Friday, July 29, 2016

The Gate To Women's Country (a book review post)

Generally speaking, post-apocalyptic books aren't my thing. Post-apocalyptic stories tend to revolve around one thing: how horrible everything is after the apocalypse. This book is not like that. Refreshingly so.

In fact, I didn't know I was reading something post-apocalyptic at first. Yes, that means I didn't know what the book was about. My wife told me I should read it, and I did, and I did that without reading the back cover blurb or anything. Yeah, I trust my wife that much. Her reading standards are much higher than mine, and mine are already pretty darn high. Basically, if she tells me I'm going to like something, I can believe that that is true.

So, yeah, I started reading it without knowing it was post-apocalyptic, so when I got to the part of the story that revealed it was a future society, not just some alternate or fantasy society, it was really an "oh, wow" moment. And, yes, I do realize I ruined that for any of you who might decide to pick the book up, but, really, how many of you were actually not going to read the back cover? That's what I thought, so get off my case. It's right there on the back, so I'm not spoiling anything!

I'm going to make a comparison, now. Everyone loves Ender's Game because they were caught off guard by the ending. Everyone is always, "Oh, wow! I didn't see that coming!" But not me. Not only did I figure out what was going on before the reveal, I knew what was going on almost as soon as it started happening. I liked the book, but there was nothing surprising about the ending to me, and, what's more, at the time I read it, I didn't know the ending was supposed to be a twist. It just seemed the natural outcome to me. I was surprised to find out that other people were surprised by the ending.

The Gate To Women's Country was more like The Sixth Sense in that regard for me. All of the clues as to what is actually going on in that movie are right there in the movie, but you don't see them for what they are. It makes the movie even more brilliant, because you can go back and watch it again and see how all the pieces are laid out and see how you just missed putting them together because you were too caught up in the story. It's rather like missing the forest for the trees.

There is a thing going on in The Gate To Women's Country that's rather brilliant, but what makes it more brilliant is that Tepper lays it all out in front of you -- she basically tells you what's happening -- but you don't see it. I did manage to work it out before the big reveal in the book, but it was rather late, only a few chapters before the reveal, and a definite "oh my God!" moment.

Considering the secret at the center of the novel, a case could be made that this is a dystopian novel. [When I say that, I mean it in the context of the original definition of the word, not the warped view we have of it currently. So, for your cultural edification: The current popular view of "dystopian" amounts to the same as "anti-utopian" or "the opposite of utopian" (which is anything that is not an actual utopian society (so any society currently on Earth (yes, we are all dystopian))). The actual definition of a dystopian society is a society that looks as if it's utopian but has something wrong or flawed at its core. An example would be the society in Brave New World which looks and acts like a utopia except that the population is largely controlled through the use of drugs.] I suppose that depends upon which side of the morally ambiguous question you fall. It's an interesting question, but not one I can go into without spoiling the entire book. But, trust me, I'd love to go into it.

It's a good book. A very good book. It's well written and will probably keep you wondering what it's actually about for quite a while. In a good way. Because you can probably pick up on it not being about what it appears to be about fairly early on. The characters are really good, too, and many of them are not exactly who they appear to be, too, but also in a good way, in the way of getting to know someone, say, away from work when you have only ever known them as a work acquaintance.

The only warning I would give is that the book has a definite feminist slant and, if you can't go in for that, you should probably skip the book; it will probably make you mad. And that, more than anything, will be quite revelatory. If the book makes you mad, it's probably about you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Ghosts of Mortis" (Ep. 3.17)

-- He who seeks to control fate shall never find peace.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

The Force is no longer in balance.

If you haven't watched the previous two episodes of this arc, you should really go do that. While I will try to keep spoilers from this episode mostly out of this post, I need to be able to refer back to the other episodes. Seriously, if you are any kind of Star Wars fan, these three episodes are a must.

As we were watching this one, my son said to me in reference to the Father, Son, and Daughter, "Are these physical entities or embodiments of the Force?" My best answer: Yes. That the Daughter is dead, murdered by the Son, spells disaster for the galaxy and the universe. Interestingly, in the previous episode, the Father spoke repeatedly of the danger to the galaxy if the Son was able to escape the planet Mortis but, this episode, after the death of the Daughter, the Father has escalated his warning to a danger to the universe.

The question in all of this is what it means that Anakin is the Chosen One. In the last episode, Anakin refused to take up his role as the person who would maintain the balance in the Force, that balance being the equivalence between the Son and the Daughter. Obviously, the choice Anakin had was real, and his decision not to take his place had dire consequences. Will have dire consequences.

