Monday, July 19, 2010

Maybe more of a online diary?

Once again, it's been a couple of months since writing in this space. I'm not sure why, really. Busy? Not much to write about? Sure, those will work.

But I've decided to try another tact: online diary.

I hate the term "diary" because it smacks of pre-teen hormonal rantings in a pretty pink notebook. But I guess "journal" might be good description of what will go on here.

First of all, I have a terrible memory. Absolutely horrible. This is nothing new, my brain tunes out some things and remembers other minutiae like it happened yesterday. I fear my children's young childhood will be forgotten if I don't write down some of it. Maybe I'll just do a traditional journal, but this will be a good starting point.

Off we go:

July 18, 2010.

Owen and I went to swim at a friend's house while Lisa and Wyatt went to church. I wasn't feeling well, with headaches and fatigue from my new diet. Yeah, I'm on a low-carb diet. And no, I'm not overly excited about it. Anyway, Owen's swimming has come along quite nicely. He will jump in (with his floatee vest on) and will dog paddle around the pool by himself. He loves swimming saying, "This is pretty much the best thing I've ever done." Lisa and Wyatt joined us after their service and Wyatt skinny-dipped in the pool. It was a bit tricky keeping his head above water (ear tubes) because he wants to swim around all over the place. He loves the pool more than Owen, because the fear isn't there. He doesn't understand the dangers involved -- yet. But we all had a great time.

Lisa then went to Columbia to get some things that aren't available in Hartsville. Lots of school supplies for cheap, due to her new couponing hobby.

That afternoon, we attended the neighborhood block party. It was hot but fun for the kids. We managed to hang out with the Longs, and most people there hung out with neighbors they already knew. I guess it was the thought that counts. Lots of good food, and none of it I could eat (except two hot dogs).

This week has Lisa painting her classroom (!) and Owen trying to help her out at school. Probably not a good idea.

More later.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Compendium 5/18/2010

Not a whole lot going on these days, or I'm too busy to write about the following topics separately:

  • Owen celebrated his fourth birthday a few weeks ago. Unbelievable how time flies. It seemed like he was just coming home from the hospital...or was that Wyatt? Seriously though, I can't believe I have a four year old boy!

  • I haven't written up any reviews of The Pacific lately. I've enjoyed the miniseries immensely, I hope to finish watching the last episode tonight. The miniseries really began to grow in intensity, with hopefully a strong finish.

  • More education shenanigans, sort of: Our local county council basically underfunded the county dog pound. This brought the ire of many local residents who attended council meetings, wrote letters to the editor, and so on. Yet the school board has severe budget cuts and no one says a word -- school board meetings ill-attended, no letters, no protests. That shows you where the priorities lie here in Darlington County.

  • I co-presented a workshop for the LIBRIS 2010 conference last Friday. It was really seat of our pants, because of a death in the family of my co-presenter, but she decided to do it at the last minute. It went really well and we had some good questions and discussion.

  • Lisa finishes school next week, so my manic mornings will be done until August! Yay!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Education in South Carolina

I've just returned from the State Teacher of the Year Banquet, where a Spanish teacher from Greenville won the prestigious award for 2011. Although it would have been a great honor for Lisa to win, we're both really glad she didn't win. Maybe in a few years, should she have the honor to serve again as District T.O.T.Y, she could manage to have a family and travel across the state acting as the "education ambassador."

I was blown away by the magnitude of the celebration. Excellent food, music (all students from public schools), an open bar (!), and some great conversation with Lisa's fellow district winners. Lisa met a lot of the district winners at a conference in Myrtle Beach back in February, and had made quite a few friends. It was nice to see her enjoying herself with her peers -- peers in every sense of the word. All are just as motivated as she is in the classroom, and I think it was rejuvenating for her to spend time with like-minded people. I certainly enjoyed seeing her connect with these great teachers.

With the good times comes some clouds on the horizon. Hanging over everyone's head was the inevitable budget problems that every district in the state will be forced to deal with (if they haven't already). Furloughs, pay cuts, supply cuts, lost jobs, bigger classes are just a few of the plethora of bad news our besieged schools have been dealing with.

