Friday, March 31, 2006

The Lame Replacement of a YouTube Post

Did you ever write like the greatest 750 words in the history of (a long storied history that) and lose it in a computer crash? Now the world is deprived of those words. Think of the things those powerful words could have made better, people who could have been made happier, others who could have been led to a higher plane of consciousness.

It's a shame. And now I'm far too lazy to even bother recreating them. It wasn't that great a post, anyway.

Basically it was all about wasting my Spring Break in glorious gluttony watching versions of the Chris Parnell/whatever that guy name is SNL hip-hop/"Chronic"what?"les of Narnia" parody "Lazy Sunday" at

And yes, I realize that the whole SNL Chronic(what?) is so yesterday, like January 2006 over, and my perfect 750 words pointed that out, as well as the fact that I can't help it because: 1. I'm a schoolteacher; 2. I live in ABQ, which is always three months behind the times.

Anyway, my favorite is either "Lazy Muncie" (a popular choice) in "Midwest Style" or the West Coast take "Lazy Monday". Shades of early Beastie Boys back when at least I thought it was all a joke. Obviously from the 177 versions on YouTube home video lives, and if anything could use more parody (it already has enough self-parody) it's hip-hop and rap music.

Mr. Pibb + Red Vines = Crazy Delicious

Now that's a great line, but seriously, I had 750 similarly great, perfectly placed perfect words right here on the page, and now....gone. Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde never had a computer crash! I gotta run. The tears are falling on the keyboard in buckets.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Texas JoeMonahan Radio and the Big Bill

Reading always leaves the political addict feeling somehow morally unclean. The site is the Knockouts, TD's Showclub and Ice House of New Mexico politics. It serves the role of all three strip clubs in part because it has no real competition, and because it serves the not-so-better angels of the political junkies' nature with a steady diet of semi-news and varying degrees of truthiness. Yes, I said "truthiness" thing you know I'll be breaking out "meme" and "frameshop".

Today's post from Joe is about an "exclusive poll" that shows Big Bill Richardson's approval rating is only at 56%, according to Democrat pollsters Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. The "story" then goes on to posit the possibility that Big Bill will win the Governor's race, but will not get 60% of the vote. Now, as a political junkie (and one vaguely unsettled about Big Bill) Joe goes straight to my politiporn (trademark pending) addiction, and has me extrapolating all sorts of meaning from the numbers.

What does not getting 60% in NM mean for Big Bill's Presidential chances? How can someone seemingly so popular nationally only have middling support at home? Is it at this point in my mental frenzy of wild speculation that I notice my hands are involuntarily massaging a set of imaginary ball bearings, ala Humphrey Bogart in "The Caine Mutiny". It's the psychological equivalent of creasing five dollar bills to go into the lap dancer's thong. I'm hooked.

Then the pleasure sensation passes and a slightly more rational interpretation emerges. It's more dull and leaves me typing this post instead of rolling imaginary ball bearings in my hand, but let's not forget the following:

  • The poll concerns "approval ratings" for Big Bill, but doesn't put his name in the poll versus any candidate.
  • One reason the poll probably doesn't include mention of any other candidates is because, given the Republican field at present, respondents would have almost universally replied "Who the Hell is J.R. Damron? Is he the guy with JLo in that new 'Dallas' movie?"
  • I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that Big Bill's numbers would go up in any poll in which he was pitted against another known Republican human being (i.e. if we can consider Republican politicians to be human beings). For instance, just throwing somebody's name out there...whaddya think the Joe Carraro v. Big Bill numbers would have been?
  • I know, you're thinking almost all NM respondents would have said "Carraro? The guy with that dive bar off of Central by UNM? Is he running for something?"
  • Right now pollsters are polling Big Bill v. An Infinite Void because that's basically how great the discrepancy in name recognition is between Big Bill and any potential Republican candidate.
  • Needless to mention all potential Democrat candidates to run against Big Bill in a primary were immediately dealt with by Paulie Walnuts from the Sopranos. Paulie was on a trip to the Southwest to improve his tan, and had some free time on his hands to do a special favor or two.
  • Given the situation, my advice to pollsters is to phrase questions pitting Big Bill versus somebody or at least something. Maybe they could start with: "In the upcoming 2006 New Mexico Gubernatorial Race, would you be more likely to vote for Bill Richardson or a Clove of Garlic?" Additional questions could be asked using rutabagas, celery and other vegetables. Republican pollsters looking for bad Big Bill numbers are encouraged to use "corn tortilla" or "green chile sauce from Barelas Coffee House" instead.
Politiporn (trademark pending). Feels great and excited in the short term, but leaves one feeling ashamed and dissatisfied in the long run. I've got to take a shower now.

P.S.: If there's one thing I really appreciate JoeMonahan for, it's the total lack of graphic layout skill in which he arranges his political sponsorship ads at the top of his site. As someone with the visual aesthetic acuity of an engorged hyena running along with a antelope carcass, Joe makes me feel better that I am not alone in this area. Thanks Joe!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Spring Cleaning in Blog (Jenga!) Land

As mentioned in harrowingly downbeat detail last week, this is "Spring Break" for us in the APS set. I've had a few days to decompress from the Apocalypse Now Willard-meets-Kurtz-esque final weeks before Break and can now report that I have the answer to all life's questions.