And, now, they have to keep the Son from escaping Mortis so that he doesn't wreak havoc across the galaxy.

So, what we know based on the previous episode: The Dark Side is in ascendance. The Light Side, effectively, at least for now, is dead.

To say more would be to give too much away.

"I am an old fool who believed he could control the future."

Monday, July 25, 2016

How the System Failed My Son: Part Eight -- Breaking Out

Yeah, yeah. Just go back and read. Or don't. But don't complain about not knowing what's going on if you don't. No, I'm not providing all the links, because you're all smart people and can find the posts.

In the end, we were left with only two options: continue as we had been doing, the equivalent of throwing ourselves and our son against a large brick wall and hoping to make a doorway, or find some other way, something that was non-system. We figured we'd been bruised up enough by the wall and would look for a way around.

As an aside:
California has what is called the CHSPE, the California High School Proficiency Exam; it is exactly what it sounds like. It is a test to see if you possess the minimum requirements that they expect you to gain in high school. Passing the test is the same as a high school diploma. The only problem is that you have to be 16 to take the test. We weren't looking at that as an option.

But let me tell you a little bit about the test so that you can understand the extent of what I'm talking about when I say that the system is broken.

The CHSPE covers only two subjects: English and math. There's no history. No science. No arts or physical education. If you only need English and math to "pass" high school, why do we require all of these other subjects as part of graduating? And the math is pretty basic, algebra and a small amount of geometry. Stuff my son completed in middle school. The English, also, is pretty basic. That this is all that is required to pass this test tends to affirm my assertion that high school is mostly a waste of time.


We began looking at alternatives, because homeschooling was not an option. Homeschooling, in the general sense of it, requires that you enter into a certified program which, essentially, means you will be doing all of the normal things you would be doing at school but you'd be doing them at home instead. It is the same kind of drudge work we were trying to bypass.

This is an important thing to take note of. The reason for this, which I learned by talking to a few people at our school board, is because if you are not in a certified homeschool course then you can't actually get credit for any of it if you ever decide to return to regular school. You would have to start back where you left off.

The thing we eventually hit upon was something called "unschooling." I'm not going to explain it; you can click the link if you want to know what it is. What I will say about it is that the main guy I spoke to at the school board, the guy who deals with homeschooling and related "alternative" schooling methods, strongly counselled against anything that wasn't a certified program, and unschooling is not. It's not even a "program."

So we were all prepared for that.

Somewhere in there we discovered, though, that there was an exception to the age qualification on taking the CHSPE. The student must be 16 years of age OR must have completed 10th grade. So, well, my son has completed 10th grade. We signed him up to take the test.

I want to reiterate that he is 15 years old.

As I write this, he took the exam this past Saturday. His reaction to it was that it was easy. Granted, we don't know that he passed, but I'm going to operate under the assumption that he did (by the time this posts, we should have the results of the test). Which brings me back to the point of high school being mostly superfluous. Even within the parameters of the test for an average teenager, it is implied that a student should be able to pass the test by the time s/he has finished her/his sophomore year of high school, which is age 16 for most students.

Why, then, do we do high school at all?

Because it's tradition. And, sure, you could expound on all the conventional reasons for doing high school, but all of those come down to tradition. This is how it's done and, therefore, this is how you should do it. However, that's only true if you let it be true.

So we're proceeding, at the moment, with what is basically the unschooling path although we're also assuming that my son has passed high school. He is already hip deep in a (free online) Harvard programming course and having a lot of fun with that. At some point, probably sooner rather than later, we'll be looking into classes at the local community college for him.

All of which brings me to my point:
If my 15-year-old son can take and pass the CHSPE, then there's something very wrong with the system. That there were no avenues for him within the system shows that there is something wrong with the system. That there is this test and it is not presented as a viable option for every student shows that there is something wrong with the system. That the vast majority of what students are required to do in high school is considered nonessential by the state shows that there is something wrong with the system.

In fact, I would say that there is everything wrong with the system.

Right now, the plans for fixing the system mostly have to do with pumping money into it. And, while it's true that there are parts of the system that are in dire need of funds, that general response is about fixing the system by doing it harder. By banging yourself up against the wall over and over again hoping to break through. What we really need is a new system. We all need to be unschooled.

"Unlearn what you have learned."

[I also want to point out that everything with my son is better now. Since we decided back in January to explore other avenues for him, he has come back to himself. Rather than the constant battling over homework and the forcing him to buckle under and do what he "needs to do," we have our old, pleasant child back who is affectionate and jokey and fun to be with. We can do things as a family again. It is all well worth it.]

