Sunday, July 31, 2005

Grossest Thing I've Heard this Year

I have to share this with others.

A friend explained to me that her dog Oscar enjoys eating poo. A lot of poo. In fact, Oscar went for a romp out in the woods where, evidently, there aren't bathrooms for miles. Oscar came home and puked feces all over BOTH Oriental rugs...human feces.

Shit-vomit. Is there anything grosser?

Perhaps the dog eating the shit-vomit off the rugs? Yes, that would do it. Oscar you are one sick dog.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Social Experiment #15: Clan Bake

For the many years I've played on-line computer games, I have smirked at the thousands of gamers who are a part of a clan. Finally, out of curiousity I decided to join one.

A clan is a team of players who dedicate time to practicing together and competing together. Clans will set up times to play other clans, and web-sites indicate who has the best record in the world. Thus, certain clans garnish a reputation in the cyber-world as being bad-ass, others for being friendly and some for being sneaky.

I was recruited by a member of a clan as we played what is called a "Pub-style" game (I'm not sure whether this means public--open to everybody--or Pub--as in we are down in the pub drinking a Guiness and watching O'Conner light his farts on fire). The game is called Call of Duty; it is a World War II first-person shooter, which means you see your gun in front of you as you move around a 3-D city, landscape, etc. You can use about a dozen different weapons, and the best players are able to take out 4 or 5 or 12 enemies for every time they are killed. As you play, you can "talk" to others via a small display at the bottom of the screen. My screen name is halftard* and the player who recruited me is named Reaper. Here is how my recruitment happened:

Reaper: "Hey HT are you this good or just getting lucky?"
Halftard: "Oh I am THIS good. And I'm good looking."
Reaper: "Want to try out for our clan?"
Halftard: "Sure. What do I have to do?"
Repear: "Go to our server and start practicing with us. You'll be asked to join if you are dedicated. How old are you?"
Halftard: "Okay. I'm 36. But my maturity level is more like 12. How about you?"
Reaper: "lol I'm 16. Our clan leaders are about your age so you'll get along."

I have some observations to make. First, I am being recruited by a 16 year old--who also is probably better than me at the friggin game. Second, he is extremely nice--almost excruciatingly so (another clan member spent about two hours helping me set up my clan-membership. Third, he could be Jessica Simpson for all I know. As I went through the process of joining the clan--I am now a full-fledged member--I began to think about the strange society of the computer age and especially the cyber-space of gamers. Everybody wants to know some details about you (age, gender, maybe where you are from) but nobody seems to volunteer or even ask for much more beyond that. Decorum seems to require that we allow our interactions to remain somewhat anonymous, or perhaps nobody really cares to find out who these other people are. Clan-members interact with each other on a daily basis; I've got to assume that many of these people spend more time with each other than some of their family members. Yet all they "know" of each other is a screen-name and a cyber-voice. Such anonymity could engender racism, verbal abuse, etc--and it does sometimes on pub-style servers. But those in the clan I've talked to so far have been extraordinarily courteous and nice...which makes sense, i guess; nobody wants a clan of arrogant racists. {insert joke about our government here}

In fact, they've asked me to change my screen name because it might offend some people (I changed it to Ophelia). And at some point I said the word "ass" and Reaper said people weren't allowed to swear on the clan server (I stopped swearing). Here we had teen-agers asking a grown man to think about how his actions might be affecting others. I wondered whether I would be as open to the feedback if it happened in my classroom? In cyber-space, even though I know (or suspect) that some are kids, I don't really give much thought to who I'm talking to; race, age, gender don't affect my judgement. And I am being judged strictly by my actions--not because I am an adult, a teacher, a handsome hunk of love, etc.

So is cyber-space the new frontier of democracy? I read an article by a French journalist who noticed the democracy of our freeways--you have old cars, new cars, expensive cars, crappy cars all moving at whatever speeds and in whatever lanes the drivers choose. In France, a honk from an expensive car will cause a pedestrain one to pull over and make way for the royalty. In cyber-space, anybody can honk--and you don't even need to own a license or a car.

By the way, as the newest clan member I start as a priavte. That means any higher-ranking kid, man, woman, Star Trek geek wearing a "Live Long and Prosper" T-Shirt in the clan can give me orders. I hope I don't run into one of my students here...

*some background information about my screen-name is worth mentioning. I teach at a high school which has a program for Emotionally Disturbed children. These children are not necessarily dim-witted, bad learners or limited by learning disabilities (though some may be). These kids have special needs which need to be addressed so they can learn: problems at home may cause them to "act out" or cut class; they have anger issues, social fears which paralyze them in the classroom, etc. A few years ago, one of my particularly bright (and mischievious) students was in the ED program, which meant he spent at least one period each day in the ED classroom. When a new teacher asked why he and his Ed buddy had to go to this classroom each day, the kid repsonded "We're halftards." Thus, I wear my on-line name in loving memory of this student.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Making a Case for Racism Part II

A friend passed on a blog I wrote a while ago (read 'Making a Case for Racism') to a forum/discussion about issues pertaining to racism and white guilt. You can read the discussion at

It's a smart discussion and about 45 points are brought up which I feel compelled to respond to; however, I have had three glasses of wine and I doubt I could be coherent. Ergo, I will simply relate the end of the story with Will.