No, it's not 42. The answer is Spring Cleaning, to everything: home, brain, even this little blog. Like a cerebellum with too much synaptic detritus and cluttered bad memories, this blog (and yes, I'm still hoping the Jenga! people will lighten up and let us just use the term instead of the loathsome "blog") is gonna tidy up. I haven't touched the link column in ages. I haven't hung a picture up in forever.'s a nice picture...I think it really ties the room together:

Hockney not avant-garde enough for you? Well, who cares..I'm Spring Cleaning everything, including my brain and staring at water sprinklers on a lawn is about all I can mentally handle right now.

Now to the Cleaning. It's like spending a day at a Spiritual retreat, but without the back and knee pain of sitting on a buckwheat pillow all day. Plus I get to listen to the entire Miles Davis 65-68 quintet recordings for Columbia (with Shorter, Williams, Hancock, Carter), instead of waiting for the sound of that bell that never seems to ring.

Om Mani Pade Me Hum, and all that jazz....

Friday, March 24, 2006

Working for the Broken Man: Epilogue

Ah, the day before Spring Break. Magic words for anyone caught in the three month K-12 death march from the beginning of January to now. I know we're whining, but it's a long haul, and one that has folks questioning careers, sanity and the purpose of life.

About one-third of the folks at my little school are sick, but it's hard to tell how much of that is due to viruses and bacteria and how much of that is a deep, abiding hatred for the institution and its fellow occupants.

We need a break. Of course, we needed a break about three or four weeks ago. We especially needed a break two weeks ago after the coma-inducing drudgery of our standardized testing finally ended. But no, we shuffled on for two more weeks, looking more and more like zombies with each passing day.

Some people like to pretend that all planning in education is "for the children", but having Spring Break at the end of March is clear indication of that fallacy in thinking. For more evidence, just look at the daily schedule of APS schools where high schoolers start their educational day at 7:30 A.M. in large part because of busing and parent schedules, and in no part because 7:30 A.M. is when students learn best.

But it's the day before Spring Break. We're gonna make it now.

My last two entries have been about K-12 education and I find myself unable to stop writing about it. Maybe that's because I need a break, but it also seems the rest of the world can't stop writing about education as well. Maybe the entire world needs a Spring Break.

Anyway, in addition to what I wrote on earlier this week, we have had the following:

  • FP Marty Chavez says he wants public input via the Internet for his plan to Mayorally appoint APS Board members. ($$ reg. req.). The city will have a special site (up on Tuesday) for public comments. Here's hoping the comments are more plentiful and productive than the ones at the ABQ Trib and SF New Mexican sites.

  • Slightly buried in a story on APS plans to redistrict the school boundaries in the Four Hills and Singing Arrow neighborhood is the factoid that "only 26 percent of the 223 students living in Four Hills currently attend their assigned schools". (more $$ req. req.) This startling number stirs a goulash of controversial topics, including "white flight" the importance of neighborhood schools, and the value of public schools in general.
In my opinion, the core of the story is its illustration of how important being entrepreneurial about school choice is. The dropoff of Four Hills kids at its "district" schools has been going on for at least a decade. Only now does APS start talking about a redistricting plan to address the situation?

Many just look at the situation as another example of stumbling, "broken" APS. But let's turn that around. APS is a ******* bureaucracy for Buddha's sake. Whaddya expect....streamlined efficiency? Neighborhood schools are important members of a local community on a number of different levels. They are a vital reflecion of the neighborhood, and need local community support. Still, if the neighborhood school is lousy teachers, parents and especially kids are better off going somewhere else instead of waiting for a bureaucracy to improve the neighborhood school. Period.

Since moving to the South Valley six years ago, I have repeatedly searched out teaching at my neighborhood schools. I interviewed and such from time to time, and have asked around on many occasions for insights. It is with sincerely deep regret that I say: I don't want to teach in the South Valley anymore. It's a bummer, but I'm certainly not going to start working at a SV school and wait for the bureaucracy to improve it. Parents, and especially children shouldn't wait around for that, either. The Four Hills story is crystal clear evidence of that.

  • Then there's the reason I started thinking/writing about all this a few days back: Horizon Prep High School. As most of you know, Horizon High is a charter on Isleta Blvd (right down from my house) that had a bit of an accounting problem some time back. Something about miscalculating the actual number of students and a few hundred thousand dollars. Nasty business. Anyway, in a rare show of bureaucratic moxy the NM Education Department (I refuse to use their new name, reasoning that they will only change it again in a year or so) and APS revoked the school's charter. The school was scheduled to close on Friday, like it was Circle K or something.
But now APS has decided to allow Horizon High's next door neighbor, Horizon Academy South, to take over control of the school. You might notice the similarity in names..these Horizon folks have started quite a few charters both in ABQ and in Arizona where the outfit originates (as I understand it). APS gave Horizon $70,000 in emergency funds, probably just to avoid the hassle of taking in all the transferring students for the seven weeks after Spring Break.