Update: We received the results of his test last week, and he passed. Not just passed; he totally aced the test. I want to point out, specifically, that he got a 5 on the essay part of the exam (the highest you can get on their 0 to 5 scale). I also want to reiterate that my son is 15. And, now, a high school graduate. So tell me again: What is the point of traditional high school?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Rebels: "Gathering Forces" (Ep. 1.8)

"Make it your specialty and make it fast or this ship becomes a real ghost!"

The Inquisitor is hot on the heels of the crew of the Ghost chasing after a cybernetically enhanced rodian who has inadvertently stolen Imperial plans. At least, that's who he's supposed to be chasing, because the information the rodian is carrying is significant: blue prints for top secret weapons, deployment schedules, what the Emperor eats for breakfast. Okay, so I'm kidding on that last bit; it's what the Inquisitor eats for breakfast. Fine, still kidding. It's important stuff, though, and the Empire wants it back.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Tseebo, the rodian, and Ezra have a history, one Ezra is not prepared to forgive. Then there's the fact that, no matter how important the information Tseebo has is, the Inquisitor is more interested in bringing down Kanan and his Padawan. Kanan uses that to his advantage which, of course, puts him and Ezra into harms way.

A was not completely happy with the episode "Out of Darkness," as I said in that review a couple of weeks ago. This episode somewhat redeems that one by bringing elements of that episode back into the plot. "Gathering Forces" reaches back and elevates what felt like a mostly disposable episode at the time by giving it a larger purpose in the scheme of things. That's the kind of thing I like in story telling, where things that seem insignificant at the time return later and show their importance. Not that this is incredibly significant, but it's enough so to make it interesting.

So the show has bounced back up in my estimation, especially with the conclusion of this episode, showing that things are going to be a bit more complex than what is normal for just a kids' show.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ghostbusters (a movie review post)

I feel like a movie review should not be a place for political commentary unless, you know, the movie has to do with politics. Or commentary. Or some combination of those things. I feel like I should be able to review this movie on the merits of itself as a movie. However, a certain contingent of inflammatory misogynists have made that impossible. There is no legitimate way to address this movie and the fact that it has women in it and not just in it but starring in it as the main characters.

So... Let's talk about the fact that there are four women starring in it and that some people seem to have let that "destroy" their childhoods:
1. If that they have cast the leads in the new Ghostbusters as women has caused your testicles to get all knotted up, the problem is clearly with you, and you need to go take a long look at yourself in the mirror and figure out what your own issues are. Or see a therapist and discuss your mommy issues. Or something.
2. It's a movie! Oh, wait, let me rephrase that: It's a fucking movie! If you are actually bent out of shape and allowing a movie made more than 30 years after the original to retroactively destroy your childhood, then, again, you need to take yourself back to that mirror and figure out what your problem is. I mean, this isn't Star Wars; it's not that important. Oh, wait, if you were one of those guys who allowed the prequels to "rape" your childhood (that is the way those guys put it, right?), you still need to be in front of that mirror. It's not like them putting in a new cast for this movie changes the experience you had of the original.
3. I find it unsurprising but somewhat interesting that the demographic screaming about the women stars of this movie are the same demographic who support Trump, which also matches the demographic who voted yes on the Brexit vote. It reduces all of this to a white, male power thing, and I'm just going to say that the only people threatened by equality are those who have had an unfair advantage. Again, go look at yourself in the mirror and don't come away from it until you can recognize that you're not better than other people and the fact that you feel threatened is entirely on you. And it's a fucking movie! It's not like it's walking up to you on the street and punching you in the balls. Then, you'd have a right to complain. There shouldn't even be any metaphoric balls involved in this.

Speaking of all of this, one of the most brilliant moments in the movie is when they're reading actual comments people (men) made about the movie just from the announcement that it would have a female cast.

And speaking of the women, they, also. were brilliant. I already love Kristen Wiig, and she doesn't disappoint. Ironically, this is a somewhat more serious role for her in that it doesn't rely on her particular brand of awkwardness as the basis for her character. She has her moments, but it's a more three-dimensional part than what she's known for (and so much more satisfying than her recent role in The Martian).

Melissa McCarthy is also a bit more toned down for Ghostbusters. Despite her initial appearance wearing some weird gizmo hat, she is the voice of reason in the movie. She wears the part well. Which is not to say that she turns off the funny, because she doesn't. He ongoing feud with Bennie, the Chinese delivery guy. is great.

