Simple. You can easily double the recipe if you want to make it for two people. Healthy, simple and delicious. Now onto being stagnant.

Do you ever have those times that you know you should be doing something, or you could be doing something, but instead you just sit there doing nothing. Sometimes I feel frozen in state of being stagnant. I know that I should be doing something but instead I sit and do nothing. It’s not even that I want to, I would rather be productive but I can’t pull myself to do it. It’s very strange and happens to me more than it should. Anyway, I am going to end this entry, lest I just ramble. I need to stop stagnating and start sleeping. Bedtime for bonzo.

D.

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Today I watched Million Dollar Baby and 310 to Yuma. Per usual, I over analyzed these and looked at them much more philosophically than should be done. First, I am starting to believe that in life we are searching for this abstract idea of meaning. It could also probably be called purpose. We are constantly looking to feel needed and valuable. The problem that makes life so tragic is the fact that we are constantly struggling between being honest with ourselves and being accepted by the broader society. The need to feel valued can seemingly only come from other people, so it’s hard to be honest with yourself and still be accepted by society. In turn, we thus change our personal belief’s to attain such value and importance in our life. Therein lies the tragedy. Dishonesty leads to societal acceptance, but personal displeasure. Honesty leads to personal pleasure and being socially ostracized.

Watching Million Dollar Baby reminded me a great deal of The Power of One. If you have neither read nor watched either, I suggest moving past these next paragraphs as I am going to discuss the plots and themes of these. In Million Dollar Baby, Hillary Swank is constantly trying to shed her trailer park past by becoming a champion boxer. In the hospital bed, she talks about ‘seeing the world’ and people chanting her name, essentially being the center of the universe. She is unable to continue living, because she will never again achieve such levels of social acceptance and thus asks Clint Eastwood to pull the plug. This highlights the familial struggle that she has been experiencing her entire life. She comes from an unstable and incredibly sad background. Upon buying her mother a house, she is berated, because it might cause her mother to lose her welfare and Medicaid benefits. It’s tragic, because she is constantly looking for that personal acceptance within her own family. She just wants her family to care and support her and they never do. Even when she is essentially dying in the hospital they try and get her to sign over her money to her mother’s name. Clearly a ploy to take everything as they have spent the last 6 days on vacation before even coming to see her.

Clint Eastwood is undergoing the same battle. He writes his daughter weekly to constantly receive ‘Return to Sender’ on every letter ever sent. He keeps them all in a shoe box in his cupboard and can never seem to understand why they keep coming back. He is afraid to take on Hillary Swank as a boxer, because, I think, that she reminds him of his daughter. He thus calls her by a Gaelic name (Mo Cuishle) which means ‘My Darling, My Blood’ clearly a reference to the daughter that doesn’t accept him. Hillary Swank even refers to him as a father figure. We see their relationship come to a close as he tells her what Mo Cuishle means. Pulls the plug on her respirator. Administers a lethal dose of adrenaline and leaves the room. It’s like they have both fulfilled their destiny in this moment. Hillary Swank receives the familial acceptance from Clint Eastwood by having someone who actually cares for her and Clint Eastwood finally has that daughter he has never been able to establish a relationship with. It’s tragic, because we see Hillary constantly struggling to be accepted by her family but finally being forced to be honest and call her mom a ‘lazy piece of trailer trash.’

As for The Power of One I made the less than academic connection over the boxing theme. It’s been several years since I read it, so I’m purely going off of instinct here. Peekay is the only English speaker at his Afrikaner school and is ridiculed by the other boys. He is urinated one, humiliated and all-together degraded by those older than himself, specifically one boy known as The Judge. We see Peekay become a boxing champion. We essentially get the run around the entire book until the very end when Peekay randomly meets The Judge in a bar many years later. The only reason that he knows that it is The Judge, is because of a distinctive tattoo on his arm. He quickly destroys The Judge with his boxing skills, carves his initials into his arm and the story ends. The entire story of school, boxing and everything is nothing more than filler for this conflict that began when Peekay was not accepted by the other boys at school. He could be a scholar and instead searches for nothing more in live than revenge on the one that prevented him from being socially accepted in grade school.

