Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Solution to the Presidential Debate

Let me tell you how they used to do things back in the day. When our country first started electing presidents in 1789, candidates didn’t pick vice-presidential running mates and hit the ticket together. The vice president was the guy who got the second-most Electoral College votes in the presidential race.

For example, even though George Washington won his first two elections uncontested (he was basically the country’s biggest celebrity at the time because of his Revolutionary War feats), John Adams became his vice president because he had the second most Electoral College votes both times.

By the third election in 1796, when Federalist Adams won the election by a slight margin over Democratic-Republican Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson became the vice president even though he was of the opposing political party. Even Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, brought aboard Democrat Andrew Johnson for his second term, and Abe’s like the greatest president in the history of the world.

Eventually, however, party systems became more defined, philosophies between the two continued to widen, and American citizens started aligning themselves with these parties a little more passionately.

Enter 2008, where we’re all fighting over which presidential candidate is the one to lead us out of the crapstorm our country has become. For what I feel are very obvious reasons as a middle-class educator, I’m leaning heavily towards Obama, but I’ve got nothing against John McCain. I liked him in 2000 when he lost to Bush in the Republican primaries. I get that he brings a lot of experience to the table. That’s a good thing, I’ll admit it. Why not go ahead and say it—I like both candidates on some level.

It’s Sarah Palin who scares the hell out of me. She’s aloof and na├»ve (and believes dinosaurs roamed the earth 4,000 years ago, even though Science proves otherwise), and considering McCain could keel over any minute, I can’t imagine her as the Chief of Staff of our military. She’s no good as a potential president, and honestly neither is whitebread oldschool senator Joe Biden, who for some reason really reminds me of that creepy vice president from “24” who was always plotting against Jack Bauer.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Why not bring it back to the oldschool and stick the loser with the winner to form our president/vice president combo in ’08? Wouldn’t you think the nation could stomach Obama a lot more easily if McCain was his vice president? Same thing for the vice versa; wouldn’t Obama help keep McCain honest while the new Republican president did all he could to close out the war in Iraq, which clearly is McCain’s primary focus?

Most importantly, if some redneck yokel knocks off Obama, or if McCain keels over during a high-stress round of BINGO at the local Methodist church hall, we’ve got a competent guy to back things up. Not… (Gulp!)… Sarah Palin, smiling and winking at the helm of our great country.

You’re welcome to call me a moron for voting for Obama, and you can argue McCain’s case all you want. I’m used to it (oddly, most of my friends are voting Republican). It’s not going to change my mind. But how can you tell me that this idea isn’t a great solution to the issue of a split country? Why have a bipartisan system of government if both parties aren’t represented prominently in the executive branch? If it worked for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, then dammit, it can work for these guys, too.

I leave you today with some outstanding facts about presidents past. I promise you’re going to love this stuff. Some of these blew my mind. Make sure you all get out there and vote on Tuesday!

Presidential Did-You-Knows

  • There were more Episcopalian presidents than any other religion.
  • Abraham Lincoln had no religious affiliation.
  • Four of our presidents never actually ran for president (John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur)
  • Gerald Ford was the only president to have run for president, but never actually get elected to the office.
  • George Washington won his two terms as president unopposed. The only other president to win an election unopposed was James Monroe’s second term.
  • Three pairs of presidents defeated each other over the course of their presidential careers: John Quincy Adams beat Andrew Jackson in 1824, but then Jackson beat Adams in 1828. Martin Van Buren defeated William Henry Harrison in 1836, then Harrison defeated Van Buren in 1840. Finally, Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland in 1888, then Harrison defeated Cleveland in 1892.
  • Grover Cleveland was the only president to serve as president in two non-consecutive terms.
  • Washington is the only president to have ever received 100% of the Electoral College votes.
  • James Madison was the half first cousin twice removed of George Washington.
  • Zachary Taylor was the second cousin of James Madison.
  • Theodore Roosevelt was more closely related to Martin Van Buren than he was to Franklin Roosevelt. (Teddy was a third cousin twice removed to Van Buren and a fifth cousin to FDR).
  • The Bush clan is distantly related to Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, and Gerald Ford.
  • Five presidents allegedly have some mix of Caucasian and African blood. According to the U.S. law of their time, that would make them African-American. It’s hard to prove this, but if it’s true, the following are our five black presidents: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding, and Dwight Eisenhower.
    James Buchanan was the only bachelor president.
  • Three presidents had children out of wedlock: Thomas Jefferson (famously with one of his slaves), Grover Cleveland, and Warren Harding.
  • Only three presidents never had any children: James Madison, James Polk, and James Buchanan. Remind me not to name my son James. Apparently that leads to infertility and/or loneliness.
  • Ronald Regan was the only president to get a divorce.
  • John Quincy Adams was the only president who did not belong to any political party.
  • Two presidents were accused of killing men outside of war; Andrew Jackson was a big duel guy, and George Washington was accused of murdering a French ambassador during peace time.
  • The following presidents all owned slaves at some point in their lives: George Washington,
  • Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, Zachary Taylor.
  • Only ten of our 42 president had facial hair. Make that 43 after this next election, because neither Obama nor McCain has any facial hair (unless you count McCain’s crusty old man fuzz underneath his 72-year-old chin).