We actually got to go the SC Statehouse (which I shamefully have never been to before -- it was stunning), where the teachers were recognized in both chambers of the legislature. With this came the revelation that the current budget level for public education in South Carolina is at 1995 levels. Unreal, considering the population boom since then. There aren't any easy answers, of course, and that was a point that was struck home by our own state Senator, Gerald Malloy.

Lisa and I got to speak with him about what his thoughts were -- tax reform on the state level as a start -- but he criticized Lisa's school district's handling of the funding surplus. Evidently, Darlington County School District uses the highest percentage of tax revenue allowed by state law. However, not all of the money goes into the yearly budget of the district. Some of these funds are held in a rainy day account for emergency use. Someone mentioned that it was recommended that the districts carry 5-10% of their budget in this account, or about enough funding for 3 months of expenditures. Lisa knew about this, and due to her frugal nature, disagreed with Senator Malloy about this rainy day fund.

I like the middle road (what a shock!) - use some of this fund now, and save some for a contingency. Replenish the fund when the economy rebounds. If it isn't "raining" in South Carolina right now, then what would they consider rain?

All in all, it was a great 24 hours. Although I was always proud of Lisa's accomplishments as a teacher, I've never been more proud than I was today.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More Shenanigans from Liberal Cereal Guy

A few posts ago, I spoke about a friend of ours who is delightfully ignorant. This guy, although not a bad guy, is just clueless about how the rest of the country and world lives. To be honest, he listens to too much Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. But there are other issues here.

I recently learned that he has never taken his now two year old daughter to the pediatrician by himself. He rarely spends time alone with her. His wife claims that he "just isn't good" with her. So either his wife or her mother goes with him to the doctor. Once again, he is a professional in a related medical field. Unbelievable.

I've heard this before in this areas -- fathers being remote from their kids, often with in-laws or their own parents taking a larger role in their kid's lives, at least early on. But nothing like this.

I know I probably do too much compared to other fathers, but give me a break. How can you not manage to take your kid by yourself to the pediatrician ONCE in 25 months?

Tomorrow, I will be taking Owen to get "tested" for his placement in 4K. By myself. I can handle it.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Going without TV...sort of

We decided not to renew or extend our DirecTV contract when it ended late last month. At $80 a month for one receiver, the second tier package (which includes Sprout and VS. for my hockey addiction), HD access, and the service plan, it got to be a little more than what we wanted to spend. I suppose we could have cut the HD access and second tier programming, but even then it would still be around $65. The service plan paid for itself easily -- we'll definitely get it again.

Even if they gave us a great deal for renewing, it would have lasted about 6 of the 24 months of the contract, and probably would have ended up near $100 a month at the end of the term. Unreal.

To be honest, we really don't watch a lot of live television. The boys (well, Owen) watch videos and we watch streaming TV shows on the computers. Fortunately, Netflix started streaming their online content on the Wii a few days before shutting down our subscription to DirecTV. Great timing!

Netflix has tons of kids programming on there, including about 7 seasons of the lion series of Voltron, a favorite of my childhood. I was 11 when it was on though, so I am a little shocked at how much Owen likes it.

It should be interesting, and after 10 days, we don't miss it yet. We'll see how long we can hold out!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Pacific Miniseries, Part Two Review

Yeah, I'm more than a little late on this one. I haven't seen part three yet (it aired last night), but I hope to get to it last night.

Part Two had more pure action scenes than the first episode, which isn't very surprising. A setup episode was needed, and that happened more or less in Part One. Eugene Sledge finally is allowed to join the Marines, even with his father's disapproval. He'll be trained and ready for the Peleliu invasion (September 1944) and for Okinawa.

This episode concentrates on our in-country Marines, Leckie and Baslione. Leckie's beleaguered unit is in a defensive position on the outskirts of Henderson Field. The supply issue becomes a major problem for everyone on Guadalcanal, including the Japanese. The Marines take to looting the newly arrived U.S. Army unit, helping themselves to the food and other goodies that their own quartermasters lack.

Leckie even gets sick from canned peaches, probably due to some bug or virus picked up on the island. Other members of his platoon have dysentery or malaria on top of the mental scars of seeing friends and comrades masticated by the gears of war.

