Archive for September 2008
Most of you who read this blog know by now that I have another story up on Lovable Losers Literary Revue. If you don’t know, and if you want to read it, follow this link:
I made it a point to take a walk in the park behind my condo this evening before dinner. The weather is uncharacteristically chilly for early September, but I love the feel and smell of the crisp air; it makes me want to have Fall arrive earlier.
The park at this time of year is packed with three different levels of football squads working on game plans and fundamentals and otherwise trying to master the game. They work mostly on the stretches of green inside the limestone path that marks the perimeter of the park. The action on the grass usually commands my attention because I enjoy watching athletes work on the fundamentals of their sport. Plus, the smack of pads and helmets colliding and the thump of bodies against the ground add a peculiar percussion to the dissonant chirps of whistles and shouts from teammates and adults to hit harder or better or again. Tonight was different, though, because the squirrels on the wood fence that runs parallel to the footpath were upstaging the human events unfolding a few yards away from them.
As I walked down the path and looked to my left, I saw a running back burst through the offensive line and dodge a tackler. When I looked to my right, I saw a squirrel dart along the top plank of the fence and hop over posts, like he could do it blindfolded. To my left, a tackler dragged down a receiver from behind. To my right, squirrels chased each other, turning and leaping acrobatically, trying to protect what was theirs. To my left, combatants scrambled to recover a fumble. To my right, a squirrel snatched an acorn and left dust in his wake as he raced to his cache and deposited it.
After a quarter mile of strolling through this peculiar gauntlet of skill and speed, I wanted the footballers to stop and watch the squirrels. I wanted the adults to tell them to pay attention to what is right in front of them, to what nature already knows, because it might be the most important thing they learn today, this week, this season. I wanted them to understand that you have to play the game like its not a game; you have to play it like its your life and if you don’t play it with urgency, then you’re cheating yourself. If you don’t have the dedication to action that the squirrels have, you’ll never know your own potential or power, and you need to know both to get the most you can out of life.
My apologies for faulty research. My recent expository on Dirty Harry rang a false note. Sondra Bullock did not appear in The Dead Pool, as I wrote. The actress in question was Patricia Clarkson. They look a lot alike, but that’s no excuse for shoddy fact-finding.
The New York Times ran a story last week about the Harrold Independent School District in Harrold, Texas where the school board has decided that training and arming teachers is their best solution to school security issues. You can read the story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/29/us/29texas.html?scp=2&sq=texas%20&st=cse
The district has provided teachers with training from private consultants in the use of their weapons, and protected the identities of those who have opted to arm themselves. The directive was spearheaded by David Thweatt, the Superintendent of the 100-student district.
Thweatt and the district feel they have legitimate concerns, the main ones being that the nearest sheriff’s office is 17 miles away and there has been a recent upturn in drug activity. I wonder what area libraries and hospitals are doing to address their concerns about the same issues. They, too, suffer from being remote and vulnerable. The district pled poverty when it explained it cannot afford security. That’s odd; surely the private training didn’t come for free. And where else is their money being spent? The HISD website lists contact information for both a principal and a superintendent; I can’t imagine such a microscopic district needing both administrative positions. It seems that eliminating one of the positions could provide enough money to hire the security that seems so vital.
I will not be surprised if the school boards’ decision is overturned, and I hope it is. I can think of several reasons why– foremost, the HISD decision sets a poor precedent for other districts in similar situations. Furthermore, the potential for something to go wrong far outweighs the benefits of security in a district where violence is almost unheard of. Detractors have further reasons, some being that HISD’s decision violates state law about who is allowed to carry a weapon in a school building, and that the decision saddles teachers with further supervisory responsibilities that are exponentially more dangerous than standard school supervisions and for which they are not fully trained. To add to that, none of what I have read has addressed how students feel about their safety within the school buildings now that there has been an influx of concealed firearms. I’m curious to know how students are responding both emotionally and academically now that their school board and superintendent have declared that they can’t afford to provide for their safety in any other way. How difficult is it to learn in an atmosphere of paranoia like the one that has been established by the school leaders? Like most teenagers, these students are probably seeing other things around the district buildings and drawing their own conclusions as to why their individual safety has taken a backseat to issues such as a manicured football field and administrative salaries.