Why is this story interesting? Well, on a selfish level, the school is just down the street from me and I was personally looking forward to an improvement in the awful traffic on Isleta resulting from the Horizon schools. More importantly, those who incessantly bash APS or any district need to remember the case of Horizon. What would the reaction be if APS schools said it would have to suddenly close on Friday? Who would be there to bail them out? I like the idea of charter schools...Hell, I worked at one for three years. But if people want more choice and freedom in selecting where they go to school they need to do significant research. They can't just make knee-jerk reactions like "it's a small school, so it must be a good school". Or "there test scores are bad, so they must be bad." It's been my experience that most parents never get past this overly simple "analysis". Caveat emptor applies to more than just automotive repair.

Have a great Spring Break everyone! May we all like each other and the buildings in which we spend so much time a bit more when we get back.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Working for the Broken Man: Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about the recent spate of universally negative public discourse regarding Albuquerque Public Schools. Looking around the Net, I now see we've gone beyond your simple spate to Las Vegas buffet gluttony on the subject. You can't throw a standardized test without hitting someone's editorial/column/blog about how heinously awful APS is.

As I mentioned yesterday, the big reason for all the negative attention lately is Feudal Prince Marty's idea that the Mayor should appoint APS School Board members instead of having them elected. The resulting opining has generally been of two stripes: 1. "APS is broken and something must be done this minute, and Hell, why not FP Marty's idea"; and 2. "Just about the only thing run as badly as APS is the City of Albuquerque, so where does FP Marty get off saying he should run APS?"

Given the glut of attention, I'm starting to wonder why I should bother bringing my own soap box, but being an actual bona fide APS teacher (who also happens to have a wildly popular blog read by upwards of three to four people per day) I'm feeling somewhat compelled to hop on the box, so to speak. By the way, I can promise that my tirade will neither be as elequent or as long as the one posted by Scott Hale at Duke City Fix yesterday. And that, finally, gets me to my runty little points on the subject.

  • The Albuquerque Public School District is poorly run
  • If you look around the web a bit (or have lived elsewhere) you quickly find that almost every public school district is poorly run
  • Most of us adults went to public schools
  • Those public schools we went to were, in general, poorly run
So my overall response to this latest brouhaha is the same I've had to every other cyclical brouhaha regarding education,: school districts suck. They pretty much always have. So what? As someone with 12+ years of K-12 teaching experience (okay, now I'm dropping the "expert" bomb...sorry for the shrapnel), I can tell you that the importance of school district quality in a child's education isn't 1/1000th as important as the quality of the individual teachers a child sees. And a School Board, elected or appointed, is about 1/100,000th as important.

You can make the same analogy in other "professions". If we had a "Broke-o-Meter", we'd certainly put the U.S. Medical System towards the very top. Most would agree that the Criminal Justice system needs a complete overhaul. The key for users of these systems is to find the individuals who shine despite the systemic problems.

And that reminds me...after ten years I still haven't found a good auto mechanic in this town. The "system" of auto repair has let me down in my time in ABQ, and I think the Mayor should appoint auto mechanics. No, most folks would say I just need to do a better job of asking around to find a good mechanic and avoid my up-to-now technique of just looking for the one closest to my house.

Hey, wait! That's how most folks find their child's teachers. Oh, you knew that already. Let's get serious here.

The key to fixing education isn't "fixing" districts, a Holy Grail-level search that, but finding goood, passionate teachers. And that's doesn't have to be a difficult search. We're out there, and we're finally get paid decent money.

Yes, there are bad teachers, burnouts, incompetents, whack-jobs who use their classrooms for sex and snorting crystal meth. Just as there are bad doctors, lawyers and auto mechanics. And I'm sorry we seem to only hear about the bad teachers, and bad test scores (subject of another blog entry, another time), and bad, bad districts. But you three or four readers of this blog...think back to your own education. Remember those, perhaps few, teachers who really made a difference in your life? Who really cared about you and the subjects they taught?

And you came out okay, didn't you? Even though the school district was crap, the drinking fountain filled with moss and chewing gum, and the chalk was all broken. You survived and are at least thriving enough now to read this silly blog, digest some debate on whether FP Marty should appoint school board members, and maybe you can even do a little Algebra.

It's time I devoted the rest of my free-time before work this morning staring out at the falling snow, but I just want to close by suggesting to everyone whose kids are suffering from bad teachers to be entrepreneurial about it. Don't wait for the "district" to get rid of bad teachers, just as you wouldn't wait for the Better Business Bureau to get rid of that mechanic who put in the wrong transmission for your Dodge Ram 2500 3/4 ton truck a few years back. Talk to your child, talk to the school administration, ask for schedule changes. Those conversations and actions are worth 1,000 hours of attendance at school board meetings and 1,000,000 readings of piddly blog entries like this on the subject of the public schools.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Working for the Broken Man: Part I

The outcry is shrill, relentless and unwavering: the Albuquerque Public School District sucks. It's such common knowledge that it's unnecessary to find examples of this universal outcry in action. The District sucks and, well, we all just know. It's a given. But, what the Hell, let's throw a recent example or two of this outcry in action.

