Wednesday, October 28, 2009

If Your God Exists, He Needs to Be Taken Down

Yeah, it's kind of harsh and I didn't actually say this to the Christians I met on campus, so here's what really happened.

I was walking through Auraria Campus and saw some people mingling around talking to people. They had a dry-erase easel and some literature. I figured they were evangelists or activists. Not sure which one is worse...just kidding, activists are totally annoying.

Anyways, they stopped me as I walked by and asked "Would you do a quick survey for us?"
"Ok, write down where you will go after this life on this board. If it's already on there you can put a tally next to it."
I looked at the board- heaven, hell, purgatory, not sure, I know I will be in heaven because I have accepted Jesus Christ as my one and only savior.

I ended up writing "universe/abyss"

"Interesting, what do you mean by that?" asked the Christian.
"Um, I guess I feel like there is no after life in the sense of me consciously occupying a place, but maybe my life energy goes out into the world in some manner."
"Ok ok," said the Christian. I'm just going to call him Brandon. He was REALLY nice by the way.

"So how confident are you in that?" Brandon asked.
"Probably something like 95%," I said.
"Ok, and if there is a heaven, how confident are you that you'd go there?"
"Hmm, probably 95% again."
"Ok, ok," said Brandon in a thoughtful and understanding way. (Did I say he was really nice?)
Brandon continued, "So why do you think you're going to heaven? I mean assuming there is one."
"Well I'm a good father, I love my kids, I love my wife, I love my friends and I try and do a lot of good in the world. I think if there was a God they'd appreciate that."
"Yeah, yeah totally. Well the thing is that we can never be perfect."
"For sure," I said.
"Well ok and though we can't be perfect we can accept Jesus Christ as our savior as the Bible says and have that imperfection forgiven."
"So basically you have to accept Jesus Christ and this specific God as one's God to get into heaven?" I asked.
"Yes, the Bible says how Jesus died, but it wasn't for free. In return we must accept him as our savior." Brandon explained

This went on for awhile. I said that it seemed a bit petty that God would not let people into heaven who held different belief systems. I wondered aloud to Brandon why a God that is all-powerful would have such a huge ego and such low self-esteem to punish good people to eternal damnation just because they didn't believe in him, or even that they believed in him but in a form he thought wasn't accurate enough. I asked about a hypothetical villager in rural Pakistan who grew up in a completely Muslim town who was good to his family and a great neighbor. He too would be sent to hell? Even though the predominant religion was something other than Christianity?

Brandon quoted some more Bible verses, but the end answer was- Yes. Unless he accepted this specific form of Christianity he would suffer eternal misery in hell.

So I finally said, "I'm sorry but even if you are right, I wouldn't want to go to heaven. I know that's extreme and maybe I'd change my mind if actually faced with this, but I just would not agree with a God like that. I can't imagine being in a heaven where so many of my friends and family and just really good people who I don't even know are suffering in hell. I'd rather just go to hell."

He was sort of taken aback and didn't know what to say. I felt bad because he was really nice so I said, "Well this has been a really interesting conversation with a lot to think about. I really appreciate it," and left.

After reading the Golden Compass and His Dark Materials series I started to change my position on religion some. Before I was really into what the truth is. I still am, but the reality is I don't know what is ultimately true. Still, in the Dark Materials book there is a wrathful God and what is amazing is that some people don't accept that. They try and take that God down because he is unjust. I think that's really powerful. It's powerful to think that even if certain oppressive and unjust beliefs are true, that people of conscious should still reject them and stand firmly on the side of what is right. So yes, if that God did exist, I wouldn't want to be in his heaven. I'd rather be in hell organizing towards a heaven that is open to all, regardless of creed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Making Funny Comments During Movies

Rules for Making Funny Commentary
- refer to all weird looking people as specific celebrities
- do lots of voices
- finish people's sentences whenever there is any pause in speech
- answer questions before the actors do in humorous way
- poke fun at inconsistencies
- vocalize characters' perceived thoughts
- develop reoccurring jokes
- crack jokes at extras' actions all the time
- sing funny lyrics to theme song

I wrote these down after my friend Matt and I watched the RiffTrax of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is basically Mystery Science Theater 3000 without the silhouettes and space craft scenes (which were the best!!). Watching made me realize that watching these movies was not just funnier, but it actually deepened my viewing of the movie. You notice the extras, you notice the awkward nuanced actions of the main characters, the flawed dialogue, the costumes, and the specific action moves.

I loved MST3 as a kid. I'd always watch it with my dad. I want to be those guys. I mean, minus the being held captive on a space shuttle by an evil scientist who forces you to watch horrible movies. Anyways, to do that I'm going to have to practice. Hopefully Matt will be up for that because the rest of my friends I see just getting mad at me for trying to provide a hilarious running commentary.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I didn't think Wal-Mart could be cute until we stumbled through the aisles drunk together.

Refusal to Sleep on a Winter Night
It's even colder to slip into bed without you. I'm staying up.

Richard Brautigan Poems That I Like

I used to write really verbose poetry. I didn't know how to fix it. Then I discovered Richard Brautigan.

"Deer Tracks"
Beautiful, sobbing, high-geared fucking
and then to lie silently like deer tracks
in the freshly-fallen snow beside the one
you love. That’s all.

"The Net Wt. of Winter is 6.75 Ozs."
The net wt. of winter is 6.75 ozs.
and winter has a regular flavor
with Fluoristan to stop tooth decay.

A month ago I bought a huge tube
of Crest tooth paste and when I put it
in the bathroom, I looked at it
and said, "Winter."

