Friday, February 28, 2014

In the Mail: Afghanistan On the Bounce

There have been many books and memoirs written about the Iraq and Afghanistan war but I've not seen anything like Afghanistan:  On the Bounce by Robert L. Cunningham.  Cunningham was assisted by Steven Hartov, a best-selling writer currently serving on active duty.

Afghanistan:  On the Bounce is a visually stunning book filled cover to cover with beautiful and moving photographs compiled from the author's 55,000 photographs acquired while embedded with U. S. troops in 2011 and 2012 in Afghanistan.  Cunningham was embedded for 132 missions and captured the moments both on and off duty to show not only what our soldiers do while in battle but also in their down time.

Cunningham's photographs take you from Tears on the Tarmac to Hell's Box Office; there's Mission Essential Gear and the Iron Horses.  He talks to the chaplains and pays tribute at The Hero Ramp.

Of The Hero Ramp, Cunningham writes:

We are told with cynicism that we are born alone and we will die alone  But from the moment of his very last breath, no American hero is alone out here.  The word is relayed in whispers.  There's a Hero Ramp ceremony today.  And they begin to gather, from all over the base.  Soldiers, airmen, marines, nondescript civilians from other government agencies, contractors and cooks and drivers.  No one needs to tell them where to stand, how to form up, what to do.  They know this, and they swirl into a silent cordon of respect, lining that final path from the hospital to the pair of Black Hawk helicopters, one of which will serve as his riderless horse. 
Encased in a rubber cocoon, draped in the American flag, escorted in silence on a wheeled gurney, he is never without guiding hands, prayers, salutes.  This is a moment of secrets kept, for only this solider's warrior brothers and sisters know that he is gone.  It will be some time until his wife gasps with the news.  His parents and children haven't yet been informed.  Only later will they know that two hundred souls wept here with him and served as his most devoted bearers to that final flight.  When it's over, and the helicopters have faded away into that perfect sky, the mourners will disperse in absolute silence.  He has given his last full measure, and their comfort is in knowing that should their time come, they will also be delivered by a brace of angels.

These somber moments are incredible.  Cunningham says photographing the "hero ramp" "is one of the hardest things I have ever done...It is a somber duty to document these private moments.  The responsibility is not one I take lightly."

There are also moments of downtime: soldiers reading, hanging out with stray dogs, skateboarding, or watching movies.

And then there is the beauty of the country from the lush green landscape to the dry, dusty mountains.

Cunningham honors our military and pays tribute to their work:"I am the luckiest man alive," he says.  "I am not a soldier, but I've had the privilege of living with our men and women at arms and witnessing their courage and dedication."

Afghanistan:  On the Bounce is a beautifully crafted book with heavy slick pages and gorgeous glossy photographs.  It's a very nice addition to the collection of books and memoirs we now have about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

(Photos courtesy of Robert Cunningham and Insight Editions Publishing)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Tea Party is a Hate Group (According to SPLC)

The Southern Poverty Law Center has issued a report in which they conclude that hate groups are on the decline.  Of course, some would say that the SPLC itself is a hate group, but that's not the point.  I'm more interested in what SPLC says is a "hate group":

Demoralized by the reelection of President Barack Obama but calmed by Washington’s failure to enact new gun control laws, hate groups are on the decline in the United States. 
That’s according to a new report out Tuesday from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which found that the number of hate groups in the U.S. declined by seven percent in 2013. After a dramatic rise following Obama’s first election and the worst of the recession, the number of anti-government “patriot” group identified by the SPLC also fell 19 percent between 2012 and 2013.

Anti-government, patriots...?

What does that mean, exactly?  Patriots are hate groups?  You're a hate group if you don't expect big-government to take care of you cradle to grave?

Advocates of the Second Amendment are apparently haters:

The author of the new report, SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok, said momentum on the far-right experienced a marked turnaround in 2013 when it became clear that congressional efforts to enact significant gun control legislation would fail. “Guns and gun control are so much at the heart of the radical right,” Potok sad. “That looked like an issue that was going to become white hot, but it essentially died and went away.”