It was interesting that both Leckie and Basilone's units use an air raid as a diversion to raid the Army's supply depot. For the most part, the Japanese had air superiority over the skies of Guadalcanal until the island fell completely under U.S. and Allied control. The newly landed Army units didn't know that the Japanese attacked the airfield and not the supply dump, which allowed the Marines free access to the unguarded dump. However, after Midway, the Marianas "Turkey Shoot", Battle of the Bismarck Sea, and other battles across the Pacific ocean, the Japanese would relinquish air superiority. The IJA and Navy would no longer have enough trained pilots or aircraft to mount raids or attack Allied shipping. This was true for invasion of Normandy and the fall of Germany -- not enough planes, pilots and fuel to attack the Allied forces. It is a great morale boost not having to look above the battlefield for threats, like the German and Japanese soldiers had to do for most of the war.

The rest of the episode centered around Sgt. Basilone's epic defense of Henderson Field, which won him the Medal of Honor. He essentially was the lynch pin of the airfield's defense against a massive Japanese attack. At one point, he had to clear a mound of dead and wounded Japanese soldiers from his field of fire -- quite dangerous indeed. During the battle, he loses a close friend and one of the central characters in his platoon.

A very good episode, and I can't wait to see the next one!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Pacific Miniseries, Part One review and other comments

I remember hearing about The Pacific a couple of years ago. I knew Hanks, Spielberg and Company would be involved and that alone would guarantee it would be an excellent miniseries. Captain Dale Dye, technical adviser to many films and a capable actor himself, provided an excellent blog during the filming and post-production of the film. The blog gave real insight into the preparations and training of the actors and stunt performers.

This began a keen interest in all things Pacific Theater. I knew vaguely about the Pacific Theater -- Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Battle of Midway Island -- but nothing in depth like my knowledge of the European Theater. I read the books that the miniseries is based on -- Robert Leckie's Helmet for My Pillow and Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed... -- plus William Manchester's excellent Goodbye Darkness: a Memoir of the Pacific War. Patrick K. O'Donnell's compilation of Pacific veterans' oral histories Into the Rising Sun: World War II's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat gave some interesting background to most of the major battles as well as the many atrocities committed by both sides. I had read James Bradley's two Pacific books a few years ago: Flyboys and Flags of our Fathers. I even read a fictional account of the invasion of Japan, called Death is Lighter Than A Feather by There are probably a couple of books I've forgotten about and there are plenty of fictional accounts out there, my favorite being The Thin Red Line by James Jones.

The common theme for many of these books is the brutality of the fighting. From the hostile climate of the Pacific island battlefields, to the vast Pacific Ocean, the war was not in a pleasant place to fight. Malaria, dysentery, various parasites, as well as snakes and insects probably caused as many casualties as Japanese bullets, bombs or bayonet.

The nature of the fighting itself was brutal. Japanese children were raised in a militaristic environment where failure brought shame to not only you, but your entire family. Dying for the Emperor was a high honor. Sadism to other prisoners and other ethnic groups deemed inferior (Chinese, Koreans, Malaysians etc.) were commonplace. Bradley talks about captured airmen being tortured and eaten (!) on Chichi Jima in his book Flyboys. The Rape of Nanking is another horrific chapter in Japanese military history. Bataan Death March. Hell Ships. Cabanatuan, Camp O'Donnell, Changi Prison, the Burmese-Thai Railroad...the list is nearly endless. American forces weren't immune to such abuses, and I'm hopeful that The Pacific shows these incidents (they were mentioned in both books). The lack of regard for the enemy combatant was not unique to the Pacific theater, but certainly not a mainstay of the European theater, as far as United States forces were concered. The Eastern Front of the ETO was a different story. The Soviets and Germans had no love or regard for each other.

