Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Kids Don't Stand A Chance

One time I was exploring the inside of Morgan public high school. There was this display case at the end of a hall-one of those attempts made by the administration to create an enriched learning environment. Inside it was a kind of biology themed presentation meant to generally represent the people making up the biology department at Morgan, and the biology-related curriculum taught at Morgan. My friend, Tim, walked up to what I was looking at and said, "If Mr. Hentschel saw this, he would weep." Inside the display case was the heading: Potential Future Species. Underneath that heading was multiple different drawings done by multiple different students depicting what the titles referred to as, "Penguin-zebra," "Jellyfish-eagle," and, "Kitty-lizard." I imagine some student teacher assigning this project, shouting over the voices of some thirty-odd high school students who had never learned to care about biology. Surely, the pictures that were selected for the display were the ones that were drawn by kids who were trying to make their friends laugh. Surely, there was a group of boys, the athletic ones, who were trying to make their friends laugh by how much their drawing skills sucked, that is, if there cared enough to do the assignment at all.
The fact is, if those kids had been in Mr. Hentschel's biology class at Judge, they would have realized that their understanding of biology was fundamentally flawed. I'm not trying to say that Judge is better than Morgan in any way. I am only pointing out the polite horror that, presumably due to the Utah State legislature's apparent and callous disregard for education, high school students are being taught concepts that undermine and invalidate all of the students' other understandings about biology. This is not being nit-picky. If a student is taught that a new species originates from two different species like a penguin and a zebra mating, thus creating a new species, the penguin-zebra, then that student's basic understanding of evolution, the most fundamental underpinning of the study of biology, is wrong.
Earlier today, which is a Sunday, I went to an AP Bio lab. In terms of students' understanding of biology, I am towards the low end of the bell curve of students in that class. AP Bio is ridiculously hard, and I am falling behind because I wasn't paying attention consistently enough over the past few weeks. Thinking back on when I was exploring the halls of Morgan, how could those kids stand a chance in AP Bio-the class that has to have classes on Sunday because there is not enough class time? Unless they had a teacher like Mr. Hentschel, which they don't, who had enough time to completely re-vamp thirty kids worth of poor study habits and false understanding, which he doesn't, then the answer is that they wouldn't. Actually, the more correct answer to that question is that they don't.

David's Stories

Two hours David was with me. When we first struck the deal two years ago, I was getting paid thirty dollars for an hour. In an unspoken fashion, David's parents and I allowed the lessons to augment to one and a half hours. That's totally ok with me. First of all, they have to drive from the border of Draper and Murray all the way to my house in Sugarhouse. Second, I'm only teaching one lesson a week. Third, I have a pretty sweet gig. I don't have to pay any taxes, show up anywhere, be in a uniform, take orders from anyone, or wake up before eleven on a Saturday morning. It almost doesn't seem fair that I get paid to play guitar with a nice, funny twelve-year-old that admires me because, oh my gosh, I'm so good at guitar. That's not mentioning that David has ADD, so about 20% of each lesson is used up on him telling stories from the past week-another reason I'm very willing to let lessons go longer than they're supposed to.
I get it. My Mom paid the same amount for half an hour with a man named Kim Driggs. To be honest, Kim did little more than listen to me and occasionally offer his standard two-cents: "It was good. I liked it." The longer I took lessons from him, the less we did anything that resembled a typical guitar lesson. He introduced me to sight-reading, basic music theory, and advanced technique early on, but his attempts to get me to actually practice these elements were fruitless. I never practiced, but I was always playing. I was grotesquely lazy with schoolwork and anything, everything that required discipline, except for songwriting. With respect to my single hobby, my lone method of mental stimulation and character-building, Kim Driggs was my role model. David is not as extreme of a case as I was, but how strange it is that I, the former archetype of the over-privileged unmotivated media-sedated American pre-teen, have become a the role model that Kim Driggs was to me. The role model that my Mom and David's parents pay for.
David's stories that he shares with me are darling. I don't want to make him sound younger than he is, but they're of a childhood that I fear is getting more and more rare in America today. He's at the ripest point, too-right when you start feeling comfortable dropping a swear word once in a while, and when you really can't help but incessantly flirt with attractive girls-especially the one's that are just your friends. He romps around with his friends around their neighborhood, and they film themselves doing stupid stuff that only they think is funny, and they don't feel bad about being politically incorrect yet. I never got in any physical altercations with anyone, and I barely ever got any exercise. I missed boyhood. But hearing his stories doesn't make me feel jealous or boring. I think my story of going from a bratty hermit to role model is just as action-packed as his stories.