It's as if Janet Napolitano is here again calling us all "right-wing extremists."

Naturally the SPLC defines the Tea Party as a "hate group"...

The power of hate groups is largely rooted in their ability to exist as an alternative to mainstream political debate. In recent years, as local, state and national political figures affiliated with the tea party movement have adopted some views that previously only existed outside the mainstream political system, the far-right has struggled to rally support for its organizations. Various scandals within the hierarchies of some hate groups, as well as deaths and arrests of some leaders, have also hurt organizations’ ability to recruit and build their ranks.

...because having a belief in the Constitution and in limited government interference of your daily life in matters such as education, health care, and privacy is probably not "mainstream."

Honestly, it's enough to make me dust off my Tea Party t-shirt, call C.L. Bryant for a chat, and organize a rally.

SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok suggests that if immigration becomes a hot issue in Congress that the Tea Party hate groups "will rise again."

One can only hope.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Let's make the car a place of silent reflection from now on."

Are you watching this freakin' show?!  True Detective on HBO?

I'm so damn addicted!

No spoilers - I'm catching up to the most recent episode, but oh my gosh Matthew McConaughey is mesmerizing!  For those who have no idea, this show is about two Louisiana State Police detectives who were investigating a serial killer in 1995.  The show is framed around current day interviews with the two detectives who are obviously no longer on the job.  They are being interviewed about the case (separately) because supposedly all the files and records were destroyed in a hurricane.  The then-and-now intertwines and intermingles and soon you realize there is more going on here.  The acting is phenomenal, the writing is airtight, and the photography is stunning.  I haven't been this excited about television since The Sopranos.

A couple of friends at work told me I needed to watch this show:  "It's the most tightly written show I've ever seen!", one said.  The other told me she's had to watch episodes a couple of times to catch everything.  I find this to be true.  I'm so caught up with the photography, the scenery, and the filters they're using I miss dialogue.

It is just so Louisiana.  My friend said, "That's what is so cool about it.  It IS Louisiana; it's the flower in the swamp."

From Shane Ryan at Paste:

This is McConaughey in long hair, beat down by life, trying to convince himself and the detectives interviewing him that whatever state he finds himself in is a kind of “victory”; he knows himself, he says, after years of toil he has resolved that he’s a drunk living in the middle of nowhere, waiting for death. But the charisma of this man … this is where words begin to fail, if they haven’t already. McConaughey is almost too goddam massive for the screen. Watching him act, as latter-day Rust, is one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had with TV. He’s beaten-down, but he can’t hide the life force that struggles to emerge. The medium can barely contain him; he belongs in a spaceship among alien beings. There’s something bursting out, and when he delivers certain lines—“start asking the right fucking questions,” for one—the experience is so visceral your own blood starts to pound. And Fukunaga, who, thank God, is directing all eight episodes, knows the weapon at his disposal. He lets the camera linger on Rust’s face at length, allowing McConaughey to dance from emotion to emotion with a word, with an expression. Working in tandem, they only need a moment to devastate.

I'm kind of like this reviewer: I'm almost speechless about this show.

If you aren't watching this show, get HBO, find a friend with HBO, something, but watch.  It's amazing.  But don't leave any spoilers in the comments if you're already watching!  I'm going now to get all caught up.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Didn't we give up living off Ramen noodles in college?

Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey has a post highlighting rising food prices.  This isn't news to anyone who has been in a grocery store lately, but it does seem relevant to point it out  on today, the fifth anniversary of the Porkulus bill.

If you’ve noticed a higher grocery bill in this era of supposedly low inflation, you’re not imagining things. Despite Washington estimates of low consumer inflation over the last few years, the prices of goods at the market are rising rapidly — especially for meat items, which have risen by double digits since 2011. 

I've all but quit buying red meat, and not for health reasons or that I've become a vegetarian: I'm a red meat carnivore, but who in the world can afford a $24 rump roast for Sunday dinner?  Mr. SIGIS bought groceries at the commissary on base last week and paid $4.00 per lb. for ground beef.  A whole chicken runs about $6 now as opposed to about $4 a year ago at my grocery store.  Milk?  About $4.50 a gallon.  Our weekly splurge of ribeyes for the grill is a thing of the past.  Even my own favorite food group, beer, now costs about $2 more a six-pack.