Example #7,567,842: Feudal Prince Marty has decreed that "APS is Broken". This bold statement is typical of FP Marty's "leadership" in which he attacks complicated subjects in the most simplistic manner possible. Lots of drunks fighting all over town....close the Blue Spruce. Kids under 21 having crimes committed at downtown concerts....stop all-ages shows altogether. FP Marty's solution for APS is to have FP Marty control the APS School Board through Mayoral appointments. In true APS School Board spirit, he's also hired a $70,000 a year lobbyist to rally the cause of city control over APS.

That Feudal Prince Marty, always attacking the powerful and mighty, in this case the giant pro-APS School Board lobby. My guess is that a survey conducted to gauge public support for various institutions would go something like this:

Level of public support by percentage:

3%: Those in favor of drunks fighting/killing each other all over town
.01%: Those favoring crimes committed against those under 21
.00000001%: Those who view the APS School Board favorably

Example #7,567,843: In related news, Duke City Fix and Alblogguerque poster Johnny Mango delivers a body blow to APS Superintendent Beth Everitt and gets universal support. Evidently Superintendent Everitt ranks somewhere between "those favoring crimes against teenagers" and the APS School Board in terms of public support.

So there you have it, two more examples of the public outcry that APS sucks. Which leads to me, as I have learned is true for all things.

I teach in the Albuquerque Public Schools. I, therefore, am a working participant in a district that "is broken", ridiculed and just about universally despised. Why would I do such a thing? How can I sleep at night knowing that I'm part and parcel of a broken, despised system? Where do I get the nerve to ruin student's lives by providing a substandard education over and over again?

Good questions...but I see that we have run out of time. Sorry, but at least this way the posts are shorter. Later today I'll ineffectually try to answer the questions in the previous paragraph and maybe add a little perspective on the whole "District" question. Not to be like those loathsome local news 9:45 P.M. teasers, but "tune in later tonight for news you'll only get on Four". Yeah, I'm making myself sick even typing that last sentence...but c'mon back around this evening. Or not. It's your Internet.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Re-entering the Blog Atmosphere

Man, you leave town for a few days and next thing you know Bill Richardson is negotiating with space aliens on terms for alien control of the planet. Actually, I wasn't gone that long, and it seems Big Bill wasn't negotiating as much as walking alongside the space aliens. Which, of course, can mean only one thing. Big Bill is working out to lose weight. No, it actually means Big Bill is courting the space alien vote in a blatant grab for votes in the heavily alien-visited trailer parks of New Hampshire.

As for Burque Babble, we're going to attend to the stinky clothes and bags of half-eaten Cheez-Its (okay..confession..the Cheez-Its are down to the crumbs) in the luggage before making an "official" post to this humble, and erratic, blog.

Oh, and there's the work thing...almost forgot about that. It's serious Spring now...just about all the teachers and students have forgotten about school at this point.

Keep walking Big Bill, it looks like you're making in-roads toward that Presidential candidate sveltivity (invented word). And I'm digging those walking shoes, but you might need some moleskin. Alot of it.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Bloggin' is called on account of Gonzaga

Is Blogger back up? Had a few problems yesterday posting, some of which had to do with the and others which had to do with Gonzaga, Syracuse and 30 other college basketball teams. Hopefully, website problems are at an end, but Burque Babble is looking at the calendar and it looks like Sunday night before another posting.

Unless there's a killer wireless connection in the woods of the White Mountains outside of Ruidoso. Check back then and we'll find out exactly how cold the mid-March camping was this weekend.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Your New Albuquerque Journal: Humor Meets Experimental Fiction

I don't whether this is illegal or not, but as a public service I'm going to post an entire article/column directly from today's Albuquerque Journal. As you know, the Journal is a paid site, and in copying an entire article and pasting it here, Burque Babble is arguably cheating as it circumvents the right for the Journal to generate revenue from its online presence.

Despite its recognition of possible unethical/illegal action in copying/pasting the Journal article, Burque Babble sees the article as of such vital importance that it cannot desist from doing so. This importance is threefold:

1. The article addresses the subject of possible tax liability initiated by the "Big Bill Winter Heating Rebate Check" , which is of importance to almost all New Mexico taxpayers.

2. Limiting access solely to Journal hard copy and/or online subscribers, daily purchasers, and those who find copies of the Journal crammed under "Redbook" and "Highlights for Children" magazines at the Dentist Office is unfair to those without Journal access, in particular those who do not have the financial means to afford the publication.

3. This Journal article/column is gut-bustingly funny. At least I think it is. I think it's a humor article/column...but read it first and we'll discuss...