Something else I find disturbing about this is the power granted to the school board and the superintendent to make these decisions. Several residents claimed ignorance about the process the board followed in passing these measures. Here is where the residents of Harrold are at fault– they are the ones who elect the schoolboard; they are the ones who are responsible for attending schoolboard meetings and checking in with the regular proceedings of the district. Sadly, it’s a situation that I have seen all too frequently. School board members are some of the least knowledgable local citizens when it comes to education and such concepts as best practices in teaching, hiring effective administrators, and making sound budgetary decisions that serve the best interests of as many students as possible and not just the jockstraps and sportsbras crowd. To complicate matters, school board positions too often are viewed as the bottom of the totem pole, as thankless positions that people are relieved to have filled by someone else– even if that someone else has family already on the school board (usually a bad idea because of nepotism), or if that someone else didn’t even graduate from high school (another bad idea… what example is that setting to families and students?).
What is worse is when school boards make poor decisions over and over with no consequence or accountability. Poor school board decisions always trickle down to effect students in some way or another; on the way down, the trickle is more like a tidal wave that can take its toll on administration, faculty, and support staff. A short list of my favorite poor decisions includes hiring administrators who have retired from out-of-state districts (a popular ploy by admins to collect two pensions by the time they fully retire), promoting successful coaches to administrative positions (the idea being they should be able to manage educated adults with the the same success they did teenagers), budgetting money for more athletic facilities when there are scant fine arts facilities, keeping ineffective administrators for any reason, and not being an active presence at the school during the school day. This list is heavy on school board dealings with administrators, the reason being that a school cannot thrive with an ineffective administration. It’s no different than a good team with a poor coach. The individual talent is not going to pull a team through if their leadership is flawed and insufficient.
Ultimately, the school board is like any other governing body. It will get away with whatever it is allowed to get away with. If community indifference empowers a school board to operate in relative secrecy, as some citizens of Harrold claimed their board did, then it will continue to do so. Most likely, its decisions will continue to be shocking, ineffective, and unsatisfying to its constituency. One solution is to be active with your local school board by making your voice heard and your vote count.
American Movie Classics has been running Dirty Harry movies all week, and in honor of their observance of one of the greatest cinematic badasses of all time, I got to thinking about why the testosterone crowd loves movies with Harry Callahan and his huge handgun.
1. Dirty Harry fights crime and gets results, which is the kind of macho enforcement crap that men love. Harry Callahan alone has flushed out psychotic snipers threatening the innocent (if flaky) citizens of San Francisco, dismantled a cadre of corrupt cops bent on creating a new society that looked a helluva lot more like Nazi Germany than the United States, exterminated a gaggle of political radicals threatening the mayor of San Francisco (even though Harry personally didn’t care for the mayor, he didn’t let his feelings get in the way of his job), rescued a small seaside town in California from the twisted vengence of a rape survivor, cleaned up the Mafia problem in San Francisco, and saved us all from more movies in which Liam Neeson directs hack-job heavy metal videos while still finding time to supposedly kill people to win a sick and twisted game.
2. The Dirty Harry films are but a branch in a complex network of badass, tough guy films starring and directed by badass tough guys; thus, they have won our respect and acclaim by remaining true to their roots. The original Dirty Harry was directed by renowned badass director Don Siegel. His catalogue of work includes the original sci-fi-identity-theft thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which has been remade twice), Coogan’s Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara, and the prison drama Escape From Alcatraz. The prison drama alone should be enough to enshrine Siegel in the Testosterone Hall of Fame, but that wasn’t even his greatest film. That honor goes to the gritty 1962 combat film Hell is For Heroes, which features a crane shot so brilliant and moving that men routinely weep and crap their pants at the sight of Siegel capturing the frailty and vulnerability of men in combat. And that’s only after James Coburn gets wrecked by his own flamethrower. In addition to this, Siegel’s film showcases Steve McQueen, a Testosterone Hall of Fame charter member. He plays Reese, a salty combat survivor who cracks when the pressure is off. If that isn’t enough to make you rush out and buy a DVD of the film, Siegel makes milquetoast cuteboys Bob Newhart, Bobby Darrin, and Nick Adams look like plausible combatants in the same flick. One of Siegel’s final films was The Shootist, starring all-time President and Overlord of the Testosterone Hall of Fame, John Wayne. Ron Howard obviously picked up a trick or two from Siegel during the filming (Howard plays piss-pants Gillom in the film); that has enabled him to make some decent films of his own despite not being a badass. Siegel knew badasses when he saw them, and that’s why he picked Clint Eastwood to star in many of his films. He also snared notorious basass Charles Bronson for his 1977 film Telefon, badass extraordinaire Lee Marvin for The Killers in 1964, and badass Robert Mitchum for The Big Steal (1949). The only way Siegel could have been more of a badass would have been if he had collaborated with other card-carrying badasses like Burt Lancaster, William Holden, and Gene Hackman.
