Thursday, January 11, 2018

Recognizing American Greatness . . . Again


One of the random fun bits of my job as a textbook writer is when I can do a bit of research and find something interesting. It's rare that I have enough time to really stop and read . . . but I had a bit of time recently while doing some supporting research for a task and I found these two inspiring government documents.

First, a House Judiciary Committee report that began the often failed efforts to pass an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. This particular committee action seemed (at first) the same as many other ERA attempts in the decades between 1923 and 1970. But this move resulted (eventually) in the first actual Floor vote on the notion of constitutional equal rights.

What I found so interesting about this simple bit of legislative procedure--after all, the basis of this document was simply to add two simple amendments to the committee's proposed wording--was the lengthy Report that accompanied the legal wording. It gave a historical overview of the existence of inequality in our legal system which began thusly:

“In recommending the proposed amendment to the Constitution, your Committee recognizes that our legal system currently contains the vestiges of a variety of ancient common law principles which discriminate unfairly against women. Some of these discriminatory principles are based on the old common law doctrine of ‘coverture’ which treated the husband and wife as a single legal entity, but which regarded the husband alone as ‘the one.’ Other discriminatory principles still discernible in our legal system are based on an invidious and outmoded double-standard which affords men a greater freedom than women to depart from conventional moral standards. Still other forms of discriminatory laws have their origins in obsolete and often irrational notions of chivalry which in a modern context regard women in a patronizing or condescending light. . . . [These discriminations] are in many cases without rational justification and are no longer relevant to our modern democratic institutions. Their persistence even in vestigial form creates disharmony between the sexes. Therefore, we strongly recommend that all irrational discrimination on the basis of sex be eliminated.”

If you are so inspired, you could read the whole item here.

Following that, I began research on some other (related) topic and found this speech given by President Obama in 2012 when he awarded Presidental Medals of Freedom to such American citizens as Madeleine Albright, Dolores Huerta, Bob Dylan, John Glenn, and Juliette Gordon Low, and John Paul Stevens.

It was so nice to read an eloquent speech given thoughtfully from the White House, highlighting such a variety of people who have truly Made America Great in their own personal ways. One excerpt from that speech is:

". . . [W]hen Cesar Chavez sat Dolores Huerta down at his kitchen table and told her they should start a union, she thought he was joking.  She was a single mother of seven children, so she obviously didn’t have a lot of free time.  But Dolores had been an elementary school teacher and remembered seeing children come to school hungry and without shoes.  So in the end, she agreed -- and workers everywhere are glad that she did.  Without any negotiating experience, Dolores helped lead a worldwide grape boycott that forced growers to agree to some of the country’s first farm worker contracts.  And ever since, she has fought to give more people a seat at the table.  'Don’t wait to be invited,' she says, 'Step in there.'"

Please do me a favor and read the whole speech. It is so inspiring.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Movie Review--Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I'm going to be talking about my feelings and thoughts toward the recently watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi film. So, if you haven't seen the movie yet, you may want to skip this post until you see the movie. Then come back and read this post with informed eyes.

First, I LOVED watching this film. I thought that it was engaging, exciting, and funny in unexpected ways and places. Many of these funny moments were given to Finn. John Boyega plays the naive Stormtrooper as a slapstick sort of figure, someone who is always rushing headlong into things, tripping over himself, and learning lessons. This makes sense given his very sheltered First Order upbringing.

The Last Jedi also opened a window into the actual economic politics of the Lucasverse--something we've never seen in the movies up to this point. (Note that I have not read many of the innumerable Star Wars books.) As the DJ character points out to Finn and Rose, there are depressing truths behind this galactic economy.

I'm personally very glad that Kylo and Rey are NOT related. (I also really hope that when J.J. Abrams and team begin writing Episode IX, they respect the ground that Rian Johnson has set the franchise on and don't try to retcon their way to some other conclusion.) I am even more pleased that Kylo and Rey are not pining for the Lakes of Naboo. Let them struggle against each other as adversaries, as equals, as people with hopes for one another. But let it remain platonic.

It was wonderful to watch Mark Hamill be Luke Skywalker on the big screen again. While Hamill may have his own complicated feelings about how being Luke Skywalker affected his life so long ago, it seems to me that he used these feelings to embitter his crotchety Hermit Luke performance. I know that the movie is very new right now, so I can't find a gif of the face Luke makes at Rey when he drinks that space walrus' milk. But that was one of the funniest moments of the whole movie.