We get a glimpse of the brutality in the first episode. After a long night on Guadalcanal, a group of Japanese emerges from the jungle. If my memory is correct, these were the remnants of a larger group either retreating from or attacking the key airfield on Guadalcanal (Henderson Field, which is still the airport's name today). The Marine combat unit (I think a heavy weapons platoon, but I'm going to have to double check) set an ambush at Alligator Creek and massacred these forces (battalion sized) during the night. These few soldiers emerge and are instantly cut down by the platoon, except for one lone soldier. The Marines toy with this crazed soldier, shooting his arm and shoulder, never going for the kill shot. He screams at the Marines to kill him, and most still toy with him. He is finally put out of his misery by our central character for that episode (picture above), but not without his fellow Marines admonishing him for ruining their fun.

I've read where this macabre sense of humor was one coping mechanism used by soldiers and Marines -- albeit subconsciously -- to keep their sanity. That certainly was evident in this scene, as they laughed at the hapless and deranged soldier. Their time on Guadalcanal will only get worse, as supplies grow short due to Japanese naval blockades and air raids.

The opening scene was of Eugene Sledge getting examined by his father, a prominent physician in Mobile, Alabama. Sledge is the second character that will prominently be seen in Pelielu and Okinawa. It is shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the country is in a fever pitch to get back at those dastardly Japanese. Like many of his friends, Eugene wants to join the Marines as soon as possible. When his father detects a heart murmur, he is devastated. He literally cries at the thought that he can't enlist and protect his country. It really got me thinking about our society and culture today. Granted, we did have a nice bump in enrollment after 9/11, but it has been nine years since that awful day. This current generation of kids whines about having to walk five minutes from the dorm to our library, for crying out loud. We are spoiled and pampered -- I am no exception to this.

The third character is eventual Medal of Honor winner John Basilone, who will be prominently featured in the second episode. He was a pre-war Marine, who joined in 1940, served in the Philippines before they fell in late 1941. They use his character, via a briefing of NCOs by Colonel Chesty Puller, to introduce the entire series with an overview of what would eventual unfold -- island hopping over a vast ocean. A great technique, and very effective even for someone who knows how the war was fought out there. We also meet his family and briefly see him as he lands as a reinforcement in Guadalcanal.

Needless to say, I can't wait for the second episode.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Random Musings

It's been a while, so naturally I have a few things on my mind.

1. For one reason or another, we found ourselves in Florence (SC) the last two Saturdays. I really haven't been there in quite some time, perhaps since early January. Florence has the closest Target, Best Buy, big book stores, and so on. We go there anytime we need to get those (many) items that aren't available in Hartsville. I am pleased to announce that both the mall and other stores (Kohl's) appeared to be fairly busy. The mall actually looked busier than it did in late November, at the height of the Christmas shopping season. Even if it's people spending tax refunds, I'll take it. It's good to see people spending money again.

2. In an interesting profile of Billy Corgan in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine (links to the TOC, article isn't online yet), former Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain talks about his departure from the band. Nothing earth shattering there, or that Corgan's ego is still firmly in place despite being a pop culture non-entity since 1996. Chamberlain had an excellent quote about the current state of music:
"Music is such a small part of people's lives now...People don't sit around like they did in the Nineties and stare at album covers and think about Kurt and Billy."
This got me thinking about popular music -- do kids today listen to music the same way we used to back in Nineties? Or is this a disgruntled rock star venting about his former boss?

3. Maybe the most interesting thing about using Facebook is having friends from disparate universes argue with each other. For instance, an elementary school friend that I haven't seen since the other Bush was the P.U.S.A. got into a debate with my brother-in-law. Wild!

4. I'm not surprised that Darlington County had one of the lowest rates of return for the 2000 Census. The level of ignorance around here is stunning. Filling out the form takes minutes and might have made a difference here.

5. In related news, my wife had a PTO meeting last week -- staying at work until 7 PM, making for a 12 hour day -- and only two of her kids' parents showed up. Baseball practice > School function, evidently.

6. Wyatt will soon be 18 months old and Owen will be four in May. Unbelievable how time flies! We've been trying some gluten with Owen, and we haven't seen any negative results. We actually spent the night with my parents and he didn't have an issue with the cat, either.