December 4, 1968

"Hinged to Forgetfulness like a Door"
Hinged to forgetfulness like a door,
she slowly closed out of sight,
and she was the woman that I loved,
but too many times she slept like
a mechanical deer in my caresses,
and I ached in the metal silence
of her dreams.

"Romeo and Juliet"
If you will die for me,
I will die for you

and our graves will
be like two lovers washing
their clothes together
in a Laundromat.

If you will bring the soap,
I will bring the bleach.

"Late Starting Dawn"
It's a late starting dawn that breathes my vision,
inhales and exhales the sound of waking birds
and pokes ten miles of cold gray sky at a deer
standing alone in a meadow.

"My Concern for Your Tomato Plants"
I stare at your tomato plants.
You're not, I'm not pleased with the way
they are growing.
I try to think of ways to help them.
I study them. What do I know about tomatoes?
"Perhaps some nitrate," I suggest.
But I don’t know anything and now I've taken
to gossiping about them. I'm as shameless
as their lack of growing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Remembering Griselda

I was now completely broken down in tears, clutching Cambria in my arms as I danced across the cheap linoleum in our kitchen. We'd been dancing to a mix cd I'd made and I completely forgot that I had put El Niagara en Bicicleta on it.

My high school Spanish teacher had played that song for us in class. The song eloquently describes the near impossibility of accessing decent medical care (it's like trying to cross Niagara Falls on bike) in Juan Luis Guerra's home country of the Dominican Republic. A relevant song for these times, when in the richest country my wife has to wait 6 months before a treatment she needs will be covered. And of course, that pales in comparison to the thousands (maybe millions) of more dire situations that so many are hell bent, some against their own interests, on perpetuating by preventing reform.

But I digress. Griselda was a strong socialist, feminist, Puerto Rican woman. She legally dropped her last name because she explained to us that the last name is passed on by men, historically a marker of who owned a woman. No one owned her. She told that to the judge and successfully had her last name removed from her driver's license, social security card and credit cards.

I look up to her in so many ways, and now that I am a teacher myself I look up to her because she was herself through and through every day. There was no doubt where she stood politically, religiously, and on most important topics. And yet, I also do not doubt at all that Mary, the evangelical student felt completely comfortable with her own beliefs in that classroom. Why? Wasn't she brainwashing us with her socialist propaganda? She had a freaking poster of Fidel in her classroom!!

No. Why were all of us comfortable expressing our own views in that classroom? Well for one because she did. She showed us to love ourselves and share ourselves. We knew what her butterfly tattoo symbolized, we knew how her uncle had been killed when Puerto Rican students rose up against the occupying US Army and the twisted irony of when her son told her he was joining the military and would later be deployed to Iraq. She shared her poetry with us and she shared it with so much pride as those words left her mouth. She didn't shy away from herself or controversy and that classroom was alive. It was what learning should be- an outpouring of ideas and opinions and honesty and people just being genuine with each other.

She lead by example and we wanted to follow her lead, not by adopting her politics but by passionately speaking our minds. Also, she loved us. She loved us unconditionally. There was no doubt that me, the punk dabbling in anti-authoritarian politics and vegetarianism, or that Mary the born again Christian were loved by her. Since she loved us, it wasn't our beliefs that mattered, it was how we used our minds. Did we think critically of our world? Did we really analyze the stories we were reading, or were we just falling back on shallow rhetoric?

We watched documentaries about the Sandanistas, read plays on Judas, struggled through a Mexican novel all told in second person. It was incredible.

So, Cambria was reaching up at the tears streaking down my cheeks because Griselda never met my kids. She never met my wife. She died after an overdose of anti-depressant pills. It was that whole situation where it wasn't clear if she was trying to kill herself or if she was just in a dark place and tried to get out or just made a careless decision. And again, the tragic irony isn't lost on me that the woman who taught me to love myself as hard as I could would leave this world because of her own carelessness for her own life.

She would go on to be the most important mentor outside of my family. We marched together in the streets, discussed philosophy with Billy Holiday playing in the background of her flat and argued politics (I loathed the authoritarianism of her socialist politics and she shook her head at my anarchist idealism). Her brujeria nature would come out and she'd always tell me her visions that I'd love three times and that I should end up with the soft-spoken lover because she might not be on the frontlines with me, but she'd always support me. She said I'd grow up to be a lawyer who would ruthlessly fight for justice and even arranged a meeting with me and Ernie Duran (president of the UFCW Local 400) to help that process along.

Well, I did love three times like she said. I ended up with the outspoken woman and I'm not a lawyer (at least not yet). But I don't doubt for a second how proud she is of me. She made that known every chance she could. She told me over and over that I was a wise soul to the point that I would start to think it might be true.

In class that day, when the song was playing, I asked why a song about such a tragic topic would be so upbeat. She smiled and asked, "When life is that hard, what else can you do? You just dance and insist on joy. With death and pain all around, you insist on life."

And that answer came back to me in my chest and I pressed Cambria to that soreness as I danced harder to the words "Bajé los ojos a media asta y me agarré la cabeza porque es muy duro pasar el Niágara en bicicleta."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Malcolm X Was a Proficient Reader, What About My Students?

"At one-hour intervals the night guards paced past every room. Each time I heard the approaching footsteps, I jumped into bed and feigned sleep. And as soon as the guard passed, I got back out of bed onto the floor area of that light-glow, where I would read for another fifty-eight minutes --until the guard approached again. That went on until three or four every morning. Three or four hours of sleep a night was enough for me."
-Malcolm X, Autobiography of Malcolm X
My school's CSAP scores, including reading, dropped last year. As a result, the topics of literacy and proficient readers permeates every conversation, every thought, every footstep through the hall. How do we get our kids to score well on CSAP this year? However, this preoccupation with reading instruction has not lead the school to adopt a love-of-reading culture. Because the question being asked is the wrong one. We are not asking How do we share our love of reading with our students? Instead the conversation and the thinking is narrowly directed to a standardized test.