As others have said . . . the use of the color red was very arresting and well done throughout the movie: From Snoke's audience chamber to the under-mineral dust on the final Rebel base located on Crait, to so much of the promotional material. It was really arresting.

Speaking of Rebels . . . watching the leadership of the Rebellion constantly take up arms against one another made me wonder (if only fleetingly) if the First Order doesn't sort of have it right--minus the heavy Nazi overtones. Because it seemed for a while in The Last Jedi that the Rebel Alliance's biggest problem is that its membership is made up of lots of well-meaning individuals, who each have their own specific motivations for joining this fight. And that makes them all trouble-makers when things start going wrong.

And things went so very wrong for the Rebellion in this movie. The fact that it did go so awry is, perhaps, the most surprising thing about how Rian Johnson told this story. EVERYTHING went wrong for the Rebellion. They lost all of their ships, they lost practically all of their personnel (at least from what we can see), they lost a great deal--if not all--of their experienced leadership. They are definitely backed into a corner and there is a very definite sense of  . . . what do we do now?

Sure, there are lots of people being inspired across the galaxy. But as we in the real world learned in 2017, inspiration minus actual perspiration gets you not very far. There had better be lots of people swinging brooms but also putting boots on the ground if there is any real hope of defeating the First Order going forward.

The "Get Over Yourself" Section 

Some Star Wars Super Fans are really emotional about what Rian Johnson did to their franchise. (And while I'm a Star Wars lover from way back, I guess I'm now a traitor because I don't care.) Still--check out this post from Deadspin.

Odds and Ends
  • Were you as flummoxed by Leia's "Force flight" to safety from the vacuum of space as I was? It exposed a real morbidity within me, when I realized that I was constantly bracing for the end of Leia Organa--knowing that Carrie Fisher had already passed away. It was perhaps the second biggest surprise of the movie that Leia is alive when the film ended.
  • The porgs were fine; the Ahch-To lizard caretakers were not.
  • It's cool that the command style of the First Order (either the military branch or the Sith/Jedi branch) seems to be "Scream your order at the top of your lungs."
  • I disliked the central conceit of the film--the slow escape from the laser cannons until you run out of fuel.
  • Was the extreme close up of the First Order laundry unit a shoutout to the original Star Wars spoof, "Hardware Wars"?
  • I liked how TLJ starts right at the end of The Force Awakens. And I loved that Luke just tossed the lightsaber away--after the two years of wondering what Luke might do when presented with Rey's outstretched plea.
  • I was fully prepared for the stable boy at the end of the movie to turn into Star Wars Kid--

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dean's Top Ten TV of 2017

David asked me to do my top ten list of the year and then rudely posted his before I could make fun of it. Unfortunately, I either like or haven’t seen most of the shows he selected except Search Party (which I hated so much) and he edited his list to include Legion so I can’t even make fun of him for that. 

Have worse taste in television David! I have a reputation to uphold and I can’t afford to be polite. 

You are still doing your list backward though. The best show is supposed to be saved for last! Can’t give away the game right from the start! Make them work for it!


American Gods, Alias Grace, Young Pope, Twin Peaks, Godless. I’m sure these shows are great. I just didn’t get to them.


One Mississippi, Sneaky Pete, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep, Samurai Jack, Rick and Morty, Stranger Things, Fargo, American Vandal. These shows were also good and I recommend all of them without reservation.


10. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency:
At the last second, I pulled American Vandal from the 10 spot and swapped in Dirk Gently. This Dirk Gently is nothing like the Douglas Adams Dirk, and while I confess that that annoys me, it’s still a fun, charming show that has Elijah Wood in it so I like it.

9. The Christ Gethard Show:
One episode had Chris Gethard intentionally abandon the show right before it started and his guests had to host instead. It’s a great show for weirdos, burnouts, and losers and I feel right at home watching it.

8. Nathan For You:
The episode where Nathan hires an escort and then gradually falls in love with her was one of the more emotional subplots on television this year. Just great television. This show could be exploitative of the people he finds, but I think he works hard to make sure he is always the butt of the joke.

7. Baskets:
Louie Anderson continues to steal this show as Mrs. Baskets and I continue to love Martha without any reservations.

6. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
I completely understand why basically no one watches the last 4 shows I listed but it is criminal that so few people watch this show. 1. Musical TV shows are the best and musical episodes of regular TV shows are the best (See e.g. Buffy). 2. This particular show is smartly written and incredibly funny. 3. Josh Groban was in the best song this year and you love Josh Groban right? Anyway, watch this show.