It Takes A Lot Of Courage To Be An Asshole To A Little Kid

Ralph and Susan were a peculiar breed. Ralph was a large, bald man with a skull than was bumpy like an overripe pair. On top of his nose was a pair of glasses about as thick as a magazine, and underneath it was a bristly gray mustache. That is how I remember him. His wife had a weathered look about her. Her wiry black hair, streaked with gray, was parted down the middle and it stuck out nearly triangularly. She was very beautiful, and she was always smiling in a way that, when you were 6 or 7, made her seem very wise. Her husband had a way of smiling, too, that you almost couldn't see from underneath his mustache.
In my family, it was always announced when we were visiting Ralph and Susan, like we were going on a road trip. They had one of those houses that has a distinct smell. Susan was an artist, and up on the walls were her works. My favorite was not one that she had done, but one that was nonetheless in excellent taste. It was a large mural scene of a village in South America, all in the pre-Rennaissance no-vanishing-point kind of perspective. But the coolest thing was that every person in the scene was a three-dimensional woven doll that stuck out from the background to which it was attached. Other exciting features of their house included this rad synthesizer church organ from the 70's, a box of classic Star Wars action figures, and an exercise room. Ellipticals are really fun when they're taller than you are.
But every time any of us (my siblings and I) went over there, we had to sit at their kitchen table for a few minutes and act civilized before we could go romp around in their basement. One time I went over there with just my Dad. Ralph offered me a soda, and I accepted. When I set it down on the table, Ralph's eyes narrowed at me. "What do you think you're doing?" he asked in a quietly disgusted tone. Like my Dad, Ralph was very intimidating without trying, so when he put effort into grilling you, it was especially horrifying. There I was breaking some mysterious unspoken rule of manhood, and I hadn't even hit puberty yet. I think I knew that there was some element of a practical joke in the air, mostly because my Dad and Susan were still enjoying themselves. But I was still too rattled by that simple question to induct as to what I had done wrong. Ralph burst out laughing and called me a knucklehead while he fetched me a coaster to put under my soda can.
As my brother would say, it takes a lot of courage to be an asshole to a little kid. Yeah-that and a lot of self-awareness. Ralph and Susan were a sturdy, American couple because they had been there and back. What my mom told me is that Susan had severe depression that went unmedicated for a long, long time. She would periodically go AWOL and Ralph would be heartbroken in disrepair until she returned. Their periods apart and periods together were about two to three years each, and after their longest period apart, they divorced. But they got back together and in the presence of a mail-in order minister and a bunch of strangers, they were re-married over breakfast at their favorite dive cafe. Most of the other people in the restaurant weren't aware that a wedding had just taken place, for the ceremony was nothing more than three people sitting down at a table, exchanging a few words in the middle of a bustling morning.

