Sunday, April 26, 2015

Presumptive Nominee

Who is running for president? If you had a chance to vote for Lincoln, you would do it, right? Even if he were a Democrat? Okay, we're not talking Abe here. Honest or otherwise, this is Lincoln Chafee we're talking about. Chafee is a former governor, a former senator, former mayor and former city council member. He is also a former Independent. And a former Republican. If you leave Libertarian Dog Catcher off the list, you've pretty much got this guy's resume. Now he would like to add to that.
I know. It's a long shot, since everyone knows that former Secretaries of State and former First Ladies who have also been senators usually get the inside track when it comes to getting the keys to the Democratic Presidential bus in 2016. Muddying the waters at this point can't help. Unless those waters weren't particularly still in the first place.
What chance does this "outsider" have when it comes to big time party politics? What chance does an outsider have? This is a very interesting discussion, considering Lincoln Chafee's record qualifies him to be an outsider. Outside what? This is a guy who puts, on his website, that "A strong middle class is the bedrock of any prosperous community." You want controversy? He was one of only twenty-three senators who "saw the folly of allowing Bush/Cheney to invade Iraq." Linc says he's proud to be one of those twenty-three. It's on his website. Seeing folly and doing something about it are two different things. A certain senator from New York does not share this distinction. If voting records matter, it should be noted that Senator Clinton from New York voted for the authorization for use of military force against Iraq. Speaking of records, Linc wrote a book called "Against The Tide," recounting his experience of trying to find the middle in a party that had moved far to the right. In this model of the universe, it is the political parties that shift, not the people in them. In Chafee's case, the Republicans moved right out from under him and subsequently he found himself adrift for a while, and now finds himself in Democrat territory.
It is from this blue launching pad that Lincoln Chafee hopes to begin his new mission: the one he aims to land in the White House. He's pro-choice, gun-control, and voted against building a giant fence on the border between the United States and Mexico. This guy was a Republican? Well, not anymore. Just like he's not governor anymore. Or senator. Or city council member. Lincoln Chafee wants to be President of the United States. Has anybody told Hillary yet?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

So Thirsty

Water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. That's kind of how I felt when my family was driving down the coast, with the Pacific Ocean hanging out the passenger side window. Drought? What do you call that? A great big puddle of wet, just waiting to be distributed to the proper field or lawn or glass with ice. Except it's full of salt. And it wouldn't do much good to try and irrigate the Central Valley with salt water. It would probably cause more trouble than it would cure. That's why we need to take the salt out so we can keep the water. It makes so much sense that scientists are hard at work at making desalination their next big challenge. It isn't exactly rocket science, since desal plants already exist. They're just incredibly expensive. The one in Santa Barbara, working at full capacity would cost five million dollars a year and would only provide about one third of the water needed annually in that community. Not quite what we were after.
So, maybe there's another way to get moisture from this dry sponge of a state. William Shatner, better known as "Mark Preston" from the film "The Devil's Rain," has an idea. Before you start worrying that this Hollywood type is going to start suggesting sacrifices to Satan or some other mumbo jumbo, let's remember that this is also TV's "TJ Hooker." He wouldn't send us off on some wild goose chase. His mind is like a steel trap. He won't miss any obvious holes in logic or science. He'll simply pause, lightly, and then proceed.
William Shatner wants to build a pipeline to bring water from Seattle to the parched folks down in sunny California. The price tag on this project: Thirty billion dollars. Or, if you were to put it into desalination terms: six thousand plants running for a year. Providing thirty percent of the water needed by their communities. It certainly beats the heck out of that "conservation" talk that has been tossed around lately. Besides, who better to find a cure for our drought than the guy who saved the whole planet by gong back in time and procuring a pair of humpback whales who could then communicate with the outer space machine that was threatening to planet in the present. Easy as one, two, three, four The Voyage Home showed that nothing is impossible for Captain James T. Kirk and his crew. Sound crazy? Crazy like a Starship Captain, you mean.
Of course, I think I would feel a whole lot better if Scotty were still around.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Open The Classroom Door, Hal

