Caveat: Venter

Think about all of the things that make your brain itch. These are mine.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Passive Anti-Intellectualism

I have been hearing, for a few months now, talk of being "open to all possibilities." This comes from a particular quarter that takes a hybrid non-traditional spiritual view of the world, but let's leave religion and 19th-century Transcendentalism out of this for a moment. Claiming that people should be "open to all possibilities" is anti-intellectual.

The moon, we have known for quite some time, is not made of cheese. The Earth is not flat. Ghost hunters have yet to explain why their gear doesn't go crazy in every hospital on the planet. The list of "possibilities" really is not so long as some might like to argue.

You see, the problem here is that I have yet to hear this from someone with the background to discuss the very possibilities being proposed. "A little learning is a dangerous thing" (no, the word "knowledge" is not in the actual quote) is apt here. Sadly, it is wearying to hear arguments made by those who have no evidence and who are not versed enough in the relevant fields to manage the evidence that does exist. This is how cults are born. Go ahead, read some David Koresh at some point. The man was a master of argument because he knew the texts he was citing. Those who followed him, it would appear, lacked that same depth of knowledge.

Now, if only we can get to the point at which being "open to possibilities" need not include being open everything. Maybe we can get past the binary space in which one's not being open to something does not mean being closed to everything that is not what one currently believes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Minty Fresh

OK, so Sacajewea was not popular on the dollar coin, so what does the U.S. Mint plan to dostarting next year? Why, Presidents, of course. Fear not, however, while they will begin with Washington and proceed in order, we need not worry about stained dress and Iraqi quagmire debates; the Mint is stopping with Watergate. In a little over nine years we will have a couple more presidential elections and should see numbers 38 and 39 die of old age, clearing the way for at least three more coins (Reagan, of course, is already in the ground, so number 40 is covered).

I suppose this has a certain educational value in that students growing up during that period will learn the order of succession, but here are the highlights.

Grover Cleveland, the only President to serve non-consecutive terms (Teddy Roosevelt failed to get back in as the Bull Moose party candidate after four years of watching veep-turned-prez Taft undo Roosevelt's policies), will get two coins in 2012.

William Henry Harrison will be minted, like the rest, for three months, making the period he gets honored on U.S. currency exceed his term of office by two months. He died of pneumonia after only a month in office, having insisted on giving his excessively long innaugural address, against sound advice, in terrible weather; the resulting pneumonia gave us Tyler, too.

James Garfield will be minted for almost half the period he served in office. As one of the four U.S. Presidents to be assassinated, Garfield served the second shortest period of any, lasting only a little over six months before succumbing to injuries related to a bullet unfound in his body after he was shot in a Washington D.C. train station.

Every U.S. military engagement will be represented, through the Korean Conflict. The fall of Saigon took place during President Ford's tenure, meaning that if the Mint extends its designs to include those former Presidents who die before the completion of the program, we will likely be left with everything through Vietnam, and possibly through Desert Storm (George Herbert Walker Bush is currently 82, and the program will not end before he enters his 90s, assuming he proves as hardy as Carter).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Brutally Bond

My wife and I just returned from seeing Casino Royale, and here are a few spoiler-free notes and comments.

Let me start off by saying that anyone who knows me is well aware that I am a fan of the James Bond franchise. Furthermore, anyone who knows my wife is aware that she is not a fan. She complained that I was "dragging" her to see it. Her complaints ended before the teaser had ended, and it's easily the shortest teaser in any Bond film (no, a lack of teaser does not qualify).

My two favorite films in the first twenty films are From Russia With Love and For Your Eyes Only. Both are relatively low-gadget, high-espionage films with a minimum of gratuitous scenes (within the context of Bond films, anyway). They now rank #2 and #3. Quite simply, Casino Royale is the best Bond film to date. Why? Because it is a film first and a Bond film second.

Don't get me wrong here: Casino Royale has everything (except the opening credit stylings) we have come to expect, but this one is a story. Better, it is a story about Bond, about M, about getting the job done with often reckless disregard for life and limb. But what is most impressive is that there is not a scene out of place, not a character who isn't right. Everything that is in the film, must be in the film, for all 144 minutes (a Bond record).

Daniel Craig, in case anyone was wondering, has every promise of unseating Connery as the definitive Bond. He already makes Connery, a former Mr. Universe competitor for Scotland, look like a wimp. He takes more of a beating than any Bond before, and he takes more chances with his life than any human ever should, even for Queen and country. He gets cuts, bashed, beaten badly, and tortured. Amid it all, Craig gives his Bond the best dark humor of the series. A couple of the actors have tried to show the nearly sociopathic cruelty of the character. Craig revels in. This ain't your papa's James Bond.

Having just said that, there is more pathos in Casino Royale than even the final scene of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a stronger Bond girl that any except (possibly) Diana Rigg's Tracy, and more powerful fights and chases than, well, most films I have ever seen, even outside of the franchise.

The teaser is tight, essential. The first half hour will make the best Bond action of the past feel like an insufficient warm-up. The poker game is perfect, even thrilling. The ending, which often feels just a few minutes off, is pure Bond. True Bond fans will see it coming when the real finale one arrives, and newcomers will appreciate it.

One last note: Chris Cornell's title song "You Know My Name" may well be near the top of Bond tunes.

I pity those who, by choice or circumstance, do not see this sooner rather than later. As those who know me can attest, I am rarely one to say, "See this in the theatre," even for Bond films.

See Casino Royale in the theatre. Soon.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Reasons I Teach


OK, a longer post might be necessary.

When I entered Bellevue Community College in 1987, I took Darkroom Lab Techniques and Intro to Shakespeare. I wanted to start out with the easy stuff, and two years of photography made lab techniques no problem. Shakespeare is a given in K-12, so that was in the bag. During the second week of classes, my English instructor wrote a note on the board that the Reading Lab and the Writing Lab each needed tutors. "Great!" I thought, "A job." My mother had drummed into me—her father had done it to her in his day—grammar. I dared not confuse my subjective and objective pronouns for fear of even the most gentle correction.

I was brought on as a tutor in the Writing Lab, where I worked with numerous students who taught me. I helped them with their writing, but they helped me with something more important: They taught me that I had a talent for helping other people understand things, and that is the one true duty of all teachers. There is nothing in my life that compares to the joy of recognizing comprehension, particularly in one who had assumed the material was beyond reach.

Teaching, for those of us who believe passionately in the work, is an addiction. We want to be there for that moment of learning, that simple event more elegant than the best explanation of the Big Bang, and more powerful. We want, quite simply, to bear witness to those great moments that the students generate, godlings making their own universes.