I was unfamiliar with both Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones before seeing this, so I have nothing to compare to in regards to their performances, but they were both great, especially Kate McKinnon. In many ways, McKinnon stole every scene she was in by being this crazy professor type, kind of a cross between Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Dr. Frankenstein from Young Frankenstein with a dash of Q (the James Bond one). And that might make it sound like Leslie Jones is the weak link here, but she's totally not. The four women worked well together bringing the same kind of chemistry to the screen as the original quartet of men did.

But let's talk about the movie in general:
I laughed. A lot. To put it more specifically, I laughed throughout the movie, and, for a movie meant to be a comedy, it did its job. More than did its job. In fact, I probably laughed more in this one than I ever did in the original.

Which is not to say it doesn't provide some scares. The opening scene is pretty scary, and I thought for a moment that my daughter was going to ask to leave, it freaked her out so much.

Speaking of the opening scene, it features Zach Woods, who is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Mostly, I know him for his own special brand of awkward but, in his smaller roles,he's shown that he's capable of more than that. This is no exception.

And then there's Chris Hemsworth. He's almost worth the price of admission himself. I really didn't expect much from Hemsworth after Thor. I mean, he was a great Thor -- he was Thor -- but I figured that kind of role was all he was ever going to bring to the table, but he's shown that he has a lot of range, and his role has the clueless receptionist was fantastic.

The only real negative I have is...

Oh, wait, this is a spoiler, so close your ears and say "la la la" or something.

The only real negative I have about the movie is the bad guy:
1. That there was a "bad guy" at all, and
2. That the actor playing the bad guy lacked any real menace. In fact, the only good part with the bad guy was once he had possessed Kevin, and that part was hilarious.

I don't really know why I dislike there being a villain, but it just felt a little too convenient, I guess. And it was so much "the world hasn't been fair to me, waaah!" He was just lame, I suppose. It would have been better if it had just been the ghosts driving the conflict.

The movie is a winner, though, despite the lackluster villain. Unless you just have no sense of humor or can't get over the fact that there are no y chromosomes among the leads, there is no reason you shouldn't like this movie.

Oh, and the cameos are great.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Altar of Mortis" (Ep. 3.16)

-- He who surrenders hope surrenders life.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

"Is the Dark Side stronger?"
"No! Quicker, easier, more seductive."

In the context of the original trilogy of Star Wars movies, we tend to just accept that Yoda is right. Yoda is always right. And, at one point, he probably was right. Well, definitely, at one point, he was right. The Force was in balance, kept that way through the will of the Father. However, by the time Yoda is stating this to Luke, that the Dark Side is not stronger, the Force is out of balance, and the Dark Side is most definitely in ascendance. The Son has shifted the balance.

There's also what is probably very important stuff with Ahsoka. Definitely foreshadowing. I know that Ahsoka comes back in Rebels, though I'm not that far into it, yet, but I don't know if this has to do with what is going to happen there or if it has to do with anything that's going to happen in the new trilogy [There has been a lot of speculation and rumors about Ahsoka appearing in the episode eight or nine.] or if it's just a plot line that got left blowing in the wind due to Disney dropping Clone Wars. Whether it comes back or not is immaterial, I suppose, considering it's good stuff in this episode.

All of this is also a direct repercussion of Anakin turning down his role as the Chosen One. In the typical story of this nature, the "chosen one" character ends up being compelled in some way to take up the role, but, as we saw last episode, Anakin refused to be the guy to maintain the balance in the Force. Which begs the question, "Is he still the Chosen One?" Does what happens later in both Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi come out of his status as Chosen One or is it because of his refusing to be that person?

I hope in some way Star Wars addresses what happens in this trilogy arc.

Monday, July 18, 2016

"From Beyond" (a book review post)

First, yes, I am still working my way through these; I just haven't read any in a couple of months. The one thing I'm discovering about Lovecraft is that all of his stories are only of a few varieties. Over time, it makes them all blur together. The break was not purposeful; it was because every time I opened the book I found I didn't feel like reading Lovecraft at that moment, knowing exactly what to expect. I don't know if it was having had a break from him or if this was a better story than the average, but I enjoyed this one more than the last few that I read (ones I didn't bother to review individually because of a lack of things to say about them).

"From Beyond" has a slight twist on most of the stories I've read by Lovecraft so far while still having the same basic foundation. It's a story about a man, Crawford Tillinghast, who has developed a way to see the hidden worlds all around us. In this, it is very similar to most other Lovecraft stories but, in execution, it is most like "The Terrible Old Man."