Monday, October 27, 2008

More Halloween History, Courtesty of YouTube

This sort of corroborates some of the Halloween historical knowledge I dropped on you last week. It's only about three minutes long and offers some new facts even I didn't know after doing research on Wikipedia for approximately 12 mintues.

And is it me, or does the narrator of this piece sound WAY too happy to be voicing over something that clearly needs a Vincent Price type of persona?


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Animal Abuse

Amy and I didn't have to buy our cats Halloween costumes, but we did. I'm not sure if this counts at animal abuse or not, so feel free to call PETA and ask them. We're okay if you tell on us and they smear red paint all over the front of our house. It was absolutely worth it.
Buddy was a pirate (pictured above), and BB was a cowboy. Click HERE for entire slideshow.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals

I loved this WAY too much. Watch both clips for the full effect!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Leroy Jenkins

Since my student teacher has the full course load right now, I'm running low on things to do. To occupy myself I started writing a story where the "hero" is an uncoordinated high school kid that plays World of Warcraft and writes novels about vampires and dragons. I've read plenty of Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, so I get the whole fantasy literary genre, but I know jack squat about online fantasy video games.

To remedy that, I did some research yetserday to get a general sense of what World of Warcraft is all about. Essentially you create a character and then go into a world with a bunch of other nerds who also created characters and you go on quests to kill monsters and get jewels and stuff. Super exciting, right? Gotta be considering there are over 10 million people currently paying to play this online game right now.

In any event, my research led me to this video, which from my understanding is rather old, but which also made me laugh so hard yesterday I had tears in my eyes. Totally alone in the English prep room, I'm crying because I'm laughing so hard. You've just gotta watch. Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Lesson on Halloween

When I got to thinking about Halloween today, I realized that the entire thing is ridiculous. We dress up in costumes, yell “trick-or-treat” to get candy (why not just ring the doorbell and ask the kind lady, “May I please have some of your communal candy?”), and carve faces into pumpkins.

Why do we do all of these things? Mr. Brigham did a little bit of research, boys and girls. So get out your notes, and no you may not use the bathroom.

Why? Because I’m just getting ready to start the lecture and you’re only five minutes removed from a 40-minute lunch period.

Well, maybe you need to budget your time a little better at lunch and decide what’s more important—relieving your bladder or finding out what your table-mate thinks about what happened on “Laguna Beach” last night. You can pee your pants for all I care, but you’re going to sit there and listen to what I have to say.

Whew. Now…

Jack-o-Lanterns

Ever wonder why carving a couple holes into a pumpkin and sticking a flickering candle inside suddenly changes that mild-mannered pumpkin into a Jack-o-lantern? The answer is both surprisingly simple, and surprisingly complex.

Let’s start with the simple. “Jack-o-lantern” is a contraction of “Jack of the Lantern,” which is a synonym for will-o-the-wisp. Ta-dah!

So what the hell is a will-o-the-wisp, right? It’s the phenomenon of glowing lights appearing over bogs at twilight, like there’s some spirit out there waving a lantern. The name Jack was tagged on in an early incarnation of the Irish folklore associated with will-o-the-wisps. The story goes that a ne’er-do-well named Drunk Jack made a deal with the Devil where he offered his soul if Satan would pick up his significant bar tab. Jack later tricks the Devil to stay alive, but he eventually has to die and since he’s a bad dude, and he pissed off the Under-Lord, he’s neither welcome in heaven nor in hell. As punishment, he is only given an ember from the fires of hell so that he may wander around bogs at twilight for some reason (wouldn't living in hell be a worse punishment? This is a stupid story.) Drunk Jack keeps this ember in a carved turnip, creating a lantern for his ghostly eternity. (This is where I flick the flashlight on and off rapidly while laughing hysterically.)

So they’ve been carving up vegetables in Ireland and Britain ever since, but we in the U.S.A. didn’t start carving pumpkins until the early 1800s. Actually, it was first done here as part of harvest celebrations, and it didn’t even latch on to Halloween imagery until much later.