5. The Good Place
So look, I could take shows 2, 3, 4, and 5 and rearrange them in any way and still be satisfied. These are all interchangeable levels of good. The Good Place never fails to make me laugh and Ted Danson is perfect. Also, I learned that the set of The Good Place was also used for Genovia in the Princess Diaries 2 so it has that going for it.

4. Better Call Saul
I do not want Jimmy to be Saul Goodman and it keeps getting closer and closer. Jimmy is great. More Jimmy, please!

3. Review
The final destruction of Forrest was just as humiliating and sad and funny as we all knew it would be. Poor, poor deluded Forrest.

2. Legion
This show! Wow! Everyone did stellar work, but Jemaine was my favorite. Thanks, Jemaine!

Now look, see, the suspense has been built. What could be better than Legion? What show haven’t I listed yet? It could be anything! It could be something obscure like some of my other picks or maybe it’s a big gaudy number everyone likes!  

This show gets all the little things right: 80s cocaine robots, neon lights, catchy theme song. It just nails it. Also, as someone who just got into professional wrestling, it cuts to the heart about what is enjoyable about it while also presenting some pretty fair critiques about the roles people are asked to portray.

Now go yell at me about my rankings on Twitter. I need to fight about something. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash "

As you may have heard--a group programmed an "artificial intelligence computer" to write a Harry Potter chapter. And boy . . . what a thing it is.

Here is a link to the news story about it.

But, for ease of reading enjoyment, I'm transcribing the text here so that I can go back some time and and read it again.

I'm also adding some illustrations--from various fan art Web sites--to enhance the whole experience. Links to each fan art site are provided in the image captions.

"The Handsome One"

The castle grounds snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind. The sky outside was a great black ceiling, which was full of blood. The only sounds drifting from Hagrid's hut were the disdainful shrieks of his own furniture. Magic: it was something that Harry Potter thought was very good.

Leathery sheets of rain lashed at Harry's ghost as he walked across the grounds toward the castle. Ron was standing there and doing a kind of frenzied tap dance. He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione's family.

Ron's Ron shirt was just as bad as Ron himself.

"If you two can't clump happily, I'm going to get aggressive," confessed the reasonable Hermione.

"What about Ron magic?" offered Ron. To Harry, Ron was a loud, slow and soft bird. Harry did not like to think about birds.

"Death Eaters are on top of the castle!" Ron bleated quivering. Ron was going to be spiders. He just was. He wasn't proud of that, but it was going to be hard to not have spiders all over his body after all is said and done.

"Look," said Hermione. "Obviously there are loads of Death Eaters in the castle. Let's listen in on their meetings."

The three complete friends zapped onto the landing outside the door to the castle roof. They almost legged it, but witches are not climbing. Ron looked at the doorknob and then looked at Hermione with searing pain.

"I think it's closed," he noticed.
"Locked," said Mr. Staircase, the shabby-robed ghost. They looked at the door, screaming about how closed it was and asking it to be replaced with a small orb. The password was "BEEF WOMEN," Hermione cried.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione quietly stood behind a circle of Death Eaters who looked bad.

"I think it's okay if you like me," said one Death Eater.
"Thank you very much," replied the other. The first Death Eater confidently leaned forward to plant  a kiss on his cheek.

"Oh! Well done!" said the second as his friend stepped back again. All the other Death Eaters clapped politely. Then they all took a few minutes to go over the plan to get rid of Harry's magic.

Harry could tell that Voldemort was standing right behind him. He felt a great overreaction. Harry tore his eyes from his head and threw them into the forest. Voldemort raised his eyebrows at Harry, who could not see anything at the moment.

"Voldemort, you're a very bad and mean wizard," Harry savagely said. Hermione nodded encouragingly. The tall Death Eater was wearing a shirt that said "Hermione Has Forgotten How to Dance," so Hermione dipped his face in mud.

Ron threw a wand at Voldemort and everyone applauded. Ron smiled. Ron reached for his wand slowly.

"Ron's the handsome one," muttered Harry as he reluctantly reached for his. They cast a spell or two, and jets of green light shot out of the Death Eaters' heads. Ron flinched.

"Not so handsome now," thought Harry as he dipped Hermione in hot sauce. The Death Eaters were dead now, and Harry was hungrier than he had ever been.

The Great Hall was filled with incredible moaning chandeliers and a large librarian who had decorated the sinks with books about masonry. Mountains of mice exploded. Several long pumpkins fell out of McGonagall. Dumbledore's hair scooted next to Hermione as  Dumbledore arrived at school.