So no, our students as a whole do not love reading. Instead the school administration has done what Herbert Kohl eloquently wrote in an Open Letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan-
"In the panic over teaching students to perform well on reading tests, educators seem to have lost sight of the fact that reading is a tool, an instrument that is used for pleasure and for the acquisition of knowledge and information about the way the world works."
I think about the proficient readers I know or have read about. Malcolm X's story of reading whenever possible while in prison, even if he had to sneak it, exemplifies a simple mantra I've always carried with me "A proficient reader loves to read." And his story as to why he began reading, echoes Kohl's assertion-
"I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. The ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive."
Would he have reached this in my school, as a 5th grader? I seriously doubt it. If so, it would have been because his teacher had been intuitive, bucked the system and would have been in spite of the curriculum rather than because of it.

Because test scores have hijacked our building's ability to see reading for what it is - our students who are not proficient readers are treated as if they are diseased. My assistant principal, speaking of students scoring Unsatisfactory on their reading test, explained that "If they don't get it first in the classroom, then we can give them a second dose, and then a third dose with an SES, and then a fourth dose with intervention." The thinking here is that if they aren't reading on grade level then something is wrong with them, that they need reading skills drilled into their heads and if they don't get it the first time we'll do it again, and again, and again, and again.

Of course, the sick irony with this approach is that the more that we "intervene" the clearer it becomes in the student's mind that reading is not for them. That they are not good readers and that reading is not for enjoyment or the gateway to life-changing experiences, it's a test that they will take and which will most likely come back telling them that they are "Unsatisfactory."

And so, instead of following in the footsteps of Malcolm X by poring over a book with a flashlight at night, our children will return to their homes, grateful not to see a book. They will turn on the tv and escape to a place where they are not coerced to read a passage and then fill in a bubble about it, a place where history and science and art and PE are denied to them because they need to practice their reading instead.

Rather than a tool, they will see reading as a barrier to the things that they love. They will associate it with the time that they are pulled from Science to sound out words. We can take that mantra for proficient readers and invert it, "Non-proficient readers loathe reading."

And even within the confining goal of improving test scores, they most likely won't by making our kids hate to read. And if they do, it will come at a high price.

Of course, the scores are true to an extent. Many of our students do struggle at reading. However, instead of looking at the students as stupid or failures (thus prompting the question over how to cram more literacy instruction into the day) what if we took Kohl's quote as guidance? What if we reframed the question to say "How can we help students use reading as a tool to tap into their passions and transform their worlds?"

Mind you, Malcolm X was not a proficient reader. He quit school early. To learn to read at an academic level he read every single page out of the dictionary and then wrote down every single character onto paper. He did this twice.

Why would he go through such a laborious, boring process? Because he realized what reading could do for him. For him he knew that there were volumes of books and countless stories of his people that had been denied to him and he wanted to know them.

So even for our struggling readers who do in fact need phonics instruction or practice with fluency or other activities that are typically not the most engaging, that understanding of literature's potential for them is essential. If they do not see reading as the profound tool that it is, they will not empty their heart onto those pages like Malcolm X did. They will, no let me start over- They are being denied the joy and liberation of reading and they will continue to be robbed of this joy so as long as we treat them like they are deficient and as long as we take our guidance from standardized tests rather than from our students.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chipotle Kicks Fair Food Activists Out of Food Inc. Screening

Chipotle has got to be one of the slickest companies when it comes to PR, so when fair food activists showed up to one of their events to uncover the truth about Chipotle they weren't too happy.

People can't get enough of those burritos and it makes it all the better when they see the feel-good signage everywhere about all the great things the company does. Playing off their socially-responsible reputation, the company sponsored free screenings of the new movie Food Inc.

At the movie, activists from Denver Fair Food were slated to speak to the audience about the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Well that and the fact that Chipotle has FAILED to agree to their straightforward demands of earning a penny more per pound of tomatoes they pick. Instead, they were greeted by a Chipotle representative who kindly kicked them out of the event, barring from speaking or tabling as previously agreed.

You can read the whole account at Denver Fair Food's blog. It's a pretty good story.

The tomato pickers make poverty wages and companies such as Taco Bell, McDonald's and Burger King have agreed to the modest raise.

It's strange to think that Chipotle, a supposed pioneer in food justice, wouldn't go along with fast food giants to work with farmworkers committed to a fair food system, but so far it's true. Let's keep the pressure on Chipotle and continue to speak the truth everytime they try and speaking nice to food justice.

What Church Can Teach Us About Movement Building

Will Potter who runs a blog about the green scare entitled Green is the New Red gave a short speech at an environmental/animal rights conference about the lessons he learned from the Catholic Church about creating community and building healthy movements. It only began to scratch at the surface of how we create strong and lasting communities, but I think it was a good start.

Will Potter Opens the 2009 Let Live Conference from Let Live Foundation on Vimeo.

Many of us have had really bad experiences with organized religion growing up and understandably have tossed it aside to pursue a more fulfilling spirituality, or even abandon spirituality altogether. Potter also left the religion he was raised in for many good reasons. However, it was nice to see him reflect back on the elements of the Catholicism he was raised under that were healthy.

Even though much of religion can be pointed to as the source, or at least a large contributor, to many of the injustices we've experienced in the world, many of them also have a wisdom that runs centuries deep as to how we can best relate to one another and support one another.

My parents came from the Mormon religion and I am absolutely amazed and impressed with the way in which many Mormons maintain close-knit and supportive family and church structures. Of course there are elements of coercion and dogmatism present, but many of the simple acts that Potter points to in the Catholic Church are also seen in the Mormon church.