This is not a new thought for me, but it's one I don't believe I've stated before in any of the Lovecraft reviews I've done:
Lovecraft seems to owe a lot to Robert Louis Stevenson and his Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Not that I know that Lovecraft read Stevenson, but I find it difficult to imagine that he would not have considering the similarities between the two authors in their physical conditions (both sickly) and the similarity in style of most of Lovecraft's short stories to Jekyll & Hyde. That style being an unnamed narrator telling a story about a friend suffering the consequences of, usually, some sort of insatiable curiosity. This one, "From Beyond," is closer to Jekyll & Hyde than most.

Back in the early 90s, there was a comic book, Dark Dominion, which dealt with the idea that there was a world of demons that overlapped our own. One man, Michael Alexander, was able to see these demons as they coexisted with us. It was a darkly interesting idea that ended way too soon. I don't know if Jim Shooter, the creator of the series, read Lovecraft, but you can see those same ideas in "From Beyond." I don't know of anyone earlier than Lovecraft writing about these kinds of things in this kind of way. This is not the only of Lovecraft's stories dealing with this idea, but this is the most direct, at least so far. It's short enough that I'm willing to say you should just read it.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Rebels: "Empire Day" (Ep. 1.7)

Empire Day is exactly what it sounds like, the equivalent of Independence Day. Except I guess you could call this Loss-of-Independence Day. As it turns out, it's also Ezra's birthday. Yeah, not a good day for Ezra since, as it turns out, the Empire is responsible for whatever happened to Ezra's parents. Ezra's parents who ran an underground radio speaking out against the Empire.

The episode centers around the unveiling of the new TIE Fighter Advance during the Empire Day celebrations on the planet Lothal, Ezra's home planet. Kanan and crew have special plans for the new ship. But there's a Rodian on the loose, and the Empire is after him. Of course, the crew of The Ghost end up involved. As does the Inquisitor.

This is actually a two-part episode, so I'm reserving judgement until I watch the next one but, so far, this is an interesting story. I do realize that I might have sounded complainy in my review of the previous episode in dealing with the back stories of the male characters, but I'm not complaining about back story, just the lack of it for the female characters. Ezra, though, as the protagonist, should have a more full back story. Basically, I'm all for more and more inclusive back-story telling.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Overlords" (Ep. 3.15)

-- Balance is found in the one who faces his guilt.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Other than that the Force exists, Star Wars doesn't often stray into the realm of metaphysics, even when dealing with Jedi training. There are moments, as with Yoda's speech in The Empire Strikes Back:
For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here. Between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere! Yes, even between the land and the ship.
Then Yoda lifts Luke's x-wing out of the swamp to prove his point. But, on the whole, the show tends to take a much more Han Solo view of the Force.

"Overlords," though, firmly steps into the realm of metaphysics and deals very directly with aspects of the Force that we've never seen before. And, other than this story arc, may never see again. Considering that The Clone Wars is canon, it makes me wonder how the events here relate to what's going on in The Force Awakens, because it almost has to relate. [Except for the fact that Abrams probably didn't see these episodes or do any research into what he was talking about or what he meant when Snoke said, "There has been an awakening in the Force." We just have to hope that other people who know more about what's going on were paying attention and keeping things on track.]

This episode also directly addresses what it means that Anakin is "the chosen one." Hopefully, without giving anything away, or at least too much away, the idea here deals with potential. Not only must Anakin have the potential to be the chosen one, but he has to choose it. So many stories deal with this idea in terms of absolutes. "You are the chosen one, so are the chose one. It is your destiny, your fate, and there is nothing you can do about it." I like very much the idea that Anakin must make a choice to be "the chosen one."

More than any other story arc in The Clone Wars, I think this one is a must see. Whether you enjoy the story or not, if you're a fan of Star Wars, this is essential viewing.
Personally, this is my favorite arc from the whole series. I wish they had delved more into this story and these characters.

Monday, July 11, 2016

How the System Failed My Son: Part Seven -- The System Is Broken

[If you're not caught up, go back and read. Just do it.]

We thought we had everything taken care of. Or, at least, we hoped we had. We had good systems in place and they had worked well during Phillip's freshman year. Or, at least, we thought they had. But, basically, his sophomore year began much as his freshman year had, an email from his English teacher (honors English) telling me that Phillip lacked the requisite intelligence and skills to be in her class and that I should move him to the academic class where nothing would be required of him. [You also have to admire the disdain that the teachers of the honors classes have for the academic classes. (Yes, that's sarcasm, because how is it okay ever for a teacher to have that kind of attitude?)]

Look, I get that there is some burden on my son in all of this. I'm not ignoring that. But the burden on my son was this: "Get with the system and do what you're supposed to do. Quit being difficult." And, well, that's the problem. Get with the system, the only system. The system that was not designed for you and, actually, cares nothing for you other than that you comply.