310 to Yuma again reminded me of this dichotomy between personal honesty and societal acceptance, and also reminded me of The Departed and Kingdom of Heaven. We see Christian Bale who is the epitome of personal honesty, or so we think. He plays by the books, he shuns acceptance for making sure that he is an honest farmer who plays be the rules. Later we find out that this honesty is really compensation for his inability to be accepted by his own family. A tense moment with Russell Crowe brings this out. Nearly being choked he tells Crowe how he lost his foot in the Civil War. Instead of losing it in battle while doing something noble it is instead shot off by a friendly solider while they are retreating. He asks how he can face his son with such a story. We then come to understand that his entire struggle with honesty and acceptance. He is trying to teach his sons to be honest and true, because he can’t do so with them. He feels that they won’t accept them as a father if he tells them the truth. He thus has to take this ‘job’ to take Crowe to the 310 train in hopes of redeeming his virility and showing his eldest son that he is manly.

Crowe on the other hand is a man who is blatantly honest, but constantly searching for acceptance. He is an anomaly in the world of criminals. In the first scene we see him drawing a free-hand picture of a falcon as one of his posse comes up to tell him that it is time to rob the stagecoach. He has manners, he cites passages from the Bible. He murders, steals, kills, but does so for seemingly true and good reasons. Throughout the movie I develop a sort of sympathy for him. He kills, but he kills those who have done bad. For example, the marshall who slaughtered dozens of Apache women and children. We find out later in the movie that he was left by his mother. She sat him at a bench at the train station and told him to read the Bible while she got the tickets. 3 days later he finished the Bible and his mother had not yet returned. It’s almost as though his entire life is spent searching for acceptance by someone who is honest and true like himself. He surrounds himself with these lackeys that are devastatingly loyal. He shoots his own men and they still follow him, drive their horses to exhaustion to rescue him and never question his authority or dominion. That being said, he hates them. He goes along with Bale, because he is true. He has numerous opportunities to kill him, but never does. Even till the end, he has his opportunity to escape but instead gives Bale the opportunity to gain acceptance with his son and thus with his entire family. As his posse covers Bale with bullets he can do nothing behind his cell but scream ‘No.’ He tried to buy Bale he tried to make him be dishonest, but Bale doesn’t bite. It’s almost as though Crowe has become a criminal to search for someone who is honest. He tries to bring out the worst in people in hopes that someone will refuse all such advances. Bale finally does only, tragically, to be immediately shot to the ground. Instead of then joining his minions for more plundering Crowe does the unthinkable. He takes the gun his right man throws him and immediately shoots them all. Hands the gun to the Marshall and walks into the cell. He had searched for acceptance by an honest man and finally found it.

The Departed is very similar to 310 in my mind. We have the same struggle. The characters who strive to be accepted are tragically flawed, in terms of reproduction. Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson both struggle to bear male heirs. The story is subliminally about their inability to produce children, because of their infertility. This seemingly, in my mind, leads to their personal dishonesty. They must place a facade over everything that they do in hopes of society not noticing and being accepted. On the other side of things you have Mark Wahlberg, who is hilariously honest. He loses his job, because he refuses to fall in line.

Finally we have Kingdom of Heaven, Bailyn does the unthinkable by giving up Jerusalem. But he does so to be true to himself and true to the cause. He seemingly loses everything that society and convention would tell him to keep.

I know this is completely convoluted and confusing, but I suppose what it comes down to is that we are constantly being pressed down upon by these forces of self and society. We can either do what we wish, or we can do what society wishes us to do. There are times where we may not know what we want, and I’ll throw those instances out. But in all other cases we have to be true to ourselves. When we live to please others to be accepted we lose a piece of ourself. This isn’t to say that you can’t care for other people, but rather that we have to take other people for who they are. Societal acceptance doesn’t come through changing our persona, it comes by being deeply individual. When we fail to do this we lose our identity and are unable to relate with people.

Life is that struggle between self-honesty and societal acceptance. It is that struggle to run free in nature as we would wish, but live within the conventions of a ordered and structured polis.

D.

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Wildlife Count

100 – Deer

12 – Antelope

3 – Skunk

2 – Rattlesnakes

It’s been quite awhile since I have updated the wildlife count so it isn’t entirely accurate. While in Durango we probably saw over 75 deer it was ridiculous. From Pagosa Springs to Durango it was like weaving in and out of deer that were walking across the road. At another point I also saw a skunk scuttling across the road. I think that limits the animals, although way back in the fall I did see 2 rattlesnakes while in the car, so I threw them on as well.

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This past weekend I made my way out to He-Dog to visit my friends living behind the school. We were having a bridal shower for our friend Kim. It’s not that she is getting married, but more that she will be getting married, at some point, in her life. It was quite the event. It was decided that no games could be played. In turn we had to be extra stealthy. Let me hit the highlights.