Coincidentally, food stamp use is higher than its ever been, especially among our military.  Via CNN:
Food stamp redemption at military grocers has been rising steadily since the beginning of the recession in 2008. Nearly $104 million worth of food stamps was redeemed at military commissaries in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

This graphic tells the story:

Meanwhile, Congress tried to cut military pensions and the Pentagon wants to close base commissaries.

Of course, Obama's gutting of welfare reform including making food stamps easier to obtain, so that could explain part of it; more Americans than ever are on food stamps,  but there's no question that food prices are rising.

What's the answer?  Buy stock in Ramen?  Ed Morrissey again:

That won’t change until two pressures on the economy are reversed: rising costs on business and improvement of chronic joblessness. The latter keeps wages depressed by providing a large labor pool for a relatively small number of net jobs created over the last five years since the beginning of the recovery in June 2009. On average since then, we have created significantly fewer jobs each month than necessary to keep pace with population growth. In large part, the job-creation market has been stifled by extra costs and disincentives to investors and businesses in job-creating expansion and risk-taking. Those same costs, along with relatively high energy costs, get passed along to consumers in higher prices, putting them in the economic vise described in this CBS report.Seems to me that the stimulus has failed and that Obama's policies have done more harm than good.
Marco Rubio, today:

“If you recall five years ago, the notion was that if the government spent all this money — that, by the way, was borrowed— that somehow the economy would begin to grow and create jobs. Well, of course, it clearly failed,” Rubio says in the video, according to POLITICO’s Mike Allen in Playbook. “Five years later, underemployment is still too high, the number of people that have dropped out of the workforce is astounding, unemployment remains stubbornly high and our economy isn’t growing fast enough — proof that massive government spending, particularly debt spending, is not the solution to our economic growth problems.”

Maybe it's time to start living off the land again.

Here in Louisiana it's crawfish season!  (Oh, but they're $8 a pound right now.)

Iowa State University to Remove Gideon Bibles from Campus Hotel

Last week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gave a speech at the Reagan Library in which he warned of a silent war on religion in our country;  he said:
This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power. It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith — into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.
This is playing out all across our country. Prayer is forbidden in schools.  It is forbidden at most sporting events.  Creches are not allowed without other secular symbols.  Courthouses across the country have been stripped of displays of the Ten Commandments.  "Happy Holidays" is the greeting you get in shops now instead of "Merry Christmas."  It goes on and on.  We have become a nation of political correctness run amok.

Now we get a report that a guest in an Iowa State University hotel was offended by the Bible in a drawer in his room and has filed a complaint with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  As a result, the hotel will have all Bibles removed by March 1:
Rooms at Iowa State University’s Hotel Memorial Union will no longer contain Gideon bibles, after a guest complained to a watchdog group about “unwelcome religious propaganda in the bedside table.”
The Bibles will be placed in the hotel's browsing library.

The basis of the complaint seems to be in part that the university is state run.  In that case, why not remove the Bibles from the library, too?  Isn't it also state run?

In his speech at the Reagan Library, Governor Jindal referenced a famous quote by Margaret Thatcher:
Margaret Thatcher famously said, 'Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy.’ The secular elites understand this just as well as she did. And they know that to take over America, they must make war on this philosophy.
Part of the rotting of the moral fabric of our country occurs in liberal universities.

As far as I can tell, Iowa State University put up no fight whatsoever to this complaint.  Last year the campus hotel at the University of Wisconsin-Madison also removed Bibles from their rooms.

How can one Gideon Bible in a drawer be so offensive?  If I saw a Quran in a drawer would I file a lawsuit or a complaint?  I'd like to think not.  I'd just close the drawer.

Governor Jindal noted in his speech that our founding documents were designed to protect people of all religions.  It just seems that the Christian religion is the one under attack these days, from the Duck Dynasty flap to the Hobby Lobby case, Christians are constantly having to defend their rights to express their religion.

