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Giving Thanks

If this sounds familiar, it is because, in the great tradition of Herb Caen and Jon Carroll, I am recycling my six previous thanksgiving messages. I missed a year--maybe I was too distracted by teaching. This year I was late--and it was because both girls were home.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a job that I am learning to live, I have my health, and I have my family. I can't imagine why I would bother getting out of bed each morning if not for my wife and my two girls.

Regular readers know I earned my teaching credential and now teach 8th grade US History at a middle school. I have not been this excited and challenged since 1974.

Still, my most important role is as husband to Vicki and father to Marlow and Rae. Of course, Marlow is off at Leiden University, living in The Netherlands, so I don't see her as much and Rae is at Brandeis University. But they both came home this Thanksgiving, and I am grateful for that.

I think we all lose perspective sometimes, forget what's really important. We get wrapped up in our jobs and spend too much time working on them, both at home and in the office.

The years I have spent with my girls are priceless.

Not everyone can work in a home office--and I don't any more.

But no matter where you work, the next time you have to make the tough call between the meeting and the soccer game, go to the soccer game. You'll never regret it. I am thankful for my family. Be thankful for yours.

Also give thanks for your friends and your good fortune. Spread that good fortune around in any way you can. I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, as I have had every year of my life.

I am thankful that I have two living loving parents and a loving brother. I am thankful for my loving and understanding wife, and for the two most wonderful daughters I could have imagined, both of them turning into vibrant, intelligent young women before my very eyes.

I am thankful for every sunrise and sunset I get to see, every moment I get to be in, every flower I try so desperately to stop and smell. I am thankful that I can move closer every day to living a life in balance. Every morning, I thank God for the new day, for the wisdom to honor and glorify Him, for the strength to do good works (should the opportunity present itself) and for the health of those I love. Not a bad way to start the day.

I am thankful, finally, for each and every one of you reading this column. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

Thoughts about Inservice

Last week I applauded myself for reaching the stage where I knew that the best teach of teaching is better than the worst day of inservice teacher training, even if the average day of teaching is still worse than the average day of inservice. This inspired some thoughts from my friend, retired teacher Kent Peterman:

I was interested in your writings about inservice. I endured, survived, lived through many in services in my forty years. I read a saying in a teacher's saying of the day calendar that said, "I hope when I die I die during an inservice because the passage from life to death will be so slight as to be unnoticeable."

I used to think that the worst day teaching was a heck of a lot better than almost any inservice and most teachers I know feel that way. We would rather be in the trenches than discussing the battleplan with an arcane and out of touch general. Teaching rather than rehashing some newly mandated standard or benchmark.

There were some outstanding highlights in the inservices I attended. Some great knowledge and some amazing and inspirational speakers. But mostly the best parts of inservice were getting together with teachers from around the district that I didn't see often. And the donuts and the free lunch. But after enduring the morning sessions the saying, "there is no such thing as a free lunch" pops vividly to mind.

With an opposing point of view from a responsible citizen, I remain, Yours truly, Kent

A Week of Parenthood

It was really weird last week, to have Marlow and Rae both home for Thanksgiving. Marlow hasn't been home for this holiday in years, and came this year only because Saturday was the day chosen to scatter the ashes of my late mother-in-law Lynne Marlow. The ceremony, held Saturday on a boat called Life Dancing, was touching, moving and wonderful. The weather could not have been more perfect as we made our way from the Bencia marina to just past the Carquinez Bridge. Lynne would have liked it. We all wanted to feel she was there as we shared our good feelings about her and her life.

Marlow arrived on Friday, giving her and me a weekend to hang around and kick back before Rae's arrival on Monday morning. I continue to marvel at the fantastic relationship my daughters have always had, and how it is blossoming in adulthood. Few things in life make me happier than to see them enjoying each other's company. We went to movies in theaters, watched a long Indian movie called Laagen which is a special favorite of Rae's, and sorted through several hundred of Lynne's slides, culling the ones worth saving. We have another 1,000 or so slides to go through.

I helped both girls negotiate the tangle of consumer electronics. Both bought new credit-card sized digital cameras, as well as new printers. Rae moved from her Sony Vaio to an Apple I-Notebook computer. So, it is now a fact--I am surrounded by Macs. In a way it is a relief; I can't provide technical support for Marlow, Rae or Vicki any more because I no longer understand their computers.

It was wonderful to see them, and sad to see them go. But of course, they are now gone more than they are here. That's the phase of life I'm in. So I'll be in the moment...

Chicken Hawk Roll Call, Voting Machine Fraud, What the Iraq war looks like

Making the rounds like wildfire (I got two copies of it in two days) is the ChickenHawk Roll Call, a list of all the Democrats who served and all the war-mongering GOP and pundits who did not serve. Just to be clear, I did not serve; I was in the Vietnam draft lottery during 1971 and my number did not come up. The doctor who took all the cartilage out of my left knee in 1968 after a wrestling injury (it is still numb and is often painful after long walks) said he believed I would be 4-F, but I never had to present that excuse to the draft board.