The pig of Hufflepuff pulsed like a large bullfrog. Dumbledore smiled at it, and placed his hand on its head: "You are Hagrid now."
 "We're the only people who matter. He's never going to get rid of us." Harry, Hermione, and Ron said in chorus.

The floor of the castle seemed like a large pile of magic. The Dursleys had never been to the castle and they were not about to come there in Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. Harry looked around and then fell down the spiral staircase for the rest of the summer.
"I'm Harry Potter," Harry began yelling. "The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!"

Friday, December 15, 2017

Our 2017 Christmas Card

Every year for the past many years, we have put together a fun, animated Christmas card that we fill with photos from the past year, descriptive captions, and holiday greetings from me, Lynda, Sarah, Grace, and Hannah.

But, unfortunately, we won't be putting that together this year. Lynda--who usually spends the time selecting, editing, and uploading the photos just doesn't have the time and energy to devote to it for 2017. So, we ask for your apologies as I substitute this post that I will repurpose as an email and send out to people instead.

How was 2017 for us? It has been a year of many firsts--good and bad.

Of course, the biggest change of this year was the struggle and loss of Lynda's dad a few months ago. We are still getting used to this new reality for us--and especially for Lynda, Lynda's mom Cheri, and her brother Matt. Our Christmas experience is going to be entirely new because of this and I pray that it is a peaceful time that also provides healing. But we look forward to family time together in Georgia in just a few more days. I'm sure happy memories will be shared and the future will be discussed. Lynda is helping Cheri take over the details of things that Bill was so familiar with and so far everything is going well. There is much to discuss and plan about the future and you'll certainly be seeing those changes in future posts that I write about. So, it is a bittersweet time. But our faith supports us through our sadness and I am confident of a happy future to come. More on that as it happens!

In more "normal" news, our kids have had many eventful months since the end of last year. And there are many firsts being achieved for each of them as well.

 Sarah achieved a first--finally completing all of her extensive driving training and tests to qualify for her auto license. She drives to work, to school, to run occasional errands for us, and sometimes to even has fun (I promise). She is also achieving several new firsts as she completes her senior year of high school and is very busily finishing up her art school applications--creating piece after piece for her college art portfolios. If you have been following Lynda and I on the Internet in the last many years, you know how her art skills have advanced and how talented we think she is. As I said in a recent blog post, I fully believe that she is going to get into one of her schools and then we'll see what sort of scholarship money she can collect on top of that. She has been working to create new pieces for submission, with lots of help and advice from her art teacher. It's happening--and then . . . well, the future is not written. But she is working on some endings and planning for new beginnings. I'm excited about where she goes next.

Grace is neck deep in work as a busy highs school freshman. All of her summer and fall were dedicated to marching band. And once that ended, she jumped right into the theater production crew team. In addition, Grace has new expectations in her high school level classes. But she is handling it well so far and taps into her long-standing reserve of inner confidence that I love so much about her. Her social life and roster of friends has grown a lot in the last many months as well. Give her some more time to grow up and widen her horizons a bit and we'll all be working for her. And I promise you that we will be so much the better for that.

Hannah remains our little girl--but she's trying to grow up as fast as she can. Hannah's after-school and weekend social calendar is almost as busy as Grace. Which is probably a good thing, because without Hannah pushing us around, we'd never do anything at all. She happily reminds us that there are lots of people and things to do.She is doing well in fourth grade and is involved in Mark Twain elementary's service club. Plus her Reflections project animation was recognized at the city competition and is going to move on to the regional judging level next.

As for Lynda and I? We still work at McGraw-Hill Education. (See the photo from our company Christmas party, up above.) Lynda's work in the Digital Strategies group keeps her connected with content groups all across our office. She is always busy, but she is doing good work and keeps being challenged. I'm finishing up Phase 1 and 2 of my latest Social Studies project that has been my focus throughout this calendar year. I still like work and my coworkers, so I have no big complaints on that front.

As always, I must acknowledge how stupidly lucky we are. 2017 has been a challenging year for many people who have faced so many disappointments. But those sorts of setbacks can be dealt with when we have each other, when we have good jobs, and when we are surrounded with great friends and family (who demonstrated that so, so strongly while Lynda was so busy with her dad). Lynda, I, and our girls have all of those important things--which makes it possible for us to overcome anything.

And it obligates us to reach out to help others. I have been inspired this past year to witness people fighting hard for things they care deeply about and taking on new responsibilities to work for those goals. I hope that 2018 is a good year for you and the people you care about. If I can be some help to you . . . please do not hesitate to let me know.

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year.