Will failed. The contract which we set up did absolutely nothing as far as motivation was concerend. He continued to blow off homework, and he continued to perform poorly on some tests (though he did well on most tests which did not require him to vocabulary). Some other details: Will lived with sister, not his parents. His father is not in the picture and his mother lives on the east coast. His sister was as frustrated as I was with Will's performance, but at the time she was nursing a newborn baby so trying to motivate Will obviously was not first on the priority list. The ill feelings of Will's family toward the school (i.e. that racism existed and was not being properly addressed) seemed to continue. Will told me that if he failed his freshman year that he would be returning to his mother's home back east, something which he said he did not want to do (he said that he was made fun of for doing well in school there; in a primarily black school he was called Oreo for selling out and doing well). Of course, what 9th graders say they want and what they actually want can be quite different.

So the end of the story? It seems Will will be moving East, our school will lose one of only 3 or 4 black students, and I think all parties lose.

I'm not sure I've found a satisfactory answer to the question of should a white teacher in a predominantly white school treat a black student differently. My friend Alysse brings up the idea of equality and equity being different things, and I think she's right. What she's saying goes beyond race (students with special needs are certainly treated differently, but this "unequal" treatment is meant to provide a fair opportunity for learning). So within the murkiness of making things "equitable" in regards to race I suppose we just muddle our way through student by student.

Will has the capability to succeed academically, and at some point he'll decide to start working. But the school system, which of course is just a microcosm for our entire financial, judicial and social systems, isn't working properly. And it seems like very, very few people are truly working on fixing this particular problem.

Here's a different issue/question: How do we get more black students to come to this school? And once we do how do we hold on them? We just failed 25% of them! How do we get even one black teacher (we have zero black men/women on staff. ZERO!) here? I've been told that the school has tried to attract black educators but there's been little interest. That may or may not be true (it's hard to argue that the school has been doing a fair job when we have ZERO black teachers). I think if I was a black man I would not want to live and/or teach in this community because even though the kids are motivated, I'd feel like I was in shark-infested waters.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Why Southern California Sucks

I've finally figured out what irks me about the people in Southern California and why after two days in Manhattan Beach I start to twitch. It's not the smog or the Hummers or the omni-tattoos around biceps and calves. It's not the materialism--we have that just as bad in Northern California--and it's not the classism and blandness of white-ism. It's not the fake boobs (hell, I've lined up dollar bills to get closer looks at those) or the traffic or the McMansions springing up.

It's the fact that this lady cut me off with her stroller and didn't say excuse me.

She didn't even hesitate; she just blasted on past me, almost excising my big (and my favorite) toe in the process. She didn't look up, she didn't give a furtive glance or look around sheepishly. Nor did any of the surrouding pedestrians have the slightest problem with what had happened. None of them had even noticed.

Trying to parallel park on Highland, I turned on my blinker as I slowed to a stop just past the open parking space. I prepared to back in only to be blocked from behind (from WAY behind) by a woman driving a SUV (which was cooler than mine except for the color) yapping on her cell phone next to her 15 year old daughter who was yapping away in the passenger seat on her own cell phone. She stopped right at my bumper. And then she realized that I was not going to move out of HER way, so she backed up--about one foot. She backed up another foot and continued to yap on the phone while backing up. I had choices here. I could have stood my ground and forced the lady to force the line of cars behind her to move. But I just sped off. Why? Because I'm from the land of Northern California where we are fair-minded and diverisfied and tolerant, where we recycle and read high-minded books. Okay, no, it's because I didn't want to flip out in front of my ten-year old boy and his best friend.

It's not like these are evil people. Or even Republicans. They just don't have empathy. They don't seem to be able to see that their actions are affecting other people. A person in So Cal will cut you off not because he's out to get you; he just doesn't have a clue that his actions may be affecting you in any way. After cutting you off, he may even look up from his Palm Pilot and wave at you and smile. In fact, if you're from, say, New York, and you travel to L.A. you may be overwhelmed by the number of smiling faces and "niceness" you'll find here. The women will smile at you, the metrasexual men will smile at you...especially if you are white, blond and at least somewhat female. That is, until they cut you off and run over your fucking toe.

If you're from New York, you know that the person who cuts you off knows damn well what he did. In New York, drivers will speed up just so they can cut you off (and then scream "Get off the road!"). It's an open act of agression which I find sort of endearing. The New Yorker has empathy; he just chooses to ignore it. Or maybe it has to do with revenge. In Boston, my friend would wait at a red light, four cars back, his hand poised above his horn. The instant the light turned green he would lay on his horn, pushing it as if his full weight would force a louder blaring from it. He never tired of this game because he knew he was pissing people off. Now that's empathy!

I think if I had told off the lady in the car New York style, she would have been genuinely shocked. I don't think it would even have occurred to her that I was there in the first place. And if I had stopped the lady with the stroller and said "How about an excuse me?" I think I would have gotten a mumble, a dismissal. Why should my toe matter to her? At least my friend from Boston would have the decency to back up and run over my other one.