Short of checking out each individual myself, by hand, I have no way of knowing if the list is accurate, so I suggest a grain of salt. Snopes contains no article on the list, although I imagine it will soon. The URL above is the best of the several I was able to find.


The story that just won't go away: electronic voting machine fraud. Poll Shock: Off by 40 points, newspaper's predictions may be disturbingly accurate. By ROBERT C. KOEHLER, Tribune Media Services, November 24, 2005. As in the 2000 election, people who have spent their professional life defending the quality of their polls suddenly shrug when confronted with evidence of voter fraud that would get you tossed out of office if you were running for President of Ukraine.

Also see: Ohio's Diebold Debacle: New machines call election results into question, by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman. November 24, 2005.


A friend sent this parody to help us understand the Iraq War. If it is posted somewhere else on the Internet, it is beyond my poor powers to find it. As soon as attribution is available, I will add it to this item. For now, it's not mine, but it makes sense. How would the Iraq war look to us if we were on the receiving end?

Hordes of Mongolians have landed with amphibious vehicles of unheard of speed and are plowing through the countryside toward New York. They have also invaded Washington.

Reports have confirmed that the statute of George Washington in Washington, DC's Washington Circle in the West End near Foggy Bottom has been beheaded and is toppled. His head is being dragged through the streets of Washington, DC.

The Mongols are firebombing everything in their wake- they have burned to the ground the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake, Baltimore, and Philadelphia (where citizen insurgents wildly rebelled and tried to kick them back into the sea at the Port of Philadelphia).

The Navy was called in but was powerless before the Mongolian machinery, which looks like something from a science fiction story. Mongols sprayed machine gun bullets into Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Pavilion, and bombed Christ's Church, the first Church on the East Coast. Two thousand children have been de-limbed or killed in South Philadelphia alone. The invaders raided the Philadelphia Art Museum, and have looted and firebombed half the Smithsonian. The National Treasures are on their way as we speak to Mongolia. Arise America, wake up to the Mongolian invasion which is coming to a town near you.

Would we do any less were we Iraqis?


  • Another deliberately deceived hawk coming home to roost: Rep. Norm Dicks, D-WA. It is one thing for the Iraqis to ask us to leave, as they have (unofficially), but when Bill O'Reilly thinks we should get out, who's left to cover the President's back?
  • A suggestion from when having a rational discussion of all the political, economic, moral, and financial implications of Bush's quagmire, the best place to start is, "I told you so."
  • Los Angeles Times: How US Fell under the Spell of 'Curveball': The Iraqi informant's German handlers say they had told US officials that his information was 'not proven,' and were shocked when President Bush and Colin L. Powell used it in key prewar speeches. [P. A10 in the Washington Post--should have been A1]
  • Christian Science Monitor: Why Iraq war support fell so fast: US public support has dropped faster than during the Vietnam and Korean wars, polls show.
  • The Independent [newspaper, London: British-trained police in Iraq 'killed prisoners with drills' [This just gets worse; one can think of better ways to foster respect for Western style democracies/democratic monarchies such as the one responsible for the Magna Carta]
  • Newsweek: The Terrorist Temptation. The Bush administration is so accustomed to torturing the truth, it can't face the facts. Murtha's outburst on Iraq has shown it is time to stop deluding ourselves. [as PSACOT has previously reported, a likely outcome here is Iranian mullahs in control of Iraq or a substantial portion thereof--eg, the southern oil fields and the only ocean access
  • The sad ending of Bob Woodwards career as a respected American journalist can probably be found somewhere in the transcript of his Monday Nov. 21 appearance on Larry King Live.


Drug Store Story

Thank you Dan Grobstein:

A lady walks into a drug store and tells the pharmacist she needs some cyanide. The pharmacist said, "Why in the world do you need cyanide?"
The lady then explained she needed it to poison her husband. The pharmacist's eyes got big and he said, "Lord have mercy, I can't give you cyanide to kill your husband! That's against the law! I'll lose my license, they'll throw both of us in jail and all kinds of bad things will happen! Absolutely not! You CANNOT have any cyanide! Get out before I call the police!" Then the lady reached into her purse and pulled out a picture of her husband in bed with the pharmacist's wife. The pharmacist looked at the picture and replied, "Well now, you didn't tell me you had a prescription."