7. We've finally started seeing signs of Spring around Hartsville. It has been the longest, coldest winter that I've had since leaving Pittsburgh in 1990. It rarely made it out of the 40s from late December until the end of February. Several weeks during that time, the temperatures never made it out of the 30s. It snowed three or four times, twice with significant accumulation. We had an ice storm, knocking out power for six hours. So weird! But I've really appreciated upper 50s-low 60s the last ten days or so.

8. The Pacific miniseries has started on HBO. Not surprisingly, it is excellent and I really enjoyed the first episode. HBO is streaming the first episode, but will make you buy HBO or maybe pay for the streams after that. Great marketing move for them -- and I think a unique one at that. They control their programming pretty tightly, so this is a big step forward (from my standpoint).

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Liberal Cereal and Study Abroad Amended

Here is an actual conversation between some friends of ours:

Husband: What is this cereal?
Wife: It's Cinnamon Harvest, for my diet.
Husband: But why are you eating liberal cereal?
Wife: Huh? What?
Husband: It's organic liberal cereal.
Wife: Oh. Lisa gave it to me.
Husband: Well, there you go. She voted for Obama.

Yes, this is an actual conversation that occurred recently. I wasn't aware that a cereal could have political leanings, but evidently it does.

Now, the husband in this tale is not some mouth-breathing, slack-jawed dullard who rambles the aisles of the local Wal-mart in a tattered Gamecocks t-shirt. He has a advanced professional degree and currently works in a demanding and competitive field.

So, humble readers, what is his problem?

The main problem is that he hasn't really lived or traveled out of this rural community.

One area that will probably emerge from Coker's strategic plan is the need for increased, if not mandatory, study abroad/study away. With most (upwards of 70%) of our students coming from less than 45 minutes away from campus -- from some of the most rural and under-performing school districts in the state and thus the country -- the need to have the students see the world (or at least a different part of our country) is extremely important for growth.

I was fortunate to attend an awards dinner for our past and present study abroad scholarship winners. Most had never been abroad and all were deeply moved by their experiences. The problem is cost -- these trips routinely cost $1000-3000 (at least) depending on the length of the trip. Perhaps if we build that cost into tuition and send a large percentage outside of expensive Europe (South America perhaps), we could expand participation in these programs.

Back to my friend. Not surprisingly, he isn't a big reader, either. I asked what books he had read lately and he kind of shrugged. I expected him to say Left Behind, but he didn't even go there.

Knowledge and learning aren't stressed here very highly, despite our friend's seemingly high level of education. People tend to look down on others that are worldly or well-read.

How do we change this mindset? How do we get people to read for pleasure, to acquire intellectual curiosity?

It starts at home and complemented by formal education.

But until that time, our national reputation becomes a punchline:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Again into the Fray

I don't even know what the title means. I guess into the fray of blogging.

Anyway, another year has begun...2010. Sounds so futuristic. I remember being a little kid thinking 2000 was so far away, but here I am living in the future.

Wyatt got his ear tubes last month, so we've been antibiotic free for almost 40 days now! He is feeling a lot better now and seems to be talking a lot more...although it is his patented form of Ewok and Vietnamese. Although he has always had a pleasant disposition, he is just really happy right now. He must have had a lot of discomfort with his ears for quite some time -- constant pain for months.

Owen is Owen -- funny, stubborn and wickedly smart. He has a steel trap memory and recalls minute details of sights and conversations from months ago. He obviously gets the memory from his mother, because it is a good day if I remember what I had for breakfast this morning (oatmeal!)

Here are some things I hope to accomplish this year:

  1. Lose 25 pounds. Yeah, original I know...
  2. I would like to run a mile. Silly, but I haven't really done that yet. I always walked it in high school
  3. Become a flexitarian. I'm not sure if I would miss meat or not, but I have already started to cut back on the meat intake.
  4. I would really like to get up to Pittsburgh for one more Penguins game in the Mellon Arena, but it's probably cost prohibitive at this point. Everyone and their brother will be doing that this Spring, and there are only a handful (less than 20) games left.
  5. Bake my own bread. I miss making bread and cookies -- why do I only do that during the holidays? I have a great whole wheat bread recipe, but it takes 12-24 hours to proof -- so I have to plan ahead
Five accomplishments is enough for now.