First, Boyce and I had an argument about the definition of a rhombus and a square. He argued that a square was a rhombus being more inclusive with his definition. I argued that a square was not a rhombus being more exclusive with my definition of rhombus. Realizing that neither of us were going to back down on this matter it was decided that we would each have to elect someone to fight it out for us. Boyce choose Matt while I chose Anna. Matt is a wiry TFA alum with fiery orange hair. Normally, you would think a stellar choice. That being said, Anna is ridiculous. She pretty much destroyed Matt making me and her the victors.

Second, after the battle came the challenge of toothpicks. Along with no games, it was decided that we had to eat all food with toothpicks. Stealthily we crafted a covert game to be played. The person with the most toothpicks, from eaten food, would be the winner. Excellent. Tots. Pizza. Snickers. Whipped Cream. All skewered on toothpicks and all shoved down my gullet. Well minus the toothpicks, we had to keep those to see who had the most at the end of the night. The dangerous part of the this game was in storing the toothpicks. Some people chose their back pocket which proved to be quite dangerous as they jabbed their hand on numerous occasion. I personally chose that little pocket on the left side of your jeans that has seemingly no purposeful use. Yeah I know it’s for change right. Well if you have ever tried putting change in there you will quickly realize that you won’t be able to get it out because the hole is too small. Luckily the toothpicks were long enough that I could retrieve them with minimal jabbage. Who created those small pockets anyways? You’d think after so many years of disuse and inability to hold change that they would work their way out of the pants. Or is there perhaps another use?

Third, reverse stripping. No such event would be complete without stripping. To add our own South Dakota spice Andrew decided to reverse strip. This means that he started out with jeans and a shirt on. After people began throwing him clothes he ended up with a flannel, gloves, hat, snow pants, winter jacket, and back packs. It was quite amusing.

There were several other happenings during the party. After discovering that I wore the same size as Juliet and could fit into her heels. We decided that I should shave my leg to properly show my legs with the shoes. For the next day that left me with one shaved leg and one hairy leg. I was surprised at how much insulation your hair provides. My other leg was quite cold with the lost padding. Being that it is getting warm outside. I decided that it was time to just shave both legs and prepare for biking outside. It can’t hurt right? It also looks incredibly chic. Not like actually cool, but chic as in like smooth. After having experienced such a feeling I actually find it quite preferable. Sounds odd I know, but if you have never tried it I would recommend it. Having shaven legs is quite comfortable.

D.

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Standardize This

Today begins the season, yes season, of standardized testing for my kids. My kids have to take between 12 and 15 different standardized tests in little more than the next month. Six or nine session of the Dakota STEP. SAT 10. DAC’s and finally DRA.

I have realized several things from all of these tests. (1) Money, Money, Money. (2) We test our kids all the time.

(1) Money, Money, Money. Standardized testing has now become quite a lucrative business. Companies want to get in the process of creating these tests, because it means then that they can make tons of money selling these products to school districts. Once they sell the tests then they can start selling the practice books and study materials to parents so that they are just doubling up on profits.

(2) As I have said, we test our kids all the time. It is past the point of benchmarking and finding out useful information it is almost kind of absurd. Is there a way that we can standardize the standardization of tests. There are just too many of them. Also, if we made it online and nationwide, we could do it briefly every month, get viable information throughout the entire year and perhaps guide our instruction. If it were nationwide, then we could actually compare apples to apples to see how students are doing across the entire country and where we should be providing more support.

One of the interesting things about standardized tests is the way that they are processed. They have to be flat and unfolded. You know the deal. Well today we started on of our tests and one of my students after working for about 5 minutes announced to the entire class that he has finished. I went to his desk and asked him if he had checked his answers, or if he had just bubbled in randomly. To this he responded by repeatedly saying ‘shut up.’ At this point it was important for me to remove myself from the situation, so that I didn’t distract that other students who are actually attempting to do their work.

When I left his desk he responded by crumbling up his paper, attempting to throw it in the trash. He also pitched his test booklet, calculator and ruler. I suppose you could call that a 4 in 1 deal. Nice huh? Luckily this makes the entire testing sheet useless. There goes the test we completed early in the morning.

I notified my lead teacher of the situation. Besides all of the paper work and things that I have to fill out, they might also invalidate that section for everyone in my class, because of one unreasonable student. Really?! Why does one person have to cause trouble for the entire group?

As for the future of standardized tests, I must save that to another day when I am gathered, collected and thought about things.

D.

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