To the spineless administration at Iowa State University, I would leave you with this story about how a Gideon Bible saved one man's life.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Full Metal Jacket Reach Around: The Post Yard Work Edition

I'm a slacker: I didn't get my weekly linkage post up this morning.

I have a good excuse.

Sort of.  

I was in a total fog yesterday; I've had insomnia since I was a kid.  I take meds for it and when I went to pick up my prescription refill this week it hadn't been called in.  So I went a couple of nights without it and trust me, as a person who needs eight hours of sleep to function, I was not fit to be around yesterday.  I even had to cancel my plans to go see The Sultans at El Potrillo last night because I just couldn't do it.  

Anyway, I got the meds and slept great last night; so today I got up and pruned four crepe myrtle trees and two sweet olives in the hopeful anticipation of spring.  I hung new outdoor white lights on the deck and mulched all my leaves.  I'm exhausted now, but it's a good tired as opposed to a no-sleep tired.  Mr. SIGIS and I are settled in for the afternoon now, watching LSU baseball.

Around the blogosphere:

At Legal Insurrection, an Obama gif.  And people are offended.  We are a nation of political correctness gone amok.

At Lonely Conservative, Michelle does Aspen.

American Power has a crazed camel story; you don't see that one everyday.

Pirate's Cove has the weekly linkfest.

The Other McCain posts on the Ellen Page coming out thing.  Why is this even a thing?  Why is this news?

Doug Ross reports that John Boehner has challengers for his re-election.

To the eternal question, "If you could spend one hour in conversation with someone, who would it be?", Saberpoint chooses Mark Twain.  I'm not sure I could choose one person.  It would depend on when you ask me, too.  Right now, I'd probably choose Cammie Henry because I'm fascinated with her.  But most days, I'd probably pick my mother.  Other days I might pick Ronald Reagan.  Or Thomas Jefferson.

At Da Tech Guy, apparently our federal government is sending out $500 checks.

Adrienne blogs on our American Royalty.

And finally, Ed Driscoll, who posts on infighting at Washington Post.

For now, that's about it.  I'm back to my obsessive research on Cammie Henry and life at Melrose with the baseball game in the background.

How do you plan to celebrate President's Day?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Distinguished Service Cross Awarded to Delta Force Operator Who Saved Numerous Lives in Benghazi

I'm a little slow to this story but I feel that it's noteworthy enough to post anyway, especially since I'm not seeing much about it in legacy media.  The Washington Times reports that Master Sgt. David Halbruner was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross recently, likely for his role in saving lives in Benghazi on Sept 11-12, 2012.  The citation reads:

“Without regard for his own safety, Master Sergeant Halbruner’s valorous actions, dedication to duty and willingness to place himself in harm’s way for the protection of others was critical to the success of saving numerous United States civilian lives. Throughout the operation, Master Sergeant Halbruner continually exposed himself to fire as he shepherded unarmed civilians to safety and treated the critically wounded. His calm demeanor, professionalism and courage was an inspiration to all and contributed directly to the success of the mission. Master Sergeant Halbruner’s distinctive accomplishments are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his Command and the United States Army.”

Is the White House still sticking with that silly video story?

I think this is probably closer to what really happened, as opposed to a "spontaneous attack" over a video.

Has the mainstream media reported on Master Sgt. Halbruner's medal?  Or are they just hoping Benghazi will go away so it won't be a stone in Hillary's path back to Pennsylvania Avenue?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I Am Obsessed...

...with Cammie Henry and daily life at Melrose. Fascinating!! Snapshots of history...

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Full Metal Jacket Reach Around: The Waiting For Baseball Edition

Lazy Saturday; gray, cold, blah.  We had snow in Shreveport yesterday (it still counts as snow even if it didn't stick) and tomorrow we're expecting 65 degrees, sun, and the first Centenary baseball home game.  Welcome to Louisiana where you can have all four seasons of weather in one week.