It's bullshit.

I say that as someone who flowed fairly easily through the system until I got to the part when I was in college working on an Education degree and realized that I couldn't stomach it. That I would never be able to work within that system because the system is shit and cares nothing about the students individually but only about them as a collective that is able to score well on standardized tests.

The system was built for people like my daughter, people who are very achievement oriented and competitive. And, for her specifically, someone who wants to accomplish her tasks quickly so that she can go on to other things. [That's a mindset that makes sense to me, because that's how I was. My goal was always to have as little homework as possible to do at home, so I worked hard during the school day (and on the bus) to get all of my homework finished before I got home; that way, I could do whatever I wanted once I was home. (Of course, my homework load was nothing like what any of my kids have had.) That's exactly how my daughter works. It's also how I wanted my son to be, and I spent years trying to convert him to that approach, pressuring him to work in a system that didn't work for him. It's just not the way he works. It's about like putting a fish on land and trying to talk it into breathing air instead of water.] For instance, her 2nd grade teacher, the same teacher my son had in 2nd grade, loved her. Because she was fast. Even though my daughter made mistakes from working too fast, the teacher thought she was brilliant. The teacher thought she was the "smart one."

[Now, I don't want to make it sound like I have boxed my kids into labels, because that's not the case. My daughter is exceedingly smart, quite above average, but she is not as academically talented asher older brother. If you want to call it that, he is the "smart one;" she is the "sporty one." Those things are just objectively true. Labeling is really for ease of reference, but we don't consider our daughter not smart just because she's into sports. My son, however, is completely un-sporty.]


Our initial reaction to the email was to set up another conference with his counselor and this teacher... only to find out that he had a new counselor, too, and she was also questioning whether he ought to be where he was, not just in that class but math and even the school. I just wanted to scream. I mean, don't these people look at anything other than what's right in front of them? Could they not see that he'd made honor roll the previous year and see his standardized test scores and see everything or anything that came before that one moment? To accomplish anything, we were going to have to start completely over again with everything we'd done the year before.

Was it even worth it?

School, regular school, was clearly hell for my kid. It wasn't getting better. There was no routine that was working for him that involved him getting up and sitting through classes all day, classes he couldn't see any point to (or me, for that matter (but that's a different topic)), and doing hours of homework every night. And, honestly, it had worn us out.

It was time for other alternatives. If the system doesn't work or, more specifically, work for you, you should get out of it. It's like that what I've said about tradition in the past: If it's not working for you, change it. And, face it, school is mostly about tradition at this point. That's why we keep increasing the homework load on kids despite the fact that study after study shows that homework (other than reading) is counterproductive.

But change is hard and stepping outside of the system is, um, more hard. More harder. Look, it's difficult to look at this thing that is the way everyone does it (not counting homeschool (which we were NOT going to do), because homeschool is still within the system even though it might not look like it) and to decide to go some other way. But that's what it's come down to, finding another path because, honestly, there's not anything else he's going to learn at school, anyway, and he's already farther along, by far, in pretty much every subject than most high school graduates.

See, this is the part where you quit trying to do the same thing over and over and failing every time but doing it again anyway in the vain hope of a different result.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Finding Dory (a movie review post)

I want to continue to believe in Pixar; I really do. I've met people who work there, was friends with one of the animators for a while (until we fell out of touch), and I've been to the studio. Their early movies are some of the best films ever made. However, it's undeniable at this point that their actual acquisition by Disney has had a detrimental effect. Since Disney took over, four of the seven films they have produced have been sequels, and three of their next four movies in production at this moment are also sequels. They've almost ceased to cover any new ground, the exceptions being Toy Story 3 and Inside Out.

So, yeah, Finding Dory does nothing new, covers no new ground, er, um, water. Sure, it's entertaining. It has some funny moments and introduces one new, great character, but it's virtually identical to Finding Nemo and strays out of the realm of believability far more frequently. And, yeah, I know it's a movie about talking, sentient fish, and I'll buy in for that, but I can't quite go all the way to octopus-driving-truck.

Speaking of the octopus, Hank, he's great. His character arc is also completely predictable, but he's a very fun character while onscreen. Really, he steals the whole thing. He would have been better, though, if he wasn't just the new incarnation of Gill, the escape-focused fish from Finding Nemo. No, it doesn't change the character sufficiently to have Hank wanting to escape in rather than escape out.