As we continue to work towards relating to one another in new and healthy ways, it's important to draw from our own experiences, even from places we have formally left. They often hold pieces of incredibly profound insight into the human condition.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hondurans Anti-Coup Blockades Paralyze Economy

In response to the military coup against left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya, protesters have established blockades of the four major highways leading out of the capitol Tegucigalpa.

According to several news reports, three of the four reports have been successfully shutdown by Hondurans protesting the coup.

Honduras' reliance on a few major highways for transport means that these blockades are quickly slowing economic activity to a practical standstill. The blockades by all accounts have also been done non-violently.

One group participating in the blockades is the United Workers Federation of Honduras, the largest union bloc in the country. Other blockades are springing up along the border by fellow unions in Nicaragua and El Salvador in solidarity with those opposing the coup.

You can follow the status of the blockades with Narco News' around the clock coverage.

Meanwhile, negotiations continue slowly after the interim-president Roberto Micheletti rejected a proposal by Costa Rican president and crisis mediator Oscar Arias for Zelaya's re-instatement followed by early elections.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Assed Movie

I'm assuming that you have either read the Harry Potter books or you never will. But to be polite- SPOILERS ABOUND.

I went last night to the premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I had a fun time: got a free bucket of popcorn from a kind and generous friend, made someone fart from a joke I cracked about caretaker Argus Finch being played by Willie Nelson, and made friends with another trombone player. Still, I can unequivocally say that this movie SUCKED!!!

Even forgiving the fact that these amazing books are being Hollywoodified, the movie was still a flop.

First off, it lacked a good fight scene. They took out the entire epic battle that the book ends with and replaces it with a totally anti-climactic scene of Snape killing Dumbledore. It leaves the audience feeling a hint of sadness, but nothing like the despair or tragedy that drips off the pages. Instead they insert a manufactured scene of Bellatrix and Fenrir Greyback attacking the Weasley's. The scene was short and BOORRRRRING. I mean, come on, that scene ended with tghe Deatheaters suddenly flying away. Excuse me? How is that entertainment? I know they have the budget to make a kick-ass, all-out fighting sequence and it didn't happen.

Then there's the characterization of the kids. They did an ok job of showing Malfoy's inner conflict and dread at killing Dumbledore, but what about Harry?!? In the books, we see Potter's self-absorbed side. We see his emotionally illiteracy, common for so many adolescent boys. I loved that! It showed the imperfection of people, even heroes. It was a way for boys to be able to see from the outside how the inability to express one's emotions and empathize with others jeopardizes friendships and intimacy. This was almost completely lacking. There were shots of humorous teenage awkwardness, but nowhere the social shortcomings of Potter. In fact, there's even (also manufactured) scene of Potter consoling Hermione after Ron chooses to snog that one girl instead of her. THAT NEVER HAPPENED! And it never would have because Potter wasn't like that.

And then there's the complicated history of Severus Snape and Harry's mother Lilly. That was not even as much as mentioned in passing in this movie at all. This past is so foundational to Snape's approach to Harry and also an important key to why he is loyal to Dumbledore. So when we find out who the Half-Blood Prince is ( the freakin name of the movie) it's revealed through Snape bluntly telling Potter that is the Half-Blood Prince and for him not to use his spells. Whoa. Big deal. Damn that was disappointing.

So, in the end this was in fact a half-assed movie. It seemed the production team simply wanted to string along key events. Wait, not even that. They cut out key events...So just half-heartedly stringing along some key events to put together a movie. They must know that Harry Potter fans are suckers enough to go watch the movie regardless of quality. So, there you go- a painfully mediocre movie. My recommendation: save the money you would have spent on an absurdly large bucket of popcorn and go buy the book instead. Unless of course, you're a half ass.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Immigrant Taxi Drivers Form Co-Op in Denver

Denver cab drivers have successfully broken the stranglehold three major taxi companies in Denver had on the market by forming their own worker cooperative, Union Taxi.

Driving a taxi means long hours and high monthly leases to cab companies. In the article Denver Taxi Drivers' Struggle Pays Off , Sudanese driver Yousif explains, "I worked seven days a week, 18 hours a day, no day off. Sometimes I didn't make nothing for myself."

Drivers have to pay anywhere from $1,600 to $2,100 a month to lease a vehicle. Many drivers struggled to earn fares to even break even, forcing them to put in ridiculously long hours. Now in the co-op all drivers put in $700. The drivers will then split profits earned.

The co-op is part of the Communications Workers of America, the union that helped them change a state law which had previously made it near impossible to start its own business.

Union Taxi is an exciting example of workers coming together to run their own business and have a voice in the work they do. It will be a difficult road ahead, to be sure, but it sounds like they are pleased to be working on their own terms in a company based on solidarity instead of filling the coffers of large taxi companies.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: An Anarchist Critique


Robbing banks. Liberating animals. Storming the statehouse. Abolishing speciesism and racial/Blood Purity as demarcation lines between magical beings. Creating a revoutionary guerilla foco in the forest while mounting a base of support in the population. Joining with other focos to foment a popular revolt in a rebel stronghold that will bring down the government once and for all. But Harry Potter does not strive for wizard liberation, nor the liberation of the “magic” internal colonies. Harry Potter’s Hogwarts revolt does nothing more than to restore state power to those with whom Harry Potter agrees.

Read the rest of the review and the wonderfully nerdy comments here.

Anarchists dorking out on Harry Potter?!? Ummm of course!

Honestly I'm mostly surprised that it has taken this long for an anarchist critique to come out. Also, I'm glad to see some comments defending the liberatory principles of J.K. Rowling's series. Sure, Potter and Aurors aren't purely non-hierarchical, but their actions and goals are more emancipatory than the reviewer gives them credit.