Wearing Costumes

Halloween originates from the Pagan Celtic holiday of Samhain, which is the eve of the Catholic Church’s All Saint’s Day. While a lot of popular histories about Halloween claim that masks and costumes always have been a part of the holiday, there are few primary resources to actually prove this.

In truth, costumes didn’t really even become popular in American until the early 1900s, and they weren’t mass produced for children until trick-or-treating got going heavily in the 1930s. I’d love to say that we wear costumes on October 31st because it’s some big tradition dating back hundreds of years, but I can’t. We wear them because it’s fun to dress up once a year. Also, skanky college chicks need an excuse to dress like the slut version of Alice in Wonderland so that they can give away their lady goods in exchange for a few Jell-o shots and lame drunken compliments like, “You’re so beautiful tonight, baby. Let’s go find an empty closet and grope each other.”

The most popular costumes for kids in 2007 included princesses, witches, and Spider-Man, followed closely by Disney characters and (this one I couldn’t believe) Star Wars characters. Why can’t former nerds-turned-parents just let their children pick out their own costumes? What six-year-old is begging their dad to let them dress up like baby Chewbacca when there are Power Rangers and Finding Nemos to choose from?

Trick-or-Treat!

This one, like everything else Halloween related, dates back to a Celtic legend where spirits roaming the earth freely on All Hallow’s Eve (October 31) would come to people’s homes asking for treats. If they did not receive the best treat that homeowner had to offer, a trick would be in order. I’m not sure what sort of tricks spirits used to pull back in the day of yore, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with lighting a flaming bag of dog poo on front stoops and then ringing the doorbell and hiding in the bushes. Facts are facts, people.

In truth, I don’t see the point of yelling “trick-or-treat” anymore, because almost everybody has candy to give kids anyway. And besides, what sort of “trick” should I expect from a six-year-old dressed up like The Little Mermaid? What’s she going to do if I don’t fork over a Snickers bar? I could maybe see her crying a little bit, but that’s a crappy trick. Put some effort into it. Show some originality.

Nowadays, kids do their trick-or-treating during the light of the early afternoon, but when I was a kid we always ran around at night. Something in the ambience of the evening made the experience so much more enchanting, but all that changed when child rapists started putting razor blades in the apples. What child is going to eat an apple in their Halloween stash anyway? What red-blooded American toddler forgoes Skittles and Laffy Taffy for a piece of real, live fruit? If it were me, by November 8th there would be a nearly-empty candy bowl harboring only a few empty gum wrappers, a couple of uneaten peppermints from the weird old lady around the corner, and a rotted, completely in-tact apple. Parents should’ve used a little more common sense before taking their candy to hospitals to get it x-rayed for needles and blades (I swear that really happened—it’s too ridiculous to make up).

So there you go. You learned some things about Halloween today. Hopefully you’ll go to bed tonight feeling proud of yourself for all the knowledge you’ve accumulated. Then you’ll wake up, burn your skanky Alice in Wonderland getup, and carve yourself a couple of pumpkins.

For my pumpkin this year, I’m carving the symbol “pi” into it. You know, 3.14? Pumpkin Pi! Get it?!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Techno Logic

At the high school where I teach, all the sophomore are abuzz about the possibility of ordering their class rings. The guys are excited because they get to pretend like it’s a championship ring for their favorite sports team, and the girls are excited because they’ll demand possession of their boyfriends’ rings minutes after these young men receive them, only to wrap them in colored string until it fits their twitterpated little fingers.

Ah, to be fifteen again.

I do remember getting my class ring. Blue stone, 14k gold, “2000” arched around the front of the ring, and my name imprinted on the side along with academic and basketball icons for personalization purposes. It was awesome.

(Note: I didn’t have a girlfriend to yoink my ring away the day they were shipped to Central High School, but a later gal-pal did keep it for over two years, holding onto it during our rocky “half broken-up” stage, then conveniently losing it—or pawning it—when the split was final. Worst $300 I ever spent. Gentlemen, don’t give valuable things to women you aren’t married to. Even then it’s a risk.)

(Except if you’re married to my Amy, in which case she is perfect in all things. Also, very beautiful. I love you, honey.)

Now, my point: Back when I was an adolescent ordering a ring involved thumbing through magazines and writing codes on a pricing sheet. It was very meticulous work, but this was late ‘90s and we liked it that way. I also walked four blocks to the bus stop, even in winter. The bus!