3. Dirty Harry uttered enough cornball one-liners to make James Bond blush with shame, and we all love to say them to our friends and in department stores when the checkout lines are moving too slowly. A small sampling of the best of Harry Callahan includes the original, “Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?” in addition to: “A man has got to know his limitations…” (right after he blows up Hal Holbrook at the end of Magnum Force), “This badge is a seven-point suppository… you can stick it up your ass…” (when he hands his badge and gun over to Captain McKay in The Enforcer), “Your mouthwash ain’t makin’ it…” (said to same later in The Enforcer), the tired “Go ahead, make my day…” in Sudden Impact, and my personal favorite (also from Sudden Impact), “Nobody, and I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hotdog.”
4. Clint Eastwood knew when the Dirty Harry films lost their meaning, and even though it was almost too late, got out before they turned into recurring celluliod jokes like Death Wish XIV, Lethal Weapon VII, and Die Harderest that would only immasculate him. Eastwood and Harry’s only real misstep was 1988’s regrettable The Dead Pool. Aside from the poor choice of casting a miserably unable Liam Neeson as the main suspect, Sondra Locke also did her whiny, pale-skinned best to send the Harry films to an unexpected and uncomfortable grave. Eastwood walked away after that, but he knows that right now he could write, direct, and produce another Dirty Harry film starring the likes of Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Hillary Swank, Sean Penn, and Forest Whitaker that would mostly likely win Academy Awards for best director, best cinematography, best actor, best actress, best costumes, best sound design, best foreign-language film, and probably best animated feature.
5. The Dirty Harry films are the grandfathers of maverick cop stories we all love to watch. Dirty Harry was released in 1971 amidst an unusual Hollywood movement that was a essentially a backlash to the hippy counterculture designed to let the long-hair pot heads know that staunch conservatives are still in control. Other films around the same time all featured the lone, badass symbol of justice setting the bureaucratic, liberal, bleeding-heart legal system on its ear with his own brand of enforcement: Death Wish (1974) and Bullitt (1968) are two examples. It was such a fad that it enabled two other films of the same kind to be made, and they were based on true stories: The French Connection (1971) and Serpico (1973). If not for the popularity of these films and the Dirty Harry series, modern classics like the original Die Hard and Lethal Weapon films may not have been made. And if not for them, you can forget about other “realistic” cop dramas on TV like Hill Street Blues and The Shield.
6. Harry Callahan fought Political Correctness as successfully as he did crime, which was a victory for everyone with the “Y” chromosome. Despite all that faced him in terms of crime and corruption, Harry still managed to get all his partners dispatched. While Harry didn’t directly cause them to die, it was no coincidence that every partner assigned to him because of the demands of political correctness, racial and gender quotas, and Affirmative Action died while working with Harry. Early Smith (token black man) was blasted to a new postal zone in Magnum Force, and Kate Moore (token woman) was given more breathing holes in The Enforcer. The only clemency granted was to Al Quan (token Asian man) in The Dead Pool, and that was because he did a very un-Callahanlike thing by wearing a kevlar vest. Harry’s greatest PC coupe, though, was managing to openly display his penis (read: his power and authority) throughout large parts of each film, despite the presence of women, children, and other lesser men in and around the San Francisco area (some Bay Area residents would say this is normal behavior in the city). Albeit his penis was symbolized by a .44 Magnum (and later, a .44 Automag), Harry still bandied it about with impunity, thus inspiring generations of gun enthusiasts, hunters, NRA freaks, Charleton Heston fans, and Dick Cheney.