Suppose they gave a test and nobody took it. Three states, Nevada, Montana and North Dakota, are currently attempting to right their assessment ships as their newly prescribed computer-based Common Core tests crashed and burned. At least around the edges. Software problems and technical glitches have kept students in these states from being able to complete the federally mandated exams. The U.S. Department of Education has not backed off their expectation that ninety-five percent of students need to be tested by the end of the year. It must be done, on earth as it is in Washington.
And just what are the results going to show? My guess would be that high-stakes testing is not a viable way to get fair and accurate data on student achievement. But that has never really been the aim of these tests. Teachers know how their students are doing without sitting them in front of a computer for hours at a stretch to measure their capacities and abilities. The simple fact that these tests are given in March and April and the school year doesn't end for another month or two lets us know that the summative nature of these measures are not that. If you want to find out what a kid knows at the end of a year, you ask the kid at the end of the year. Instead, we come back from our spring break and lash them to their chairs and ask them a battery of questions that are designed by companies who are trying to deliver statistics to government officials, not teachers and administrators. Yes, it will be interesting to have scores from these tests while the students who take the test are still in the grade for which they took that test, but how meaningful will that be for the teacher, student and parent who look at the aggregate score of the week that student took doing something that they tend not to do for weeks at a stretch: taking tests.
What will they get? A picture of how the testing system is working, and a chance for those companies that sell their services to school districts across the country to improve the software and network issues that cropped up on these most recent go-rounds. Far from getting an accurate snapshot of how each student is performing in their studies, we will find out that this vast chunk of a percentile is under-performing to the degree that shows that we have somehow failed and that our students must apply themselves more fully and their teacher must commit themselves to creating better test subjects for these wacky experiments in computer adaptive assessment. I didn't think I would ever find a time that I would miss those pages of bubbles and newsprint booklets full of questions. How friendly and benign they suddenly seem by comparison. What do I suggest instead? The old standard: D) None of the above.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Old Enough

It was observed, not so much the day but the idea. My younger brother is turning fifty. The mathematics of this sentence is pretty evident. My younger brother is turning fifty, therefore I must be older than that. That means the last of Mrs. Caven's boys has crossed the half century mark. It is an interesting time. We noted that our father, Mr. Caven, had been a grownup for a lot longer when he hit the big five-oh. He had put three sons through high school, with one graduated from college and another slowly finding his way. The youngest one was looking for a career in business. He was the one driving the sports car. He was the one making money. My parents must have been so proud.
Thirty-plus years later, the business man is an artist, the artist turns out to be a teacher, and the big brother is about to retire from a career in law enforcement that spans as many years. Life, I am reminded once again by John Lennon, is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans. That plan for my younger brother's observed birthday was simple: start with some lunch, and see what spirals out from there. We did the lunch, and had some ice cream after, and then came back to my house where there were presents and the potential of more fun. In this particular case, the case that he had dragged with him from his home across the bay, there was collage. We took a heap of magazines and calendar pages and scraps of otherwise recyclable material and made art. It was a very calming way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We sat on the deck in our back yard and cut pictures and patterns and glued them into place. Carefully, but not exactly. There would be no grade on this, jut experience points.
When we were done, we were done. We cleaned up the detritus and listened to a story, written by Dave Eggers and read to us by the young one. The younger one. Then we took our work inside to dry. Then it was couch time. We sat and talked the way that fifty years of knowing someone allows you to. Big pauses. Big laughs. We even found a place for a few big ideas somewhere in there. Mostly about growing older and how we could recognize it. It wasn't an aches and pains discussion, it was more about how we move through life. I mentioned that it was starting to get dark and how that has always given me pause on a Sunday evening. The dread of Monday morning was something I have always felt, and it made me feel better to say it out loud to my brother who just happens to be old enough to understand such things.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Your Mother Should Know

When I was a kid, I had a subscription to Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. It helped to scratch the itch that was my nascent nerd impulses. I could blame my mother, who was feeding those urges long before I was getting a monthly delivery of stories and pictures of classic creatures from movies made long before I was born. She let me stay up late to watch King Kong. She let me know when my good friends Frankenstein or Dracula were going to be on. And she would listen to me when I wanted to talk about what I had seen. This was especially generous when it came to the Planet of the Apes series. Science fiction movies with apes at the center. Delicious. So much so that my brothers and I felt compelled to come to my mother, one at a time, and recount the specific details of what happened Beneath, above around and between the five installments of that particular vision of the future.
When I read in those pages about some kid who made a movie about an abominable snowman with his friend to win the Famous Monsters of Filmland home movie contest, I became a fan of John Landis and Rick Baker. It was only a matter of time before that pair created their first feature, "Schlock." A big ape, or something like it. I never saw it in a theater, but I knew all about it because I read about it via the in depth reporting found in my mailbox once a month. I talked to my mom about that one a lot, too.
Years later, I sat in a theater and watched these two guys team up again for American Werewolf in London. I watched it a dozen times, and read even more about it in the slightly older, sometimes more gratutious big brother publication to FM, Fangoira. I read about all the Star Wars movies before they came out in Starlog. I kept up with all the sci-fi flix and creature features. And I shared this with my mom.
Fast forward to this past week, when my subscriptions to all these magazines had lapsed, and Al Gore's Internet allowed everyone to participate in this vision of Nerdvana. In the space of two days, a trailer appeared on the web for The Force Awakens, followed almost immediately by a "leak" of the Batman vs Superman teaser. Suddenly, I found myself two weeks away from the opening of the Avengers sequel, with the next year mapped out, with another Planet of the Apes reboot sequel on its way in 2017. No word on just exactly when they're going to remake King Kong again. Maybe I should call my mom. She would probably know.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Just Visiting