I guess what it really comes down to is this: If you've seen Finding Nemo, there's no real reason to see this movie unless you just really loved it and want to see the characters from a slightly different angle doing basically the same thing over again. If you have kids who are younger than Finding Nemo, they'll probably love Finding Dory and it won't matter whether they've seen Nemo or not. Kids notoriously love to watch the same thing over and over again (I still kind of have nightmares about Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, a movie I never ever need to see again).

If you haven't seen Finding Nemo... I don't know. I'd probably say just go watch Finding Nemo because it's a better movie. All I know is that when I come out of a movie and am glad I didn't have to pay full price for it (because we had two free tickets), then I can't in good conscience give it a whole-hearted recommendation. If you have the time and don't mind spending the money, sure, it's not going to drive you from the theater in disgust. It's good. Or good enough. But it's not great. It's not even Pixar-good. It's Cars 2 and Monsters University, movies completely playing to the formulas of their predecessors to rake in a buck.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Witches of the Mist" (Ep. 3.14)

-- The path to evil may bring great power, but not loyalty.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

The Jedi Council discover that it is a kin of Darth Maul's who has murdered two Jedi at one of their outposts. Not just the two Jedi, either, but wiped out the whole outpost. Considering his connection to Maul, they send Kenobi to investigate. He takes Anakin with him, which, actually, was probably a really good idea.

One of the things that has begun to bother me a little is how quickly characters gain mastery over the force these days. It's not that I don't understand the expediency of it; I mean, they want these characters to be able to pose a threat to the heroes, but it still bothers me. It hasn't really happened in Clone Wars before this, but Savage attains his power and some (enough) control very quickly. Basically, we get a brief training scene where he learns to harness his hatred, and he's a match for Anakin and Obi-Wan at the same time.
[A similar kind of thing happened in the most recent episode of Rebels I watched. And it's one of the things I have an issue with in The Force Awakens.]

But aside from that -- it is actually a small thing in this show because I don't remember it happening any other time -- this is an episode that probably shouldn't be missed. This whole arc shouldn't be missed.

And, well, I'd like to say more than that, but you should really just watch it.

"So much for not starting something."

"This place is all kinds of fun."

Monday, July 4, 2016

How the System Failed My Son: Part Six -- Get with the System

[Just go back and read the other posts if you haven't done so already and you want to know what's going on.]

High school didn't get better. It almost did, but, then, it just didn't.

The first problem was that taking drama as a class was not like working on a production. Working on a production, while fun, had a purpose. There was a goal, something everyone was working toward and, while there were production aspects of drama class (they had to perform short one-acts at the end of the school year), mostly it was just playing games. So it was fun, but it had no purpose. It got boring.

Because he got into the arts program through drama, he was required to take two periods of it a day, and he couldn't drop it without dropping the whole program and leaving the school. Not that there were any thoughts of that, because we didn't know drama was an issue.

No, the thing that came up first was English. I got an email from his freshman English teacher telling me that they had had an in-class essay to write as part of a test and that Phillip had sat and stared at his blank paper through the whole class and not written anything. She went on to tell me that she should have contacted me sooner because Phillip had been having some issues for a while, mostly that he seemed disinterested in the class and, therefore, was not participating. He was not passing, especially with the blank essay. This was an honors class, and her suggestion was that we move him into the "academic" class because, obviously, he was not capable of performing in the honors class.

The problem here was that she also had never addressed the issue with my son. She had not ever once said to him, "Hey, what's up? I'm noticing that you're not turning in any work. Is there anything going on or anything I can help you with?" No, her first response, her belated response to the situation, was to contact me and tell me that my son was not cut out for her class. (More on that in a moment.)

Now, we already knew that Phillip was having an issue with timed writing assignments. That had been something that had started during 7th grade. It's just not the way he works. (It's also not the way I work, either, but, then, I never had to write any timed essays when I was in middle school. Or, for that matter, much in high school, either. Essay questions are one thing, but the idea of sitting down and writing an essay on a topic in 45 minutes is something else entirely.) I mentioned previously that he's a perfectionist, so he has to work out the whole paper in his head beforehand. I have literally watched him stare at blank paper for six hours then write the entire three-page assignment in less than 30 minutes. Asking him to sit down and write an essay RIGHT NOW is about the same as throwing him off of a building and telling him to fly. The same kind of panic takes over his mind and, rather than being to figure out what to write, he's consumed by the ground rushing at his face.