Elena, If You're Reading This, You Were Right

            Elena was right. She didn’t need to call either of us out, and she didn’t need to tear down some poor coffee-shop brat in order to prove herself. For crying out loud, she had already referenced a Velvet Underground tune from their supposedly “lost” album and posed question on, “this weird rockabilly revival in the 80’s.” Far from pretention, she spoke as though everyone in both California and Utah had received schooling in rock ‘n’ roll history.
            I thought about the night prior when, after I had described Hannah’s cultural versatility, my brother remarked, “why is she going out with you?!” He didn’t know that the night before I explained to Hannah how sometimes it was hard to feel cool enough to go out with someone who visited her family in Germany each summer-someone who, like me, aspired to go to school in NYC, but who, unlike me, was actually mature enough to do so. I didn’t let my brother’s comment get to me because I had reasoned that I was cultured in my own, American Pie kind of way.  But now, here I was, in my room with a girl sitting on my bed next to my girlfriend who appeared to be equally well versed in Hannah’s assigned culture as in mine.
            As I became detached from the conversation, Hannah began to compensate, making jokes that she didn’t sound like she wanted to finish. I had done my best to look at our relationship objectively since the beginning. Never did I reassure her when she pointed out the flaws in her art. Every clever measure I could think of to avoid the clich├ęs of couple-dom, I saw through. Despite my commitment to this laissez-faire economic of love, I had become an extremist. I am in love with Hannah, and I judged her not for her insecurity. In fact, I found it painfully darling that she compensated in the same way I did two nights earlier when I so mercilessly compared my own worth to hers. But none of that changed that Elena was right.
            Hannah and I would get sick of each other after three weeks in Germany together. And Hannah bringing her boyfriend along would change the whole dynamic of the trip. If this trip was a privilege for me, like I had emphasized, then why did I feel so entitled to the experience now? Maybe it’s because it took me a minute to feel like I was cool enough to go to Germany with Hannah in the first place, even though she and her Mom had welcomed me since the first notion without batting an eyelash. Sort of like how, when I first met her, I didn’t believe anyone could laugh so hard, even after I had seen her do it. Or like how she loved me from the start, and although I didn’t admit it for a minute, I really loved her too. 

So Liberal That I'm Conservative

My girlfriend's Dad is a funny guy. He once told her ice-skating coach that he would marry Sarah Palin if he got the chance. Every time I've seen him, he's been wearing a long-sleeve oxford shirt tucked into black slacks. Compare this to my Mom and Bob. They're part of this posse clique which they have dubbed, "the family of friends." It's a group of rich, white doctors and assorted medically-related professionals that are all equally dedicated to spreading Obama's word and bluegrass music to the underprivileged parts of the world; Sort of like the retired-hippie version of imperialism. Currently they are whale-watching on a research boat in Antarctica. No kidding.
My biological father, on the other hand, is more like my girlfriend's Dad. He grew up in Brooklyn as the son of a proud Irish immigrant. He boasts about how when he was a kid, he loved being an alter server because whenever there was a funeral (which was every other weekend) the priest would give him a few dollars to head down to the nearest bar. There was no drinking age in NYC back then. Often when my siblings and I were growing up, we would reprimand him for being so insensitive to the social injustices of the world. He would respond by calling us, "commies."
So I think I can say I've had I've had a healthy mix of both liberalism and conservatism. My view on the world in a paragraph is this:
Its really upsets me that everybody acts as if everybody doesn't know what the most crucial and easily solvable issue in the modern world is. Education has forever been, and will always be the most fundamental benefactor of human progress. It seems to me that in the developed world's climate of constant media onslaught, the average person, in whichever country they may be in, loses track of all the social, political, moral, and environmental issues that their generation must deal with at some point, or face the consequences. If the United States put more money into education, then the numbers of those problems would decrease, and the average person would be able to breathe a little easier. It also has occurred to me that my generation's habit of sedating themselves with a never-ending stream of media stimuli has developed as a method to escape from the omnipotent notion that at any minute the world will burst into WWIII. But the more we sedate ourselves with the nihilistic and hedonistic values of popular culture, the more social issues reinforce each other. If the United States put more money into education, my generation wouldn't feel so hopelessly unprepared to deal with the problems at hand. Consequently, more would get done to solve those problems, and the vicious cycle of media sedation would come to an end.
As far as overpopulation goes, it needs to stop being considered a problem. Without the instinct to reproduce, the human race would've gone extinct a long time ago. I feel that the economy works the same way. The natural incentive to have sex and reproduce is much like the incentive to work in order to gain a more comfortable lifestyle. The irony is that once people start achieving a comfortable lifestyle, then people start committing gluttony and producing mountains of trash in places like rural China and Haiti. As for the environment, we have passed the tipping point. Global warming is here.
My mom taught me this prayer a long time ago. It was this:
please give me the courage to change what I can
the serenity to accept what I cannot
and the wisdom to know the difference."