So, here it is, today's Journal article/column written by UNM Accounting Professor James R. Hamill and entitled "A Final Word on N.M. Energy Rebates":

YOUR TAXES: Writing a newspaper column can be like sitting in a studio as a guest on a radio show— you wonder if anyone out there is listening.
After writing two columns on the tax treatment of the New Mexico energy tax rebate, I've learned that at least someone reads my column. So I decided to write one last (really) column clarifying my views.
The tax law, like all laws, is not always clear. Courts exist to decide how the law applies to a given fact pattern, and even courts can disagree on the "right" treatment.
I find tax law interesting precisely because there are so many issues that do not have a definitive answer. Debating the correct treatment is fun provided neither side stoops to using four letter words to make their point. Unfortunately, the IRS is punctuating its side of the debate with a four-letter word— "must."
New Mexico tax instructions say you "must" include the rebate as other income on your federal tax return. The IRS has said you can be penalized for not doing so. Both of these statements should be ruled out of order in this debate.
Contrary to some quotes attributed to me, I never said the rebate is absolutely not income; I said it probably is not. Let me explain.
Satchel Paige was a great pitcher. He made the ball move so much that he was often accused of throwing illegal pitches.
Satchel replied: "I never threw an illegal pitch. The trouble is, once in a while I toss one that ain't never been seen by this generation."
Such things confuse us. The rules don't say if they're legal or not.
If you want to quote me on this issue, quote me as saying that the trouble is, the energy rebate has never before been seen by this generation. As a result, no one, including the IRS, really knows if it's income.
The IRS says we have seen it— it's the same as the Alaska permanent dividend fund. I have previously written why I think this analogy is deeply flawed. I believe there is authority in the principles of tax law that it's a reduction of non-deductible energy taxes and is not taxable.
However, the argument that it's taxable is not ridiculous.
The four-letter word "must" is an incorrect way to precede "include in income" when addressing the energy rebate. I could live with "may have to" as the proper language, but such language could be replaced with "may not have to include in income." Either one works.
Two final, and important, points need to be made.
First, the IRS does not write tax law and can't say "must" unless the law quite clearly supports its view. The IRS view on the energy rebate is by analogy to the Alaska dividends, not by reference to the Internal Revenue Code.
Second, the IRS is allowed to penalize an understatement of tax due to "negligence or intentional disregard of rules or regulations."
The penalty is 20 percent of the tax understatement caused by this negligence or intentional disregard.
The worst team in baseball in 2005 was the Kansas City Royals— 56 wins and 106 losses. There was a lot of shame in root, root, rooting for the home team in Kansas City, but they still won 34.5 percent of their games.
The tax law says there is no negligence or intentional disregard if the taxpayer's position has a realistic possibility of being sustained on its merits, even if contrary to an official IRS position (which is neither a "rule" nor a "regulation."
A "realistic possibility" means a one-third chance that your interpretation is correct. So you can expect to lose two-thirds of the time without penalty risk. This is worse than the Royals, and you still avoid a penalty.
Competent tax advisers have different views on the tax treatment of the energy rebate. However, I believe that excluding the rebate from income has a better chance of winning than the Kansas City Royals did last year, and that's all you need to avoid a penalty.
You decide what to do; but penalty talk is silly.


Now I'll drop the legalistic jargon bit and we can reflect on whether this column is the Journal's entree into the world of Onion-style Post-Modern slacker ironic stream-of-consciousness humor writing. Or something. Something utterly unlike anything the Journal has ever written. Something like William S. Burroughs, but involving tax accountancy instead of heroin & wife shootings.

Because, let's face it, as a NM taxpayer here is the article/column we're looking for on the tax liability of the "Big Bill Winter Heating Rebate Check":

"A Final Word on N.M. Energy Rebates"
by Dr. James R. Hamill

Yeah, you gotta pay tax on that money.

James R. Hamill, CPA, Ph.D., is KPMG Professor of Accounting in the Anderson Schools of Management, University of New Mexico. He can be reached at


"A Final Word on N.M. Energy Rebates"
by Dr. James R. Hamill

Hell no, don't pay tax on that money.

James R. Hamill, CPA, Ph.D., is KPMG Professor of Accounting in the Anderson Schools of Management, University of New Mexico. He can be reached at

Preferably, of course, the second one. Instead, we get Satchel Paige & Kansas City Royals references, a bit about some Alaska dividends we've never heard of, and then some paragraphs that sound as if they came directly from the U.S. Tax Code, if that code was cut into little pieces, William S. Burroughs style, and recomposed into something like the following:

"The four-letter word "must" is an incorrect way to precede "include in income" when addressing the energy rebate. I could live with "may have to" as the proper language, but such language could be replaced with "may not have to include in income." Either one works."

What the hell does that mean? I mean, really, what the HELL does that mean? I admit it. I'm not a tax accountant, an accountant of any kind, or anything more than a guy who throws data into Turbo Tax online every Spring, but I spent ten solid minutes on the paragraph above, and not only does it not help me do my taxes, it confuses me more than the most bewilderingly obtuse paragraph in any William S. Burroughs cut-n-fold novel. "The Soft Machine" is like reading "Ziggy" compared with "A Final Word on N.M. Energy Rebates".

And that gets me back to the Post-Modern humor idea. My guess is that the Journal has admired the work of The Onion forever, and has tried to work some Onion-esque schtick into their paper for some time, but has never found the proper subject for that brand of humor. The "Big Bill Winter Heating Rebate Check" offered the perfect combination of innocuousness (I mean how much tax can there be on $84?...hang on a second, let me plug it into Turbo Tax Online) and the inherent universal humor of doing one's taxes and being confused about the perplexity.

So, a "Professor" is invented, and using what must have been powerful hallucinogens, Journal writers bang out a faux column that would make the most jaded Onion groupie smirk in snarky, post-ironic smirkiness. For those hip to The Onion lingo, that makes "Professor James R. Hamill" the Journal's own "Herbert Kornfeld". And that's about the highest praise I've ever laid upon the Journal. Ever.