When this started happening in middle school, he had a teacher who cared about his success as a person, not about the success of her class; and she worked with him to find alternate solutions for timed essays.
[I want to point out here that the idea of timed essays as preparing you for life or your career is bullshit. There is no time in your life after you get out of school that you will be asked to sit down and write an essay, timed or not. Sure, there are some careers that require writing at a high level, but it's not essay writing. The essay is a very specific form of writing that is almost exclusively used within the boundaries of school. And, while there are deadlines for the things you may need to write, none of those are SIT DOWN AND WRITE THIS RIGHT NOW kind of things.]
His freshman English teacher was not interested in working with him to find any solution other than him sitting down and writing the in-class essay. "Get with the system."

We had a conference -- the teacher, my son, his counselor, my wife and I -- wherein we worked out some strategies, within the system, for my son to use to find some success in his English class. And in his Algebra 2 class, as it turned out, which wasn't going as poorly as his English class, but it wasn't going at the level of his ability, either (the math issue was completely around the issue of homework (have I mentioned how much I hate homework? (but you can't pass a class with As on all of your tests if you aren't turning in the homework (which is RIDICULOUS)))).

I learned some things about his teacher during that conference including why she had never spoken to my son about the fact that he wasn't participating in the class or turning in his work. During the conference, his English teacher never once looked at anyone, either when she spoke or when anyone else spoke. She kept her eyes focused off at the floor to her left. Every once in a while, she would flick her eyes up at the group, but she was completely unable to make actual eye contact with anyone. It was disconcerting, to say the least. And off putting. Her level of introversion made me wonder how she was able to teach at all, but, also, made it obvious as to why she had never spoken to my son one-on-one. She was incapable of it. In effect, he was being punished for her inability.

The other thing that became obvious was that his teacher still didn't believe he belonged in her class. She expressed some vague belief that he couldn't write and that he should be in a class, i.e., the "academic" class, where writing wasn't required. I told her that she only thought that because she hadn't read anything that he'd written. She, basically, blew me off when I said that. It wasn't quite a "yeah, whatever," but it was close enough.

However, the next unit they were doing was fiction writing, and they were required to write a short story for that. That's my son's area of expertise, so to speak. I got an email from his teacher after she read his story, read it during class while the students were doing something else, letting me know that she had burst out into laughter during class while reading it, something that never happens with her. She apologized to me and told me that I was correct in my assessment of my son and his abilities. Not so amazingly, the relationship between my son and his teacher got better after that.

I think, in the end, that that is what made the difference, her view of him. Once she offered him some amount of respect and appreciation, he was able to come around and perform in the class, and that affected all of his school life. Of course, he was also following all of the strategies he had been given, so I missed the importance of what happened with the teacher. I think we all did, including my son. We chalked it up to him doing the things he was supposed to be doing. Not only did he make it through his freshman year, but he made honor roll. We thought we had it all figured out...

That is until he started his sophomore year, the school year that is, as I write this, just now drawing to a close.

For an example of my son's writing, you can visit this post. He wrote the short story "Into the Trench" when he was 10, and it was that story that initially alerted me to his ability. At the end of this series, if my son is agreeable, I will post the story he wrote for his freshman English class.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Rebels: "Out of Darkness" (Ep. 1.6)

"Stay calm; it's all part  of the plan."

I was going to say, at some point you have to start revealing the back stories of the supporting characters, then I realized they've revealed the major points already on the male characters. Sure, it's only episode six, but they gave us the stories for each of the male characters by the end of the second episode.

1. Ezra: The protagonist. Orphan boy with special powers. Fantasy cliche hero. Same model as Luke, actually. And Anakin. And Harry Potter. You get the picture, I'm sure.

2. Kanan Jarrus: Jedi on the run from the Empire and trying to do it harm at the same time. Sure, we don't know everything about him, but that's really enough to place him in the spectrum of things. He's the mentor character. Flawed, but the best available.

3. Zeb: The strong man. One of the last survivors of his race. The Chewbacca replacement, down to the part where his race was exploited and killed by the Empire.

We get all of that in the first two episodes with nothing about the women other than that Hera owns The Ghost and is the pilot, and Sabine wears some pieces of Mandalorian armor.

We get to find out a tiny bit about Sabine in this episode. She was a loyal Imperial in the Academy on Mandalore, blindingly following orders... until something bad happened. Now, she has trust issues and hates it that Kanan and Hera keep her in the dark about things. The whole episode is an exploration of trust between Hera and Sabine.

There is some fighting of monsters, too.

And the repeated referring to someone called Fulcrum.

But, overall, this episode was back down into the "kids' cartoon" realm for me as the fight with the monsters had a very video game feel with even the characters referring to the combat as "wave one" and "wave two" and so on. So I'm back to waiting to see where the show goes after the brief moment of hoping that it was rising about merely being a cartoon for kids.