Small Lake City

I was at a show a few weekends ago. It took place in this house right around 9th and 9th, and I didn't have to pay to get in. That was sweet. But inside was a shameful sight. The rooms were filled with the least subtle group of hipsters I have ever witnessed. Every single person, I swear, every single person had hiking boots on. Everyone wore sweaters of some solid, faded color. Everyone wore tight pants. Most of the guys had either facial hair, or long greasy hair, or both. It's like everyone was competing for the title of "most modest". Me-I was not modest.
I was in a really great mood that night because I was with my girlfriend, and I was not trying to hide that I looked good. I had black dress slacks, black dress shoes, and black suspenders, all complimented by a particularly colorful striped button-up. By the way the guys at the door looked at me, I could tell they were planning on ridiculing my naivety as soon as I was out of earshot. I obviously was not aware of the modesty competition.
And the competition wasn't restricted just to dress code. The first two acts were these coffee-shop bozos with an acoustic guitar, earnestly singing about other earnest people. There was this ginger whose eyes were sticking out in different directions. I kid you not, he was taking pictures of people he didn't know that were sitting next to him on the couch, and then he would look at his pictures, smile with satisfaction, and then look around to see if anyone was watching him.
On Halloween I was at this party and my brother, his friends, and I were droppin' it like it was hot on the dance floor. We had a really excellent streak of song selection going too-Twist and Shout by The Beatles, Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads, Life On Mars by David Bowie. Nobody else was really dancing because nobody knew how to have a good time like we did. Then this kid, sulking on the pool table, not even in a Halloween costume called out, "play something indie!" I almost went over there and gave him a piece of my mind, but my brother said I shouldn't worry about those losers.

Indie is not a genre. And people shouldn't act like any artist's indie cred makes them good. In fact, there's probably a reason why artists are indie in the first place. Its because they couldn't get signed because they sounded too much like every other shit indie band in Utah. All you have to do is turn on KRCL at any time of day, and you'll know what all these douche-y locals want to be. It's all this shoe-gazer wannabe surf-rock crap.
I'm not through with this, but it's also pretty late and I have to do well in school so I don't end up some indie loser.