I say long live "Professor James R. Hamill" and his ruminations on the wacky world of tax accountancy. I can hardly wait until the next installment.

Unless, of course, I'm wrong on this Post-Modern humor thing and the article was an actual attempt to help New Mexicans make sense of the "Big Bill Winter Heating Rebate Check" thing. In which case, I'm pretty much at a loss for words and at a loss for what to do with this $84 Big Bill gave me last Fall.

P.S.: Yes, this column resulted in part from the welling up of the deep subconscious resulting from the use of a William S. Burroughs' reading in last night's The Sopranos. Boy, did that bring up some obtuse memories.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Winter Weather Roulette

Update II, Sunday 10:15 A.M.: Two pictures taken two hours apart. Two hours. Does it even count when it goes from pic #1 to pic #2 in two hours? Time to threaten my wife again that we're moving to Buffalo. Or does it even snow in Buffalo in these days of (alleged) Global Warming?

Update, Sunday 7:52 A.M.: I was wrong! Yeah! Snow, even here in the Valley! Of course it was all part of my purely scientific Mother Nature reverse psychology strategy to make it snow, and it obviously worked and the snow is obviously the direct result of this strategy.

I am that powerful you know. And often powerfully wrong.

---------And here's what I was wrong about (anything but a rare occurrence), writing Saturday morning (temperature at the time roughly 55 degrees)------------

Here's where I wish we could wager on weather forecasts. The National Weather Service (NWS) has put ABQ in a "Winter Storm Watch", with 1-3 inches of snow later today and early tomorrow in the foothills. We snow-lovers in the Valley always see "foothills" and start cursing, but seriously...does anybody really think we're gonna get any snow today, foothills or Valley?

Wouldn't it be great if we could bet on this one...personally I smell NWS desperation, similar to the roulette addict down to their last $100 putting everything on 22 for a last roll before they shuffle out of the casino muttering to themselves and looking for a windswept refrigerator box to sleep in. This Mid-March weekend wind festival is the closest thing these meteorological pros have had to real weather in so long they're grasping for wind-blown straws.

And as a weather junkie myself I understand the desperation, understand it enough to smell it from miles away, and if some off-shore on-line gambling outfit would just put "Will Snow in Albuquerque Today and/or Tomorrow?" on the betting sheet, I would be at the pawn shop hocking everything from my MLB Satchel Paige statuette to my impressive, yet disorganized microbeer bottle collection in a heartbeat.

Instead, betting on the weather doesn't happen, and the closest we weather gamblers can come is seeing the "Breaking News" reports on the weekend local news tonight. Weekend local news is already a combination of fall-down funny and empathetic embarrassment, but I can hardly wait for the 11-minute "story" about the impending "storm", complete with the obligatory report from the side of I-40 in Tijeras Canyon where some barely legal reporter with kooky wind-carved hair breathlessly announces:

"I can see a snow flake, Bob!...I saw one just a minute ago. And wait, there's another one! Oh. No, that was a plastic bag. But I saw one, really. Just a minute ago. Now let's go to some interviews we conducted at the truck stop in Moriarty, where we stood waiting to accost truck drivers and ask them how tough it is to drive semis in this wind. And snow. Don't forget the snow. I've already seen a flake. Really."

Then we'll go back to the Goofy Weekend Weather Guy, who we haven't paid any attention to in three months because there has been absolutely "no weather", and this Guy will suddenly be the center of attention and give a Obie/Oscar/Emmy-level performance in which the viewer will almost be convinced that today's is a "perfect storm", combining the power of Katrina with the snowfall of an entire winter at the Mount Rainier reporting station.

Then nothing will happen. Except it will be windy. Irritatingly windy. All weekend.

Ya wanna bet?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Is This Mic On?

I'm sure you're already aware that a high school teacher up in Denver is under investigation/on leave for leading a classroom lecture/discussion in which he posited that President W's State of the Union speech could be compared with speeches by Hitler. One of the students recorded the lecture/discussion, a parent said this, a school administration said that and the episode has now been thrust into the on-going, in-depth, and oh-so-thorough national dialogue this country embraces when such stories reverberate throughout the public consciousness.

In other words, ridiculously uninformed people on radio/tv/blogs are incessantly blabbing about it. Well, you can call me anything you like, but don't call me late to a chance to chime in on something in which I am ridiculously uninformed. Especially one on a topic near and dear to my professional heart: saying stupid things to a class full of students.

As you probably know, I'm a middle school Humanities teacher, and I'll let you in on a little secret: it's our job to say stupid things to a class full of students on a fairly regular basis. Now, by "stupid" in this case I mean the utterance of sentiments that segments of the population (often large, majority segments) totally, absolutely, unmitigatingly, categorically disagree with. Disagree with passionately. Disagree with enough to get riled up and involved in provocative debates. We professional educators call these provocative debates "discussion" and they're, uh, kinda the whole basis of teaching Humanities.