Nowadays, students can just go online and literally build their ring before their order it. They can see exactly what it looks like so that they know what to expect when it shows up. We, on the other hand, had to just cross our fingers that all our hard-earned money from those long hours at the local fast foodery paid for the awesomeness we dreamed about.

It got me thinking about how technology has developed over the years. Kids today have things like Dance Dance Revolution, GPS, and tagless t-shirts. And class rings online. So I reflected about some other technologies that have changed over the years and thought I’d share some recollections about where these things were when I was younger.

Disclaimer: People of an older generation than me will probably feel old when I start talking about the state of computers during my toddler years. This is not my fault. Not a single high school student in the school this year was born earlier than 1990. I’ve had my time, too. Get over yourselves.

Computers

Growing up in the ‘80s, our home computer displayed three basic colors—white, black, and green. It was an Apple McIntosh long before they were called Macs and long before all of their products had a lowercase “i” in their patent titles. It had the basics like Microsoft Word and limited games (the most commonly used being “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego”), and when it sat idle too long our screen saver would pop up and shoot off pathetic little green fireworks, over and over again. I remember some of the computers at my dad’s work had color monitors with the flying toasters and fish and stuff. Those were always fantastic. Absolutely blew my mind. How old was I to be so impressed by screen savers?

Internet

The first large piece of news I received via internet instead of the television was the death of Princess Diana. It was plastered on the Yahoo! home page, and I remember coming into the living room at my friend’s house (he had internet long before I did) and telling his parents and mine, who were watching a movie, what had happened.

Now, I wouldn’t call the news “immediate,” since it took the Yahoo! home page approximately 17 minutes to load completely, but having access to that so quickly blew my mind at the time. I also enjoyed the idea of “chats,” where you virtually mingle with people across the country and the world.

As a fifteen-year-old in the years before “To Catch a Predator,” I suppose I easily could’ve been raped by a horny fortysomething pedophile surfing the web for unassuming victims by mingling in such technologies, but it seemed harmless at the time. I just remember the sound of dial-up while your modem got cruising through the phone line—like an electronic cricket tearing paper into a microphone. Back then, “high speed” meant you only had to skip two shaves while waiting for a page to load instead of three.

Now, of course, the internet is accessible via satellite. George Orwell officially is rolling in his grave.

Compact Disc Players

My folks got married in 1994 and got a CD player as one of their wedding gifts. A lot like VCR’s in their heyday, early incarnations of the CD player cost several hundred dollars. The one we ended up with was pretty impressive, even if it was a few weeks before we got anything to stick in the player to make music.

The first CD I ever bought was Busta Rhymes’s “The Coming,” which included the smash hit, “Woo Hah!” Classy, right?

But while I could tape my favorite songs off of the radio for free, the only way I could get clean sound quality was by buying the single at Camelot at the mall (totally no longer open—damn you iPod!). I longed for a way to yoink music off the radio and onto a CD, but that didn’t come until I left for college and figured out what Napster was and how to use a CD burner.

Those were happy times, my friends, and now that CD players cost about $3.00 on eBay thanks to the rising popularity of MP3 players, they’re available for all to enjoy. Truthfully, I still listen to CDs in the car, so I guess I’m getting old and crotchety, refusing to conform to modern ways.

Further proof (and I’m not kidding) I told some kids last week not to cut through my yard. I’m literally telling youngsters to stay off my lawn.

Cellular Telephones

Take it from the guy who currently works in a high school—almost every teenager has a cell phone. In fact, Amy and I saw some kids who couldn’t have been older than 12 riding Razor Scooters while talking on Razor Phones, and they weren’t even old enough to use razors on their faces. Legs, maybe. Faces, no.

When I was their age (there I go again!), hardly anybody in high school had cell phones. They had only come out in recent years and were still pretty difficult to keep concealed because they were gigantic. I think Zach Morris’s dad had one on “Saved by the Bell” and it sort of looked like a half-sized gray filing cabinet with a giant black drinking straw poking out of the top.

My first one came when I was a sophomore in college, and that purchase was made for the sole purpose of keeping a long-distance relationship alive. Without it I could never have afforded all the AT&T calling cards, but with free nights and weekends I ended up making a 2 ½ year relationship last about 26 months longer than it should have. God bless technology!

So what’s next? Movie theaters and computer screens in the comfort of your own eyeballs? GPS attached to our brains? A machine that cooks food in minutes by emitting invisible waves to heat in large doses over short periods of time?

Maybe all of those things are impossible, but in a lot of ways the future is already hear. I, however, am lamenting the past.

There’s those damn kids again… “Hey! Walk AROUND the house... This isn’t a nature trail!”