I also found this review, Harry Potter, Anarchist which gives a more thorough look into the anti-authoritarian themes within the the Harry Potter series.

All of this makes me want to re-read The Deathly Hallows so that I can better participate in this glorious intersection between anarchist theory geekery and Harry Potter fanatacism.

Friday, July 3, 2009

An Excellent Anti-Capitalist Analysis of the Financial Crisis

It's always hard to get good anti-capitalist perspectives on the financial crisis because unfortunately anti-capitalists oftentimes have little patience and understanding of the inner-workings of modern day capitalism. I understand why. I remember in college several friends of mine trying to major in business to understand the economy so they could better subvert and help build something better. They all dropped out before it was over.

So, when I came across Promissory Notes by the Midnight Notes Collective, a group of Autonomist-Marxists, I was relieved. It was like listening to NPR's Planet Money if those guys were on the frontlines of a global justice summit.

The Midnight Notes analysis is refreshing because it looks at how capital reacts to working class resistance and other social movements actions. It flips the dominant view on its head- how are we going to respond to all the injustices being wreaked on the planet by elites? And says- actually capitalists are constantly responding to us and how they can continue maximizing their profits while holding on to all that power.

The basic premise of Promissory Notes, which I love, is that the global financial meltdown happened in part because of grassroots resistance. And their case is compelling. Also, there are certain irreconcilable contradictions in capitalism that those in power have continued to try and keep at bay through corporate globalization and recently financialization and finally those contradictions could not be brushed aside or glossed over any more.

Their analysis is compelling and thoughtful. Also, it ends with a very solid and inspiring suggestion for organizing towards a more just world. Everyone should definitely check it out.

Again that link is here- Promissory Notes

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Best Invitations EVER!

I had my friends at P&L Printing, a worker-run print shop, come up with a custom made birthday invitation. Special thanks to Matt for spending two hours designing this thing (he's a perfectionist).

Robot Birthday Party

I'm going to make a real effort to plan this party so it rocks. Celebrations always sneak up on me and I end up half-assing it all the time. Well not this time! We're talking about TWO birthdays in one, so it's got to be done right.

Just so everyone knows, this is Obsidian and Ember's party. It's Saturday, August 8th at noon. You and all your friends are invited.

I got really excited about their party early on when Whitney picked up a copy of this hipster magazine Cookie. It's all you'd expect from a hipster magazine, with really absurdly priced fashion forward kids clothes, models that aren't real human beings but robots pretending to be mothers and their cute children, but also with some admittedly cool ideas.

The one I am running with is their Robot Party.

I am doing these suggestions of theirs:

"Nuts and bolts"—dried vegetable snacks, almonds, and cashews—make great party fare. (Double-check with parents about nut allergies.) Fill aluminum pans from the supermarket, then arrange them in a rectangular pattern for a graphic motherboard look.

Make a Robot

Use an aluminum takeout container with a paper lid for the body of this robot craft. Gather metal items, such as large screws, paper clips, and washers, that kids can use to make faces. Arms and legs can be crafted from silver pipe cleaners or aluminum foil.

Takeout containers, from 36 cents each,

3:00 P.M.
Recharge Your Circuits

Even robots need their batteries juiced. Create a healthy "circuit board" from sticky rice and kid-approved vegetables like carrots, peas, cucumbers, and red peppers.

Walk the Walk

On the floor around the room, tape down as many pictures of robots as you have guests. Then play music and encourage the kids to dance. When the music stops, each steps on an image to earn a prize. For more detailed instructions, click here.

Wind-up robots (a good prize idea), $2 each, for stores.

TIP: Find free, printable robot images at

Cut the Cake

This cake was baked in a basic 9-by-13-inch pan, then cut up, frosted, and painted with edible silver dust. Colorful licorice "wires," candy "buttons," and cookie limbs completed the look. For instructions on how to bake this cake, click here.

Edible Luster Dust, $6, N.Y. Cake, (212) 675-2253.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fly Birdman Fly!

Chris Andersen, AKA Birdman, AKA Birdzilla AKA The Raging Rooster is a monster. Part bad boy part goofiest person ever, Andersen wills his tatooed spindly limbs into the air just at the right times to pull down rebounds, reject shots and dunk the ball energetically.

On the 8th of April I went to the Nuggets game with Dad, Whitney, Vernon and my friends Duncan and Chad. They beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 122-112. Before leaving, Whitney made me a makeshift Birdman mask. Here it is-

Lucky for me, the Andersen had another huge night- snagging 9 boards and blocking a ridiculous seven shots, more than the rest of the team combined.

The Birdman is a fan favorite with all of his hand gestures and antics playing to his nickname. At first Whitney couldn't stand him though. It's understandable. He constantly walks with a swagger and can almost always be seen with an arrogant smirk on his face (especially when he just finished rocketing an attempted shot into the first row of fans). At first glance, most people would probably think "Wow, this guy is a total jerk."

Granted, He is extremely cocky, but he also has a flair of awkwardness that makes his borderline narcissism more endearing than aggravating. While he can have soaring dunks, he can also miss the dunk in the most embarrassing way. Take for example, the time he competed in the 2004 Slam Dunk Contest. Infamously, he missed his first eight attempts on his first dunk and his first five attempts on his second, drawing open laughter from the players on the sidelines and even ridicule from the TNT commentators.

He also has a work ethic that is to be admired. At the Thunder game he was constantly bouncing up and down- in the pregame warmup, during team huddles, and while he waiting on the sideline to check in. He brings an energy to the Nuggets off the bench that is essential. Also, he can block the ball better than anyone in the league. Andersen is second in the league behind Dwight Howard for the most blocks per game. That is insane considering the fact that he only plays an average of 20 minutes a night. If you go by blocks per minutes played he averages 5.68 blocks per 48 minutes of play, a full two more blocks than Howard.