Well, at least one way. They're is another way and perhaps you had "Social Studies" (i.e. old school Humanities) in this other way. In this other way, students are taught history, public institutions, current events and such like this:
  • The class has a "textbook"
  • The textbook has been chosen after a rigorous screening by the State Department of Education, the local School District, and the "Social Studies" department at the school in question.
  • The "Social Studies" teacher uses the "textbook" as a strong authoritative guide, with students reading from it on a daily basis, answering litle questions in the back of the chapter and having a "test" after three or so chapters of the book have been covered.
  • All facts, ideas, concepts and controversies are handled by the properly screened "textbook".
  • Especially "facts". Especially, especially the facts with names and numbers attached, like "The Louisiana Purchase was masterminded by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803".
  • The "textbook" typically handles deeper ideas/concepts/controversies by largely avoiding them or saying "On the one hand/on the other hand" over and over.
  • One reason the textbook largely avoids controversy is so it will be approved by the rigorous screening process.
  • Another reason the textbook avoids controversy is because of testing, especially standardized testing: controversies don't easily translate into multiple choice test questions.
  • "What year did President Thomas Jefferson mastermind the Lousiana Purchase?" makes a great multiple choice test question.
  • It is also a great "fact" that not only shows students have "learned" Social Studies/Humanities, but can become contributing members of society, especially if that contribution relies on a knowledge of what year the Louisiana Purchase took place.
  • Two main areas in which knowledge like this can really contribute to society is in drunken bar wagers and playing "Trivial Pursuit".
  • I'm thinking, but I can't really come up with another contributory application of this knowledge.
  • Well, except for standardized testing.
Many of us who are a bit older than school age now, say 44 years old, remember having Social Studies taught in the way described above year after year. Remember those classes? My personal favorite was my high school Government class, which was taught "zero" hour (i.e. before school). The rather depressed guy who taught it exemplified the method outlined above. Not only was the textbook the ONLY source of information in class, every single early morning hour ended with him finding his bookmark, carefully placing it in the Teacher's Edition of the textbook, closing the book and waiting for the bell to First Period. Or waiting for us to finish the questions at the end of Chapter Seven.

Now, class, let's get back to our "discussion" of the high school teacher in Denver. I've noticed that many of the people outraged about the teacher comparing Prez W and Hitler are not only Republican, but also somewhere around 44 years of age. Some a few years older than 44. And, as part of their encoded academic DNA, they are thinking back to their own old school "Social Studies" classes in which teachers didn't raise controversial subjects because the teacher was too busy looking for the bookmark to their rigorously screened "textbook".

These outraged commenters are to be commended for probably remembering that the Louisiana Purchase took place in 1803, but they seem to be forgetting one very important "concept" resulting from the old school "Social Studies" class:

Social Studies classes taught from a "textbook" were boring as shit.

In a way this legacy of boring is positive. Well, at least one way. One big reason I teach "Humanities" now is because of my Government class back in zero hour high school. After taking that class I figured there was no way in Hell I could teach a class as badly as Mr. Depressed Government Teacher Guy had, and somebody gave him a job teaching, schools must be desperate to hire teachers. And I'm all about responding to other job providers desperation. To wit: I teach Middle School.

"On the other hand" the teaching of "textbook" Social Studies was overwhelmingly boring, causing most people to stop being passionate about politics/history/current events somewhere around Third Grade (resulting in things like low voter turnout), while a few other little boys and girls maintained their love despite the crushing boredom and can now be found ranting at each other on Fox News Channel.

Or teaching Humanities. Today's "Social Studies" typically eschews (with extreme prejudice) the "textbook" and relies instead on primary sources, varied historian opinions, introduction of fresh current events to compare/contrast with historically similar circumstances and in-class speakers of all political stripes. Okay, now I'm starting to sound like some "professional educator", so I'll stop...but it's designed to not be as boring as it sounds.

The idea is to put historical events into a context beyond multiple choice questions so that citizens can make sense of what happened before and what's happening now. And maybe maintain that passion for the subject long enough to vote more often; maybe even get involved in the process.

As a ridiculously uninformed participant in the "dialogue" surrounding the Denver-area high school teacher/class, I can't definitively say what exactly happened in that classroom. I can only say that in general we Humanities teachers understand that throwing the "textbook" into the garbage comes with responsibilities, the highest of which is to keep things balanced whenever possible.

But teaching Humanities isn't like teaching Math, where the concepts aren't inherently up to interpretation. Just the opposite: EVERYTHING in Humanities is up to interpretation. One of the biggest skills we focus on is developing the skill of students to formulate and express their own interpretations.

To do that, sometimes we say stupid things. Or things that some/many/almost all would interpret as stupid. Saying provocative things stimulates classes. Think back to your own "Social Studies" classes. What was stimulating about them?

In conclusion (to use one of those teacher phrases), I'd just like to reiterate to all those outraged commenters on the Prez W/Hitler comparison: we teachers are saying stupid things all the time. We're not gonna stop. I'm hoping to get some really juicy stupid things out tomorrow.

Bring your tape recorder.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Fort Sumter II: A Fusillade Against Northern Forces of Gourmet Foodstuffs

I don't want to start an Albuquerque Civil War, but those deep in the South Valley Confederacy have something to say to our Northern (north of I-40) brethren: nobody cares about your stupid Trader Joe's. This may come as a shock to Union readers anticipating the opening of ABQ's own "TJ's" the same way geeky teenage boys in Darth Vader costumes wait outside movie theaters two weeks before "Star Wars 3.14: Jar-Jar Battles the Sith Menace".