Guest Review: Syriana

I confess a weakness for erudite entertainment like Syriana - a disorienting series of disparate storylines that ultimately come together to create a larger fabric, sometimes clear and neatly-patterned, sometimes ragged and impressionistic. Syriana is out of the same mold as writer/director Stephen Gaghan's earlier screenplay for Traffic, this time interweaving four major narratives about politics, religion, and the oil business in the Middle East. But the exotic subject matter and locations - though ripped from current headlines - make it difficult for a viewer to identify with any of the main characters, despite fine acting throughout by a top-flight cast. As a result, while a captivating film, Syriana does not have the humanity or dramatic impact of Traffic.

--Neal Vitale

Guest Review: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

[Ed. note: I really want to see this film. Marlow and I ran out of time to see it while she was here; no one else was interested...]

This film revives a number of careers left for virtually dead - writer/director Shane Black (who nearly self-destructed after the success of the Lethal Weapon series in the 80s and 90s), poster boy for pharmaceutical excess Robert Downey, Jr., and one-time Caped Crusader Val Kilmer. Together they have created a deliriously funny, noir-ish murder mystery. There are almost too many good things in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang to enumerate - hysterically clever dialogue; narration that skewers the storytelling and film-making processes; tear-inducing sight gags featuring a severed body part and an overeager dog, an unexpected corpse in a bathroom, and an advantage of being a gay private detective; pleasant moments of gratuitous nudity; and terrific performances by Downey, Kilmer, and relative newcomer Michelle Monaghan. If you want some of the year's best laughs, do not let anything keep you from seeing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

--Neal Vitale

Jesus is Magic

Marlow, who was home from the Netherlands last week, heard about the documentary The Aristocrats, previously reviewed in this column, and insisted we see it. Fortunately, we are near a third-run movie house in Berkeley called the Elmwood which was still running the film, once a day at 9:45 p.m. Marlow enjoyed it as a I did, which whetted our appetites for the currently-in-limited-release concert film by the best comedian in The Aristocrats, Sarah Silverman. If you like your humor raw, nasty and racist, and don't mind it delivered by a sweet-faced Jewish girl who has "innocent" down to a "t," then check out Jesus is Magic.

An acquired taste, definitely not for everyone. Bad language, bad thoughts--you get the drill. Marlow's seen her live, and says her live act is better; for those of us who have not had, and may never have that opportunity, this film will have to do.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

 One of the previews shown before Harry Potter, which I saw at the Orinda Theater with Vicki and Rae, was for the new King Kong film. You can see why they decided to remake it--the things they can do with CGI now days are really impressive, and you still always have the underlying story, something many modern effect-heavy movies lack.

Speaking of modern, effect-heavy movies, that's what you'll find for the whole 2.5 hours of the latest installment in the Harry Potter franchise. Yes, there are some moments when you see the people in the film as people, but the film-makers (where is there an editor when you need one!) just haven't got the guts to cut enough out of a Harry Potter book to make it a movie and not a filmed novel. The novels are fine--I like them myself, and I love what they do to the reading habits of young people--but the page is a different medium from the screen, something the people involved in this series of films seem to have failed to notice. It's all magic this and wizard that, and of course that's what the books are like too, but despite the efforts to shift the balance in this film, the balance still remains strongly on the "gee-whiz" and "wow" side. As Rae leaned over to say to me at one point, "it was better in my mind."

Harry Potter is certainly aging better than, say, the James Bond franchise, and it is fun to watch the actors grow up. But in the end, I hope J.K. Rowling sticks to her plan to stop after the sixth Harry Potter novel. Even if she never manages to write another, she'll be set for life, and, if we're lucky, there will only be two more films. Or, if we're lucky, she'll turn out to be Terry Pratchett, and will turn out a series of Hogwarts books that will amuse and entertain us for decades--which is about how long this film seemed to last.

Intelligent Design from Coquet, Truman from Peterman, Dern Finds Sci-Fi Cover Art

From Daniel Dern: A few thousand science fiction magazine covers. Now here's a piece of art that would have been literally impossible to create 20 years ago.

Thank you, Peggy Coquet:

Bob Parks writes the weekly email article for the American Physical Society which is heavily into debunking Intelligent Design, among other things. Note the concluding graf here:

... as I finished the list, I realized that in our increasingly technological society, spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop.

Kent Peterman sends along this timely quotation:

I feel that if our constitutional system ever fails, it will be because people got scared and turned hysterical and someone in power will demagogue them right into a police state of some kind. That's what I've always worried about. And still do. 

--Harry S Truman (1884 -1972)

That's Harry--still giving them hell from beyond the grave.

Dan Grobstein File

New York Times

  • November 21, 2005
    Technology New Twists in Bodybuilding Put Curves in All the Right Places
    THE styling features most likely to raise the pulse and lower the resistance of a car buyer - shapely fenders, a rakish roofline and curves the neighbors will envy - are easy for designers to sketch, but all too often, impossible for factories to produce.