Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson

I suppose it's almost compulsory that I blog about the passing of Michael Jackson. But what is there to say about someone who has died who the writer has never known. Certainly there are epic elegies to those who the writer has never or could never know (especially when those deaths span centuries or even millennia), but how does one write about an entertainer? A musician who was marred by scandal, private dealings that may or may not be suitable for all ages to read, jealousy, secrecy, bankruptcy, and physical "abnormalities" that caused his life to become a circus akin to the theme park he owned.

It's a tough job to write something about someone whose heyday arguably began three years before I was born and ended when I was two. It's also difficult to forget all the controversies: the children who have accused him over the years, the dangling baby over the balcony, the plastic surgeries, the dismaying changes in voice, appearance, attitude and presence in the everyday world.

To write about Michael Jackson is to acknowledge all his life was inundated with, but then to sift out what was ultimately the most distracting aspects, and arrive at a solid, appreciative image of a man who had the creativity, dancing and singing skills unparalleled by most performers in their lifetimes. It is to recognize that greatness is often accompanied by a fall. There cannot be one without the other. And only through acknowledgment of this inextricable relationship can one arrive at an appreciation and commemoration of someone like Jackson, who, although dead, is still living today as I write this and will never be forgotten.

I don't believe there will be Jackson sightings as there are still Elvis sightings, but there will be impersonations, and biographers galore; those concerned with glorifying, demystifying or deconstructing a man whose life was lived in front of the camera, the microphone and on the stage. There are words to be said in poetry, in elegy, and in memory. There are words for every moment of Jackson's life, but not enough space here. For a man who lived a life that was bigger than himself, he did the best he could to not be swept away--as everyone eventually is when placed in that situation. Michael Jackson does not leave a void in music; on the contrary, he filled one with the music he created and the life that he lived. Appreciate what he gave us and do not concern yourselves with what sensationalities plagued him.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Seeing Everything in Poetry

When I first rode the T last Friday, coming from South Station into Cambridge for the first time since mid-January, I was struck with a sense of remembrance for the extreme promise and excitement I felt when living and learning within this mecca of intelligence, artistry and literature.

True, Cambridge is one of the main literary centers of the world, and Boston-Cambridge-MetroWest is one of the most literate and well-read areas of the world, but just coming off the T into this world is like entering a totally new world. It's shape is different--Victorians juxtaposed with crowded streets, MIT and Harvard students ambling from building to building, runners and dog walkers stuffing the sidewalks, and casual tourists snapping photos of everything they deem noteworthy or photo-worthy.

My problem though is seeing everything in poetry. The scream of the T as it slides from track to track between stops is poetic. As is the homeless man who holds a sign in the opposite direction, but his half-full can in mine (intentional on both counts). Everything seems to breathe life into me--into my poetry. I'm feeling unbridled and too jittery (and not just from the coffee) to sit still in seminars. I want to be in a writing circle right now.

If we were forced into a room to write for 12 hours--given some food and beverages here and there--it could be one of the most successful half-days of my life. Poetry is nearly tangible here. Metaphor is palpable (also a metaphor).

And in living this life, I'm left wondering how much of this I can take before I stop paying attention to what's happening around me and start focusing again solely on my work? Will my concentration continue unabated (not as it did last year when I was laid off immediately after the residency and had my world upended violently) for a full year (as I plan to defer my next semester because of full-time teaching)?

All I can do is hope this feeling stays with me and I continue to see everything in terms of poetry. My mind seems sharper and more intelligent while I'm here. I feel like less is impossible.

It's a treat to be able to be here and to have the opportunity to write for not only a hobby, but potentially a career, as being a great reader and writer can only make a trained teacher a better teacher.

I learn more each moment I am here and feel guilty for taking a five minute break right now to blog. Yes, I feel compelled and/or obligated to report on my status, but I feel the same way about returning to my notebook of five recently begun poems, and trying to hammer another few before I focus for an hour on them tonight on the train.

This residency is cathartic, uplifting, invigorating and fulfilling. It's the type of environment I wish I could be surrounded in everyday--is this how I'll feel teaching? How literature and/or writing teachers feel? If being surrounded by learning, writing and literature can feel this fulfilling and 'perfect,' I hope I can only be as lucky as to experience it everyday for the remainder of my life.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Running progress

Went for my latest run on Wednesday, June, 17, and I have to say I can feel my lungs getting stronger. My legs weren't in the least bit uncomfortable, tight or sore both afterward or the next day. I feel like I'm making a lot of progress and should be able to do a 5k or 10k at some point in the near future.