Perhaps the best evidence of “TJ's Fever” can be found from a "story" posted on "Duke City Fix"(DCF) a couple of weeks back. Now there is nothing wrong with DCF…hell, Chantal et. al. even post my deranged musings from time to time (and yes I rather enjoyed writing “Chantal, et. al.”. Far more than I should).

At the same time, many of you who are daily readers of DCF realize that the Fix could just as well be entitled “Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau: Ultra-hip Annex” for all the retro-lounge pom-pom waving Albuquerque cheerleading seen there . A lot of the cheers led at DCF take the form of wishing/begging for certain store chains to move to ABQ, thereby ostensibly making ABQ even more hip than it already ostensibly is. As if the Smith’s Food and Drug at Yale and Coal doesn’t already make this town cooler than the Arcata, CA, Burlington, VT, and Ithaca, NY combined.

Now, truth be told, we in the South Valley Confederacy don't really cotton to newfangled technologies like blogs or retro-lounge or Podcasting or Pod People, whatever. Still, some of us couldn't help but notice that whereas most "stories" on DCF get about 12 comments max, a posting on Trader Joe's opening received approximately 2.5 million comments, or 10 for every Northern Albuquerque resident. And that was for a two-line “story” simply announcing the opening date of the store. We also noticed that many of these comments took the form of gushing salutations, greeting TJ’s like meth junkies responding to the rap on the door from their pusher.

One would get the impression that folks up North are confusing the opening of a trendy, upscale sorta-kinda grocery store with the combined reappearances of Jesus, Buddha and Jack's Lounge on Central. Meanwhile, us South Valley types just shake our heads and think the following:

1. These Northerners are getting apoplectic about yet another place to buy strange foreign cheeses when we down here wouldn't know an artisanal montchevre with chives from a Sardinian Capradoro. Hell, we wouldn’t even know they were cheeses.

2. These Northeners are frothing about another fancy place to shop/eat when we down here have to book airline flights to get Thai food. Even Starbucks won't come down here, and they have four locations in Oman. Oman! We Southerners don't even know where Oman is, or if it is, in fact, a made-up country.

3. Folks down here notice that many up North are conflicted about Trader Joe's because it is a store chain and not a locally-owned business. We down South don't quite understand such moral/ethical dilemmas. For instance, down here the recent opening of our first ultra-evil Walmart store was generally greeted as if the school Homecoming Queen had, for some reason, asked us out to the Prom. We couldn't believe it. "A Walmart? For pimply-faced 'ol us? Now we have to rent a tux and borrow Dad's car!"

4. One of our Confederates, namely me, just drove north of I-40 for the first time in months and can report that, given today's traffic density, the time it would take to get to a Trader Joe's at the corner of Paseo del Norte and Ventura is roughly three days. The chances of being either the victim or perpetrator of a "road rage" incident during this trek would be approximately 99%. Is three days and possible death and/or significant prison time really worth a high-quality artisanal goat cheese? Even one with chives?

From what I read in the DCF blog “story”, the new TJ's is scheduled to open on March 10th. To all those Northerners in a frenzy about the opening, we friendly folks down South wish nothing but the consumer best. We'll think of you fondly from afar as we shop at the corner El Mesquite Carniceria or dine out front of Kathy's Carry-Out or another of our 1,450 Mexican/New Mexican restaurants. Maybe if we have a three-day weekend we'll visit TJ's and stay at the new Sandia Casino Hotel. We'll be the ones staring tourist-like at you Northern types dressed up in your Darth Vader costumes and deciding between artisanal goat cheeses. Do you mind if we take your picture?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

NM Green Party Update

Two days after saying I never get Green Party mailers, I get a Green Party mailer for the upcoming state conference. Serves me right to doubt the organizational capability of the Party...maybe I'll go just for the anarchy of it all. Or maybe I'll have some laundry to do that day. Something to think about.

Richardson Walks for President

The Journal this morning picks up the AP story that Bill Richardson is visiting New Hampshire to, among other things, participate in the Manchester N.H. St. Patrick's Day parade. For those who perfer executive summaries of things or just have ADD, let me help through a short poem:

Bill Richardson - New Hampshire.
Yes that New Hampshire.
The one with the 1st Presidential Primary
That one.

I'm linking to the Boston Globe version of the story because it has more meat about the whole President thing than the Journal version. Meanwhile, it's my humble opinion that Bill Richardson hasn't lost enough weight for a serious run for President. Some months back you might remember we constructed a Bill Richardson Weight Political Aspiration Matrix (WPAM) that scientifically analyzes the likelihood of a Richardson Presidential Run based on how flabby he is.

Reports so far seem to indicate that Richardson has only achieved "easy stroll for Governor" weight loss at this point, and is nowhere near the "Oprah-level mad-dash weight swing" necessary for a Presidential run. Right now, it's simply a St. Patrick's Day parade walk. He can handle that. Running for anything beyond reelection, or a doughnut, seems beyond him right now.