Catching my eye from around the blogosphere:

Donald Douglas at American Power is having fun watching the Olympics.  I used to enjoy watching the Olympics - some events more than others.  Now I'm crotchety and bitchy and I'm boycotting the Sochi games because I don't believe in killing dogs.  That's not to say anyone who watches condones dog killing; I'm certain nobody approves of that action.  I'm just boycotting.

What in the hell is wrong with all these so called teachers in these teacher-has-sex-with-student stories?  Stacy McCain blogs about yet another one (she looks about 17 herself) in Tacoma.  For the life of me I just don't get it.  There are some sick people out there.

Legal Insurrection's headline "Wendy Davis' Open Carry announcement may cost her any chance of winning" indicates at first glance that there is a fraction of a chance she could win.  Once you read the post, however, I think "fraction" is rather generous.  She's toast.

Lonely Conservative has Obama's pen and phone covered.  Not only could I not listen to the SOTU, I couldn't even make myself read the transcript.  I can't even watch the 22 second clip where O talks about his pen and phone.  His voice grates.

Pirate's Cove reports on the latest Obamacare deadline extension (there have been so many) and the ability to change plans.  There is no possible good outcome to all this, of course.  We are all socialists now.

Adrienne has a little video you need to see from NBC News about Medicare, physical therapy, and the classification of your hospital stay.  I'm somewhat familiar with all this as my mother was in and out of the hospital because of various spills and falls and was then dispatched to rehab a couple of times.  Medicare pays for 100 days of rehab in those cases if you were an overnight inpatient in a hospital for 3 nights.  Now, under Obamacare, you might need to be sure they've classified your hospital stay as inpatient if you need rehab.  Sticky wicket.

Da Tech Guy has a post on that "pivotal experiment" that most of us call Communism, and he explores the perspective of age.  Do you remember the Cold War?  Of course most of us do.  What worries me today is that not nearly enough folks study history.  Really study history, I mean.  Ed Driscoll also chimes in.

Doug Ross has an excellent post on the IRS intimidation scandal.

Reaganite Republican is probably not a Jeb Bush fan given his post of Hyper-Stupid Things Said By Jeb Bush.  (I'm not either, for the record.)

Critical Narrative has a lovely snow picture.  Better him than me; I have nasty rain pictures.  Tomorrow I will have sunshiny-baseball pictures.

The Old Jarhead got a good medical report.  This makes me happy.

Tom Aswell at Forward Now! has a nice interview with John M. Barry who has fallen out with Bobby Jindal.  Barry is involved in a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies over the destruction of the state's wetlands.  Jindal decided not to reappoint Barry to the Coastal Restoration Authority but this hasn't stopped Barry from fighting for the wetlands.  I keep telling folks that Jindal is not the savior they think he is.

Louisiana Educator has the results of his Common Core survey.  Not surprised.

On that note, I'm off to do some reading.  I have stacks of books waiting for me, both physical and digital, and I long to get lost in one of them.  Right now I'm engaged in proofreading a friend's next novel and am about halfway through that.  It's very good and I don't really want it to end.  I'll share it with you when it's published.  Soon.

Also stay tuned because in the next couple of weeks there will be an interesting announcement here.  I'm not at liberty to share yet, but check back.

Meanwhile, stay warm and think spring.  Baseball is coming.

(Top Photo credit:  Thinkstock)

Why is There No Biography of Cammie Henry?

Steve and I recently revisited Melrose plantation just south of Natchitoches, La.  We'd been there before but we revisit every so often because it is so beautiful and peaceful there.  We've never been there in the winter, so there's that.  I recommend the spring because everything is in bloom then which makes it even more beautiful.

The plantation has a very interesting story in that it was owned by a free woman of color:

In 1742, Marie Thérèse Coincoin, was born a slave into the household of Natchitoches’ founder Louis Juchereau de St. Denis. St. Denis later leased the twenty-six year old Coincoin to a young French merchant named Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer to be his housekeeper. A nineteen year relationship ensued, resulting in ten children. Eventually, Metoyer purchased Marie Thérèse  and several of their oldest children giving them their freedom. 
With her freedom, a yearly allowance, and a parcel of land given by Metoyer that adjoined his downriver plantation, Marie Thérèse began raising tobacco, cattle, and harvesting bear grease. In the coming years, Marie’s fortunes grew by virtue of her and her sons receiving land grants and purchasing slaves. They became the leading family of a community called Isle Brevelle, populated by “gens de couleur libre”, free people of color who thrived as business people, plantation owners, and slave owners.