Simply type Birdman into youtube and you will come up with countless tribute remixes to him. You'll also see some nasty blocked shots. Here are two of my favorite- this one he is hit in the stomach as he blocks a shot, then recovers and proceeds to get two more consecutive blocks in the same possesion

Then there is the time he swats Rudy Fernandez in the face. Talk about insult to injury.

His life story is a good one too. He was raised by his mom in small town Texas after his Dad left the two of them when he was a kid. He was constantly living a life on the edge, pushing limits and getting into trouble. His mother hoped his basketball skills could keep him out of a dead end life. When he was drafted by the Hornets they were both ecstatic. Unfortunately, the quick trip into the spotlight lead Andersen to a path of drugs and recklessness. He was disqualified from the NBA for substance abuse.

In 2008, the NBA let him back in and then in the 2008-2009 season the Nuggets picked him up after the Hornets released him. Since being on the Nuggets he has turned both his basketball and personal career around. Denver has embraced him and the team are now playoff bound and hold the second best record in the Western Conference.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Is the Newbery Award Turning Kids off from Reading?...and my Read Aloud Choice

Picking a Read Aloud book for my 5th grade class is always tricky. I've had the students nominate books and then vote on them, but the problem with that is we usually end up with books that the majority of the kids have already read. Lately I've been choosing books that I think they'll enjoy. I've chosen novels that I enjoyed as a kid, books that I know my students liked in the past, and selected books that deal with themes that I notice have struck a chord with many of my students.

I think the best selection I've made was Esperanza Rising. It has everything that makes a great book for me- a captivating plot, characters that the students can relate with, skilled writing and deep themes that lend themselves to good conversations and analysis.

At this age, a book has to be a good read. As 5th graders, the students are still cultivating a love for reading. If a book has a deep message, but the actual story doesn't grab them then it is lost on them. That has happened a few times with the read alouds I've chosen.

Interestingly, this is a critique that some people have lobbed at the American Library Association's recent selections of Newbery Award winners. Children's literary expert Anita Silvey argues that so many of the recent Newbery Award recipients have been too difficult and inaccessible that it is contributing to the decline in reading amongst youth. You could say that the book are more of what adults wish children would read, instead of what they want to read.

The ALA claims that the Newbery was never about popularity in the first place, it's about making a significant contribution to children's literature. I agree with Silvey when she counters that you can have both quality and readability in a book and that that is what the Newbery winners should have.

Over the Spring Break I re-read The Giver by Lois Lowry and for the first time read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Both won Newbery Awards, so which one am I going with? Well, in the end I've decided to go with the one I think my students will enjoy and encourage them to think deeply about questions around death, fulfillment and grief. While The Giver brings up great moral dilemnas and is a wonderful segue into conversations around justice the book lacks strong character development and its ordered, bland dystopia sometimes lends to an ordered and bland read! As Jonas begins receiving memories the story incorporates vivid vignettes, but it's not enough to make the story captivating. By the time he embarks on his plan, we have not grown to know him, Gabe nor The Giver well enough to really be drawn fully into the story.

At the end of the day, I want my students to love literature. That's why this time around I'm going with Walk Two Moons. Sorry Lois Lowry, maybe next time we'll pick up Number the Stars.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Food that Affects Your Pee- Part 2: Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is made by culturing the yeast with a mixture of sugarcane and beet molasses (hey, beets!). The yeast is then harvested, washed, dried and then packaged. Usually it's available in the form of flakes and can be found in the bulk aisle of most natural food stores. A lot of vegans eat it because it tastes like cheese.

Well, actually I don't think it tastes like cheese, I think it tastes like gravy. It is, however, a good cheese substitute. It's also good on popcorn and you can just spread butter over a slice of bread and sprinkle it on. There's this hippy commune called The Farm that came out with a cookbook. They use it in almost every recipe and they're all delicious.

Also, it turns your pee neon yellow. It looks like Gatorade. The reason for the fluorescent color is that nutritional yeast is loaded with B12 and there is no way your body can absorb all of the B12, so it ends up tinting your urine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Where Education and Assimilation Collide

My linguistics professor told us about a feature the New York Times is running entitled Where Education and Assimilation Collide. It's a really interesting look into different schools that are being affected by the shifting trends in immigration. The first school featured is a high school that was once predominately white and upper class whose demographics have shifted quickly with a housing boom and the construction jobs that it brought.

Now the community and local schools are trying to figure out how to respond. There has definitely been racist backlash to the new immigrants, with some leading the charge to pass anti-immigrant legislation. The way the schools are dealing with it is interesting. Immigrants are essentially tracked in separate classes where they are prepped for the state tests. On one hand it's helping the students pass the grade and get their diploma, but it has also set up a highly segregated school environment. It also raises questions of how well the schools are preparing immigrant students to the actual world when so much emphasis is placed on teaching to the test.

Educators are stuck in many ways when it comes to teaching English Language Learners. In Colorado, for example, every student regardless of language status must take the CSAP (state standardized test) in English. So I have one student who just moved from Mexico in October and she had to take CSAP in English. She's really bright and has made amazing strides in just a few months, but she will still almost certainly receive an Unsatisfactory score because her English has not progressed to grade level (of course!). Still, when it comes to our school making their mandated goals, that will still come up as Unsatisfactory. There is nothing to distinguish that this is from a student who just came to the US or the fact that she has made amazing gains in the course of a few months. Schools are basically penalized for having high ELL populations. Then funding is stripped, when the opposite should be happening. And on and on....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fly Birdman Fly!