Baby Boomer Hypocrisy

Mr. Van Orden talks a lot. I am an eyewitness to lectures which he has given on multiple occasions on why the now sucks so much more than the then.
Among his reasons for this opinion is that back in the day he had the time to teach sometimes two or three electives just for pleasure, including Vietnam Diplomacy and Classic American Literature. Back in the day not only did he have the time to take a dozen or so students to Washington D.C. on a school-sponsored trip, but his students also had the time to complete the required reading including the federalist papers and to complete a project displaying their family genealogy back to when their ancestors first arrived in America. Apparently when he was in high school it was not uncommon for he and his best friends to have conversations about their favorite works of Shakespeare. See, these were the reasons for why the past rocked.
He also has reasons for why the modern world sucks. Literacy rate in American high school kids is way behind other countries. In fact, American kids are way worse than most other developed countries in basic math and science classes. Studies have shown that kids are better at accessing info but we are useless at understanding the information. Of course, this is the worst rate of long-term employment since the Great Depression. Constant media onslaught shortens attention spans and lowers self-esteem.
Mr. Van Orden is not the only one. My Dad is convinced that America is becoming a nation of homogenized wussies. Mrs. Mayer woes about how overpopulation is causing the loss of culture. Mr. Hentschel describes in the most objective way he can how the overuse of antibiotics has created a selecting environment for viruses, thus leading to drug-resistant viruses. Of course, global warming is pretty much on everyone's minds all the time.
Global warming is the thing that got me thinking about the baby boomers. Obviously the scientists who first discovered global warming had to be of the baby boomer generation. It made me furious when I imagined the moment when the idea first came to whoever first thought about it. How could they be surprised? How could they not know this was bound to happen?
Then I started thinking about the causes for all those other problems. Being naught but a germ line cell, I could not be exactly held accountable for the fact that I was born into an environment in which advertising had created as unsurpassed clutter about the American psyche. I have yet to have any say in the balance of the federal budget or the inner workings of the American Teachers Union. The Baby Boomer generation is where the problem lies.
Wait, wait, wait! The baby boomer generation? The same baby boomer generation that was somehow wise enough to allot their time in such a way as to go to Washington D.C., research their entire family genealogy, and read Shakespeare for leisure on top of all the other trials of high school? That baby boomer generation?
I don't know about you, but I have a hard time believing that. I work really hard. I'm in three AP classes. I'm composing 2 string quartets and a third jazz song just to get into college. I'm in jazz band, the main stage play, and I have a girlfriend. I'm not saying that to brag (okay, maybe a little), but mostly I am saying this because I am so sick of seeing, reading, and hearing educated adults depress themselves over just how screwed our generation is. And it especially makes me mad when Mr. Van Orden talks about it because he makes it sound like its my generation's fault.
I do not think our problems are any worse than those of any other generation. I'm not doubting that our generation is totally screwed up, but that doesn't mean we're hopeless. (Not to be a brat or anything, but the baby boomers were way more racist, sexist, cigarette-smoking, and violent than we are.)
My ultimate point is that our generation gets to experience possibly the most terrifying and exciting event in natural history since the dawn of man: global warming. When global warming really heats up, it will matter not how much better at math Chinese kids are than American kids. That is not an excuse to say that we should not try to be as good at math as we can be.
But I think the baby boomers would do a lot better to help our generation overcome our problems than to count out all the things that will doom us. The basic problems are very simple and have been known for a long time. People consume too much. Education is bad. The economy is bad. There's no time to waste.


I met a very interesting guy this weekend. His name was E.T. King-at least that's what his name tag read. He was working as a waiter in the restaurant in the Oberlin Inn where I was staying. He was this short black guy with grey hair and a limp, but when he whistled while he worked it reminded me of louis armstrong's muted trumpet. My step-dad was goofing around and started taking to him, asking if I could get a gig at the inn. E.T. thought that was pretty funny entertained the topic by mentioning his rhythm & blues band, who we later found out had 11 members. I had learned by that point that anyone you meet in Oberlin is more likely than not a musician of professional quality, and our conversation naturally started shifting from small talk into something much more intimate because we followed the thread of music. As it turns out, E.T. went to school with Gladys Knight, and was a touring guitarist in the Chili Circuit. I didn't know what that meant, but I lied and said I did, though I'm pretty sure he knew I was lying because he proceeded to explain what that was. All of the old R&B labels-Capitol, Atlantic, Motown, etc.-would basically send all their biggest acts out on the same strand of venues, and they called it the Chili Circuit. Most of these groups were out of these destinations that were on the route. If you were a musician in any of those areas, and you knew how to do business, you would periodically get called in to replace a missing member of the touring band. If they liked you, they would take you along for a few shows. If they really liked you, they would tell you to take the next train up to Motown with your instrument, and whatever you needed to start living in the city.
E.T. told us what it was like playing for James Brown, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, and Gladys Knight. I asked if that meant that he had to learn every song of all those artists. The funny thing was, he explained, was that he didn't because all the songs revolved around the same kind of I, IV, V chord progression, but each artist had their own small variation. Marvin Gaye tended to go up to the minor vi, and then changed it to a major VI. Gladys Knight used augmented chords. He also said that due to each singer's voice they would have a key that they would stick in. All James Brown songs were in C, but Aretha could sing in any key.
I couldn't really hide how stoked I was that I was talking to someone as cool as him, and I let him know how in Utah, nobody plays soul music. Leaning in, he responded, "You know what I've learned about musicians over the years is that they think nobahdy do what they do. Me and my wife is sitting' at a bah, and a man walks in with his girl and he has his nose up in the air and he don't make eye contact with nobahdy, and he looks at my wife, but he don't make eye contact with nobahdy and I say to my wife, 'look-him over there-he's a guitarist,' or, 'he's a singer.'" At that moment I felt a little ashamed and lucky that I had for some reason been making an effort to greet strangers during this trip. Most of the time, I consider myself more artistic than thou. That I have contemplated life on a more meaningful level than everyone else in my proximity, and it does show. Thanks to E.T. I think a flaw in my character, disguised as a virtue, has been found out. Now I am making an effort to open up to everyone, and I believe I will be a better artist and person because of it.