It's all fascinating, but what interests me most are the years of Cammie Henry.  She and her husband bought moved to the property in 1899 and began a period of restoration to the buildings.  She was a preservationist and went all over the parish rescuing historic cabins and outbuildings from other properties and bringing them to Melrose.  When her husband died in 1918, Cammie Henry continued her preservation efforts and also opened Melrose as a haven for artists and writers.  At times she might have some 27 people staying in the various cabins and rooms in her home.

We've done the Melrose tour a couple of times where the tour guide brings you around, in and out of all the buildings, and tells the story of Melrose and it's most famous painter Clementine Hunter.  There is a wonderful recent biography of Clementine Hunter but what I can't figure out is why there doesn't seem to be a biography of Cammie Henry.

I just can't find one.

I can find biographical sketches.  I can find articles.  But what I'd really love is a biography of this very fascinating woman who made it her life's work to preserve history.  Her more than 250 scrapbooks filled with historical clippings and other ephemera are legendary and are currently housed at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches along with her other private papers - some 1,400 folders worth.  Melrose is now owned by the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches and is open daily for tours.

But I wish there was a biography.  I wish there was a book that would transport me back to those days when Melrose was buzzing with creativity and interesting people.  It is said that Cammie would gather everyone for dinner each night around the big table and they would all converse.  She would as each one, "What did you accomplish today?"  Guests only had three days to say, "Nothing," or "not much..." before they were invited to leave.  She did not tolerate slackers.  But how peaceful it must have been out there in the wilderness, the river running slowly past the front of the house, the live oak trees filled with birds....

I want to know more about this woman who recognized how important it was to preserve history: not just newspaper clippings, but native Louisiana plants, local weaving techniques, regional books and writers, folklore, local legends, guns, quilts, pottery, looms, and buildings.  I just can't believe someone isn't sitting in the archives at Northwestern writing a book about her.

I sure hope so.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Back to the Rows

This is a picture of my classroom as of 3:30 this afternoon.  I've gone back to conventional rows.

I have tried the warm-fuzzy "collaborative learning" Kagan groups for five weeks now.  Maybe that's not long enough, but frankly I don't have much more time I can afford to invest in them.  My students aren't learning like that, and as my pay is now tied to their performance, I'm making the call to go back to rows.

I did my dead-level best with the Kagan groups.  I grouped the kids based on diagnostic tests and placed them according to scoring just as prescribed.  I made adjustments to the groups.  I planned cooperative learning activities.  I used the Kagan techniques we learned in inservice and professional development meetings.

I can see where this might be an acceptable arrangement sometimes, but not every day.  And it works better with my honors students than with my regular ones.  If all I taught was honors kids, I might leave them that way, but I don't.  I teach kids of all levels and grades.

The Kagan groups are out.

Mary Grabar, writing for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, posted an interesting commentary last month on the state of higher education and the effect Common Core will have on college students.  She addressed specifically these warm-fuzzy collaborative learning groups:

Under Common Core, high school juniors and seniors are to be evaluated on their ability to “initiate and participate in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.” 
Unfortunately, those progressive pedagogical methods of group work and projects have been shown to be ineffective. But students are well-versed and comfortable with such collaborative learning and extend the discussion format to class discussion, where they convey impressions, feelings, and well-learned political platitudes. It’s almost like group therapy.  
A student will say something like “I agree with Josh, but I’d like to add to his point about gender identity…” Grouped with their peers, students are not likely to engage in academically challenging debates. Indeed, the Common Core standards preclude such debate--debate that is based on logic, evidence, and rhetorical mastery—because it involves winners and losers.