Chris Andersen, AKA Birdman, is by far my favorite player on the Denver Nuggets. He is part bad boy part goofiest person ever. At first Whitney couldn't stand him because he's so dang cocky. However, the fact that he is so awkward makes his hard persona endearing.

On the 8th of April I went to the Nuggets game with Dad, Whitney, Vernon and my friends Duncan and Chad. They beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 122-112. Before leaving, Whitney made me a makeshift Birdman mask. Here it is-

Lucky for me, the Andersen had another huge night- snagging 9 boards and blocking a ridiculous seven shots, more than the rest of the team combined. In fact, Andersen is second in the league behind Dwight Howard for the most blocks per game. This is pretty insane considering the fact that he only plays an average of 20 minutes a night. He averages 5.68 blocks per 48 minutes of play, two more than Howard.

Simply type Birdman into youtube and you will come up with countless tribute remixes to him. You'll also see some nasty blocked shots. Here are two of my favorite- this one he is hit in the stomach as he blocks a shot, then recovers and proceeds to get two more consecutive blocks in the same possesion

Then there is the time he swats Rudy Fernandez in the face. Talk about insult to injury.

and here is the Birdman himself-

The guy has had his share of setbacks in life.

Foods that Affect Your Pee Part 1- Beets

The other day I was going to the bathroom and it was all red. I started to freak out until I realized I had eaten a bunch of beets the day before. I remember my English teacher telling the class about this college prank where the Chemistry geeks made an elixir they gave to the jocks which made their pee turn bright blue. The jocks were mortified when they looked at the toilet bowl after they had done their business.

Here is a preliminary research report on things that alter your pee. Right now I'm including things that alters color and smell. I don't think I could do taste or touch and if I could, that would probably push an already kind of gross project over the edge.

If anyone has suggestions on foods I can research, leave a comment.

As previously mentioned, beets will turn your urine red. According to Wikipedia, "Betacyanin in beetroot may cause red urine in some people who are unable to break it down. This is called beeturia." [19] It says that beeturia only affects 10-15% of people. If so, that's crazy!! What?!? Am I in that 15 percentile? I thought it was totally normal. In the On-line Medical Dictionary it says that this happens to iron-deficient people, but can also happen to "normal people." I also found research saying that it might be a genetic disposition. Some people's stomachs can break down the dye, while other people can't. I suppose I could have an iron deficiency, but I have a feeling it's totally normal to have your pee turn red from beets. If I can figure out how to, I'm going to put up a survey. Please answer it! I want to know the answer to this!

Also, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have shown that the red beet-induced urine could help fight cancer! They explain that "beet pigments may boost levels of proteins, called phase II enzymes, that help detoxify potential cancer-causing substances and purge them from the body. " Well that's cool.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

More Mystery for the Mystery Tin!

As I was putting the items back in the tin, I discovered this-

The name "Melissa G" written in white-out on the back of the calculator. Of course it wasn't sentimental! It wasn't even mine! This belongs to Melissa G. Ok, now this is extra mysterious because I am wracking my brain and cannot think of a Melissa G I know. There's Melissa Cassut, but that's the only Melissa I can think of. I think there was another Melissa in high school and we actually dated for like on week, but I am almost positive her last name did not start with a G. Maybe it is though? Did she give me her calculator as a sign of affection? Did I borrow it once? We only had Social Studies that wouldn't make sense. Maybe I swiped it after she dumped me. I don't think I'd do that though.

The Mystery of the Tin

One day I saw a white tin that had been sitting in our closet for a long time. There is nothing that could have prepared me for what I saw that day. The items you are about to see are assembled in such a random, logic-free way that it baffles the mind. I cannot find any connecting thread between them and half of the items I have no idea why I would even keep. Many of them possess no utility in the future, no sentimental value nor monetary value.

When I opened the tin, this is what I saw-

Here's an inventory of the tin:
-1 packet of paper made from banana fiber
-1 marble memo pocket notebook
-1 Memorex cd case
-1 Unit (in the style of OP Ivy) patch
-1 TI-30x solar powered calculator
-1 piece of petrified wood
-1 charger looking device
-1 empty cassette case
-1 YAC officer lanyard
-1 plug thing
-1 punk flyer for Life Rocks!
-35 Directionality Cards (for teaching)
-1 holographic pog slammer
-1 Crabapple Academy pen
-2 protractors (one semicircle and one triangle)
-1 weird wood thing I have no idea of its purpose
-1 swiss army pocketknife
-1 book of matches
-1 index card
-1 set of post-it note
-1 set of wires

Read more!

At first glance, it seemed as if it was a container of keepsakes, tucked away to invoke feelings of nostalgia. But quickly it becomes obvious that it's not that simple. For starters, there are plenty of non-sentimental things that were in this tin-
I don't even know what this is for. Definitely not something to preserve memories.

This calculator holds no significance to me whatsoever. It definitely wasn't the calculator I had in high school or college, so it doesn't hold emotional weight in even the most abstract sense.

Here's some more random antiquated electronic stuff. Some wire that I don't think I'll ever use.

There are a few things that I found that might be keepsakes, like some petrified wood which I can't remember getting. I'm thinking it's from the Petrified Forest , but then again I remember it being such a big deal to take things from there and my parents being pretty serious about us not snagging any for ourselves. There's also this little notebook, but I only wrote in 4 pages of it, mostly mundane things like grocery lists.