It took me a moment to comprehend what my colleague was telling me: "Todd just went into the boy's bathroom."
On the first check, I couldn't make a problem out of it. Todd was a boy, and that is where I would expect boys to go, especially during lunch recess, which is what we were currently experiencing. Could it be that this First Grade teacher was trying to point out an upper grade kid using the bathroom during the younger kids' recess? I ran another check in my head: Todd. Hold on. There is no Todd in Kindergarten, First or Second Grade. That must be it. Except there isn't a Todd in Third, Fourth or Fifth Grade either. As I stood there, puzzled, my First Grade associate looked at me as if I should be doing something. Then he offered, "Do you want me to go down and see what he's doing here?"
Bingo. Todd doesn't belong here because he is no longer a student at our school. Todd was a familiar name because he was a student of mine when I taught Fourth Grade. That was a long time ago. That would make him eighteen years old. Not a Fourth Grader.
This slow realization suddenly burst upon me, and I lurched into action. "I'll go check it out," I assured my First Grade partner, and I strode off in the direction of the boy's bathroom. I heard water running as I walked into the dim light from the bright sunshine. There was a tall figure, hunched down over the grade school size sink. He looked up as I came in. "Hey, Todd."
Todd turned around to face me and when he stood straight up, wiping his hands with a wad of toilet paper, it was apparent just how much he had grown. He was now almost a full head taller than me, and a straggle of a beard hung from his chin. "Hey, Mister Caven."
His smile of recognition was a huge relief. He was not my favorite student, way back when, probably because I had no idea how to deal with his behavior. We did not "reach" when I was his teacher. What I did understand, a year later, was that I had a much better handle on his wandering focus than I did with his younger brother, Terry, who followed him into my room. Terry was a much bigger handful. Where Todd was goofy and hard to motivate, Terry was sneaky and required constant attention. Encountering a sixteen year old Terry in the bathroom during a regular school day would have created a much different reaction from me. Seeing Todd there, drying his hands was a relief. "They said I could come in and wash my hands." He was letting me know that he was checked in and working within our parameters.
"How about some paper towels instead of toilet paper?" I offered. To my mild embarrassment, we were out of paper towels in both dispensers in the boy's room. I changed the subject, "Have you been around to see your teachers?" I knew that lunchtime wasn't the best time for a visit, since most teachers are either rushing about gathering what they need for the next few hours to finish up the day, or taking that brief time to gather themselves for what was coming right after lunch: more school. I really wanted everyone to see Todd. The last time he had visited the campus, his hair had been painted gold, and he looked dazed from whatever life had been handing him. He was also wearing a state-issued ankle bracelet to track his movement after a recent brush with the law. Now, he looked much more alert, with a natural hair color and lacking any government hardware. He was in the neighborhood to visit his sister and his nephew. He had stopped by because he knew that he could. He wasn't being sneaky. He was being resourceful. He was visiting.
It was good to see him.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Musty Old TV

It would be easy enough to wax nostalgic here about how I used to watch TV. I have mentioned here previously that before the advent of remote controls, we sometimes watched whatever came on the box sitting across the room from us. Then, upon the discovery my first remote, my little brother, I could be more discerning with my tastes. Or more scattered at least. It took me a while to understand that most broadcast stations had commercial breaks scheduled each quarter hour. That meant every fifteen minutes I was commanding my little brother to twist the dial around to check out our alternatives, only to discover that we were watching ads at each stop. This brought on a new sense of complacency, one that was never felt more keenly than Thursday nights.
There was a time when there was such a thing as "Must See TV." The National Broadcasting Company may not have invented it, but they surely made a big deal about it in the 1990's. What else were you going to do on a Thursday night? You had to be at work or school the next day, so you weren't going out to whoop it up, necessarily. Why not find that comfy spot on the couch and settle in for some quality comedy and maybe an hour of drama to top it off? In the early days of my marriage, it was the sure thing we could turn to, without having to worry about a remote control. We were watching "Must See TV." Appointment TV. TV that you needed to have watched in order to have cogent conversation around the water cooler the following day.
I used to look forward to Thursday nights. Mostly for "Friends" and "Mad About You," but before that there was "Cheers," and eventually "Frasier." For a while we had us some "Seinfeld"and I admit that I used to keep track of the sweaters Cliff Huxtable wore, but that was indeed another time. I used to avoid making plans with people, much to my new wife's chagrin, just so I could keep track of all the goings-on in what was invariably an East Coast setting, laugh track included. She didn't have much of a leg to stand on, since she was as invested in the trials and tribulations found in and out of the emergency room of Chicago's County General Hospital. Maybe Doctor Ross could have helped her with that unipod stance. She wishes.
Just like I wish that I could still get that "Friday Eve" feeling when dinner was over and it was time to go warm up the tube. It will be waiting there on the DVR when I get around to binge watching the entire series run of this or that show, but not on NBC. Not this year. For the first time in more than thirty-three years, the Peacock did not air a single sit-com in its Thursday night lineup. Three hours of drama. Drama that I may or may not see, but I do miss that compulsory television. What I'm doing now just seems so arbitrary.