Grabar goes on to make the case that incoming college freshmen can't read a 600 page novel and write a literary analysis paper on it because they've never been asked to do that in high school.  They come knowing how to do PowerPoint presentations or videos, but analytical analysis is beyond them:

Many of my colleagues and I have noticed among college freshmen an unwillingness and inability to read complex and long works. Assign anything from the nineteenth century and the biggest complaint will be that the essay or story (forget entire novels) was “too long.” Ask any student to explain one sentence from such a text and even the brightest future doctors and scientists will look at you dumbfounded. “Just this one sentence,” I would ask my students.  “Take it apart. Look at the clauses. Look at the words, their definitions, their connotations.”  Nothing.  Not surprisingly, very few students know the feeling of getting “lost” in a novel.

Read the whole thing.

I think ultimately the decision should lie with the teacher and not some suit in an office as to how students learn best.  It will always depend on he individual student and the dynamic of that classroom and that teacher.  One cookie-cutter style will not work across the board.

I might be rebelling against the status quo, but so be it.  I've got to do what I know works and what is best for my students.

I'll work in group activities now and then, but as a matter of daily routine - nope.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Twelve Years Amazing!

This year my son (he's 22) has invited me on a quest to see the top Academy Award nominated movies with him.

I'm honored that he wants to spend that much time with his mother and there aren't a lot of things we have in common to do together anymore, so I have accepted his invitation.  Some mom/son time is pretty awesome!

We are three weeks into the quest and so far we have seen three films:  Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club, and today we saw Twelve Years a Slave.  

I'm not sure why Wolf of Wall Street was even nominated; it was an orgy of excess, an unlikable protagonist, and I think the lead was miscast.  I found Leo to be irritating.  I know the character was not supposed to be likable, but I didn't see anything particularly memorable or award winning about that one.

Dallas Buyers Club was our second movie; I started to get interested in this odyssey with that one.  If Jared Leto does not win for Best Supporting Actor there is no justice.  He was amazing as a she.  I thought Matthew McConaughey was great as Ron Woodruff but I suspect the fact that Mr. McConaughey is a native Texan will work against him.  Voters will probably think that playing a Texan wasn't much of a stretch.  Even though he lost 40 pounds for the role and by all accounts he nails the portrayal of Woodruff as he battled both AIDS and the FDA.  

McConaughey would have a better shot at winning his Best Actor category if Twelve Years a Slave had not been made.  Chiwetel Ejiofor was absolutely riveting as Solomon Northup.  When I learned today that Slave was the next film on our list I inwardly groaned; "Not another Hollywood movie about slavery..." I thought.  

Boy was I wrong.  Twelve Years a Slave is definitely not just another movie about slavery.  It was painful to watch, naturally.  But Mr. Ejiofor's performance was like nothing I've ever seen.  Based on a true story, Solomon Northup was a free man working as a musician and living in New York when he is hoodwinked, kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.  

Mr. Ejiofor's eyes speak more about his plight than his words.  Throughout the film he continues to hope that somehow he will be freed from this injustice once word reaches the right people that he was a free man.  At one point there is a long, lingering shot of his face; he is all the way to the left of the screen and the landscape behind him is empty.  As the shot lingers, Northup casts his eyes downward, then slowly to the left and right.  Very slowly.  Then he brings his face back to the front and he stares directly into the camera, not just breaking the fourth wall, but shattering it.  He's staring right at you.  And stares.  As the shot lingers, you can see the confusion and pain in his eyes.  Then he looks ever so slightly downward again.  It was an amazing scene.  In that moment, it seemed to me, the director challenges the viewer to confront slavery, to see it as it was.  No Hollywood caricature or romanticizing here.  

The entire film was amazing.  There were many excellent performances (including Brad Pitt!) and were it not for Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, I would pull for Michael Fassbender for the Supporting Actor category.  His performance as plantation owner Edwin Epps was just psychotic.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) as one of the plantation owners.

While we haven't seen all the movies on our list yet, I can't imagine anyone beating Mr. Ejiofor's performance.

I think American Hustle is on our list for next week; and I really want to see Nebraska.

For someone who has a pretty low opinion of Hollywood, I'm really enjoying this quest!  But it could also just be that I love the mother/son time!