The one thing that could definitely be considered sentimental is a mixed tape from my good friend Amir. It's funny looking at the playlist-
Footsteps- Pearl Jam
One of my Lies- Green Day
Dominated Love Slave- Green Day
True Colors- Phil Collins
Crash Into Me- Dave Matthews Band
Lover Lay Down- Dave Matthews Band
Tripping Billies- Dave Matthews Band
Jimi Thing- Dave Matthews Band
Acoustic Medley- Bob Marley
Wishlist- Pearl Jam
Generator- Bad Religion
I Want to Conquer the World- Bad Religion
Saw Red- Sublime
Foolish Fool- Sublime
Mary/Big Salty Hans- Sublime

That must have been when we first became friends because of the lack of good bands on there. I HATE Dave Matthews. We can see that he is just beginning to dabble in punk, which was our staple growing up (well and I listened to a lot of ska....)

It's totally bizarre. There's also the small grouping of office supply related items. The calculator, as mentioned, the protactors, the single index card, a pen... But for one, none of them are really things I'd ever use. I already have several calculators. A single index card, really? Why would I keep that?!?! and the almost used up post-it notes? And two protractors. I never use a protractor ever. I never ever need to measure angles for anything in my life except when I am teaching Math at school.

Going off themes though, I could organize them into some categories.

-things to write on: 4
-things to help calculate stuff: 3
-punk related: 2 1/2 (the mixed tape kind of counts)
-weird electronic paraphernalia- 4
-misc. items whose function is unknown- 3

Another impressive fact that adds to the odd nature of this find is where these things came from. The banana paper came from Costa Rica and I took the directionality cards to Mexico for my assignment teaching English. Add that to the United States and we have three countries represented. And neither the banana paper or cards I particularly care about!!

And that's what makes this so puzzling. So many items in here are things I care nothing about. Take for example, the punk flyer. I never went to this show. It was the Shorebirds with Life Rocks! It would have been fun and wanted to go, but I didn't care that much about missing it. I've had in my possessions hundreds of punk flyers and I don't think I have any of them anymore. Why on Earth did I keep this one?!?!?

There is one item that I was really excited to find- the metal slammer used in the game Pogs with the holographic skull on it. You would use the slammer to flip pogs over. The player was able to keep whichever pogs they successfully flipped over (and consequentially lost all the ones that didn't flip). That slammer was sweet! Alas, just as my slammer and I were discovering our amazing power together the game went out of style and I was left with this hunk of metal. At least the hunk of metal had a cool holographic skull!!

So the mystery lives on. I'm going to keep every item in there, just as I found it because it seems amazing that so many unrelated items could find themselves in the same place. I don't remember packing that tin at all. Did my mom just throw whatever was left in my bedroom into the tin? Was it put together hastily as I moved somewhere? I cannot say. If I find out, I will definitely make another post that people won't read. Ha!

New Discovery: Sitting Up

Cambria can finally sit up on her own!! Sitting up is a big milestone. She is so much happier now for it. Take for example, right now. She's sitting up hitting her Learning Drum and cooing. Before she could sit up she would lay on her back, roll on to her tummy and then get sad.

In the book Natural Childhood, they explain that "her limbs become further differentiated in their movements as she crawls, rises on to all fours and sits unsupported. This is usually attained by the eighth month. The setting position offers a new view of life. She can reach for, and grasp, objects and bring one moveable object into contact with another. She can beat the table with a spoon..."

New Discovery: Words

I am pretty sure that Cambria knows two words now. "Mama" and "to nurse." The mama word is verbal and she says over and over "Mamamamama," usually when she's hungry. The nurse word is actually a baby sign where she curls her hand over and over. Usually she'll do both "mamamamamama" and curl her little hand.

I thought "baba" was going to be first since it was the first noise she made, but looks like Mama won. She says Baba, but I don't think it's consistent enough to really know if she's talking about me or just babbling.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

New Discovery: Pockets

Ember has discovered pockets. So, now when we go on walks he always keeps his hands in his pockets. It makes walks much more anxiety-inducing because if he falls he is going to eat it. The other day at church he insisted on inching down the stairs feet first because his hands had to stay in his pockets. Again, all I could think was- man I hope he doesn't eat it.

The pocket novelty reached another level when he discovered a front pocket to his overalls.

"What this Ba?" he asked, "A pocket?"

"Yeah!" I replied.

"Oh a POCKET! I put this in my pocket," he stated as he placed a small plastic dinosaur inside.

Now you have to watch out for him. It's not just pockets that can store things of course. There is, for example, his ride-upon airplane. You lift up the seat and there is a secret stowage unit. One day I caught him placing his half-eaten quesadilla inside of it.

"Hey! You can't do that!"

And then I saw that this is a routine he developed days ago. Inside was a brown banana, which had stuck along the walls of his secret compartment stash.

Oh, that reminds me of this crazy stash I found of my own. You can find it here.

Listen to Things and It Will Be Better

It sucks doing things you don't want to do. Luckily, I have found a way to turn crappy things into awesome things. Check this out- It's a list of things I don't really like doing, matched with musical genres to make it badass.

Grading Papers = Fantasy Metal (ie: DragonForce)
Cleaning the House = Pop (Preferably British and Female-Fronted, ie: Ace of Base, Lilly Allen)
Washing Dishes = Songs of the Ocean
Playing With the Kids = Fugazi

Just kidding on one of those...

It can also be an enhancer. Like, take something pretty cool and then kick it up a few notches.

Example: Cooking Breakfast + Rock Ballads = Epic (see Classic Rock Breakfast Showdown)

So actually, that's where the washing dishes example should go- under enhancement. Of course, I like washing dishes. What do you think I am, an a*hole? baddoom chiish.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Banality of the State Capitol Tour

Want to understand the fundamental failures of "representative democracy"? Take the Denver Capitol Tour. While led by well-intentioned guides, the field trip is the best way to alienate youth, especially if they are working class or not white.