This run was shorter than the last--a quick 2-mile run that I did in 18 minutes (give or take a minute.) That puts my mile average, with the hills included both heading out and coming back) at 9 minutes--certainly not a great achievement for a runner overall, but a great achievement for me, as I have been able to maintain this without stopping and have shaved at least four minutes total off my time from when I was running this last year.

My goal is to be able to do this run in 15 minutes flat. I think 7 1/2 minutes is a great average for a mile, running both uphill and slightly downhill. I'd like to be able to do it sooner than later, of course. Hopefully this summer while being outdoors and exercising a lot more than I was both last summer and all of last year, that I'll be able to shed my winter weight and recent running slump.

I remember the days of high school when I did the mile in gym class in under 6 1/2 minutes and was commended by the gym teacher for improving my time greatly--and I didn't feel winded at all after finishing. In fact, math class was still a cinch afterward.

More Disney photos

Here are some addition Disney photos to really make me overly-nostalgic for the "Happiest Place on Earth."

The dedication at the entrance of Walt Disney World.

The entrance to Fronteirland station!

The entrance to the best and most soothing ride in the world, Splash Mountain. :) (obligatory emoticon.)

Pirates of the Caribbean entrance!

The entrance to Liberty Square, with tea and other accoutrement to really transport you to 1776 and beyond--a time when America was arguably more forward-thinking.

The entrance to Adventureland.

The sign pointing the way down to Jungle Cruise.

The amazing and (still) futuristic and enduring entrance to Tomorrowland. Though it might not be as futuristic and up-to-date as it was when the park first opened, it surely does still retain that 'what will come about tomorrow' feeling; and, of course, it still promotes space travel as the pinnacle of futuristic and desirable achievement, though the world seems disinterested in it as a whole. (Until an asteroid is mentioned, or a black hole or the like...then EVERYONE jumps on the bandwagon.)

The entrance to Peter Pan in October (note the 30 minute wait time during peak hours...and how no people managed to interrupt the shot...hmmm...).

Some images from elsewhere in Disney...

The sign for the Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios! (No longer MGM.)

Anandapur in the Animal Kingdom--setting you off to know you are entering a totally different land. This park is very up-and-coming and the latest village presenting Expedition Everest is truly an accomplishment for any theme park and it will quickly become a fan favorite. It really is like an entirely different world that can transport and captivate.


I have, for the past few days, been blogging sparsely (at best) and have been totally non-existent in cyberspace. The reasoning behind this is preparation for my latest 10 days in Cambridge, MA, as part of my second semester of studies in the Lesley University MFA in Creative Writing (poetry, English, Journalism) low-residency program.

Since the entirety of the semester is based off of distance-learning, the format works perfectly for me. As a teacher, having the opportunity to write during the early mornings/evenings and on the weekends is a great plus, as opposed to the alternative of attending classes either full-time during the summer or going part-time over a 5- or 6-year period and struggling to finish up a Master's program in time.

Last semester I was able to create around 50 pages of poems--an amazing feat of proliferation and creativity--and this semester I hope to be able to achieve more. Since January, my personal life has been on a roller-coaster. I was engaged, attended my first residency, and was laid off from my job all within 3 weeks. Paired with the plummeting and uncertain economy and free world, my personal life tumbled into a free-fall that I still feel hesitant in saying I have recovered from. The following is a brief (yeah, right) synopsis and explanation of how the past semester (writing-wise, academically, personally, future-wise, and depression-wise) went for me.

Since struggling and searching 16-18 hours per day to find a job, realign my personal life, devise a financial savings plan, search for a part-time and summer job, become certified to teach in MA and RI, and write enough to keep myself in the MFA program (and to produce something better than trite or sentimental teenage verse), I have found a semi-stable foundation and feel much more confident heading into this next semester than I did heading into the first.