Why Harry Potter Blows

After reading Lord Of The Rings, I suddenly realize that Harry Potter is a big lie.
-Of every single person who reads Harry Potter, nobody actually likes Harry. Those of you that are disagreeing with me, I bet you anything that you love Ron and Hermione, but you rarely even think about Harry. Had Harry died in the end, I bet the only reason you would have cared at all would be because Ginny would be lonely. O! Tragedy-a hot ginger girl is now single! Wait, her boyfriend was just pretending to be dead. Never mind.
-In the 5th book, a meeting with Tom Riddle and Professor Slughorn is depicted in which Tom Riddle asks about horcruxes. In this meeting, Tom Riddle specifically mentions the number 7. J.K. Rowling deliberately mentions the making SEVEN horcruxes. So how the heck would Voldemort not know that Harry was the seventh horcrux?! And if he did know, then he wouldn't want to kill him!!! There are a few explanations. Voldemort forgot. Voldemort made six and got lazy. Voldemort was extremely stupid and just didn't realize that Harry had been turned into a horcrux. The only plausible counter-argument is this: due to the prophecy Voldemort weighed his options and decided he still had Nagini and the Elder Wand, so he was willing to destroy half of his remaining soul (at that point Harry and Nagini were the only two out of the former seven that remained.) To that argument, I have only this to say: J.K. Rowling is a bad writer. That "prophecy" is the most ridiculous plot point of the whole series. It is a piece of paper covering up a giant hole in the roof of the plot of the story. And J.K. Rowling knows it, otherwise she would have said more about it. Without this prophecy that is only mentioned in one book, Voldemort would have no reason for caring about Harry. The whole plot rests upon the invention of some arbitrary literary device that really has no other connection to the plot.
-Adults are seriously retarded throughout. It reminds me of the Simpsons. Think about it this way: nobody my age (18) could break into the white house, but Harry, Ron and Hermione could break into the ministry of magic? A kid of 17 years old can hold his own against the most powerful dark wizard of all time? The kids and the adults in Harry Potter are all studying the same thing: magic. So even if you were born studying any subject-english, biology, music, math-can you plausibly imaging outsmarting someone who has been studying the same discipline as you for twenty or thirty more years than you?
-Why the fuck do these kids not care about popular music, Apple products, movies, porn, drugs, or sex? 
-Where are the American Wizards? If we heard about a terrorist wizard in London, we would be crashing the party before you could utter a syllable of your gay latin-y spells.

-Cho Chang is way hotter than Ginny.

-They split up the last movie because they wanted to make more money, and it sucked.

Well, that's pretty much it. If you don't like LOTR, I understand. Try Brave Story by Miyuke Miyabe.