For starters, I know what to expect this time going in. Immediately after the January residency, I was prepared to write, revise and read my heart out and take all the time in the world with a stable backing behind me. The very next day I was laid off and (idiomatically) thrown onto the street. Physically I felt drained and hopeless. My psyche was bruised and twisted into an imbroglio that was devastating and painful. I dropped at least 15 pounds, found myself depressed and dazed, and believed the world was probably coming to an end.

I found myself researching and learning more about stock market and economic trends than I was studying and reading poetry. I found the poems of Robert Lowell dull and uninteresting, and the banter of Rick Santelli of CNBC to be intriguing and provocative. Left disillusioned and frightened, I headed blind into a world that looked neither promising nor bright.

The winter days dragged on. Snow piled into a cascade of sadness and uncertainty that was impossible to shovel away (through K. and others tried their hardest). The lack of light seemed to be my inner monologue. I spoke in macabre vowels. I breathed an apocalyptic fog. It took more than 5 weeks for the first secondary teaching job to appear, and even longer to devise a plan to become certified, find a job (close by) and secure myself a financial future. Writing appeared in a helter-skelter fashion. Then in spurts, then began to finally materialize into something malleable and palatable. I was no longer thinking in terms of trite songs and dull repetitions. I wrote at times like a house aflame, while during other times I was more arid than a March 6, 2009, stock portfolio (see: lingering financial and economic influences on my psyche).

The stock market turned around and at this writing is 2,300 points higher than it was during the depths of its downturn and during the depths of my own depression. Hopefully the job market as a whole turns around quickly and comprehensively--offering all Americans a chance to breathe again and look at the world as a sunny place with promises of hope as opposed to a careening wheel becoming more and more shriveled with each passing day; tossing off the jobless at every turn and ruining the prospective lives of more generations.

I have secured a teaching job for next year and feel both humbled and lucky to have found one--both so quickly (3 months after becoming unemployed and about 1 1/2 months after teaching jobs began to be posted) and with such benefits to it. I may have the opportunity to teach 1) creative writing (!!), 2) drama (!!), and 3) journalism (!!)--all of which are my fortes.

If the MA economy is able to turn around by the end of 2010 and return to something normal and/or promising, I hope to be able to keep this job past the 2010-2011 school year. It seems likely that I will retain the position for the aforementioned school year, but for the 2011-2012 school year (when all federal funding will be non-existent) and districts and the state of MA again cutback on all aide to towns and local governments, the position may be cut along with hundreds (maybe thousands) of others across the state as virtually every town would be forced to raise taxes more than a nominal amount to bridge the difference gap between the prospective tax revenue and budget and what would be needed to retain every service and job from the previous year. (The level funded fiscal 2010 makes me feel more confident in 2010-2011 than I previously did as well.)

Regardless, this upcoming school year promises to be filled with enjoyment, excitement, preparation and guidance. I know positively that I will cherish every day I am teaching high school English. It is a life-long dream come true. The classes could not be better, the school is immaculate, the schedule is highly desirable, and from what I have observed of the students, they seem eager to learn, intelligent, diligent, and receptive.

As for the MFA program, I feel I have a very solid and structured writing schedule for this upcoming year (moreso than this past semester even before I became unemployed). I feel I'll learn a lot this semester as well and will be able to revise, finalize (?), and write a lot more and a lot more often. Instead of two or three days a week creatively writing, I might be able to get five or more in!

Here's to hoping the economy turns around as soon as possible to provide the necessary foundation for everyone to live again without the worry that at any moment their lives will implode on a whim of the unpredictable and uncontrollable stock and housing markets.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Say it ain't so, JK!

This article came out today and states that another publishing company is suing the publishers of Harry Potter (Bloomsbury) for copyright infringement, alleging that portions of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as essentially stolen ideas and materials.

While I suppose it is inevitable that some portion of some book would have some kind of similarity to some aspect of one of the Harry Potter novels (it is, after all, nearly impossible these days to produce an entire work without borrowing from, alluding to or referencing an idea, event, character type, theme, etc. from another book, story, poem, idea, etc.), it does seem kind of fishy that the book in question is another 'wizard' book.

So, did JK Rowling knowingly borrow aspects of the book? Is there a foundation behind this argument? Can it be proven? If so, does it diminish her reputation as a creative genius? Does it somewhat lessen her impact on adolescent and pre-teen reading? Does it disqualify her as one of the greatest authors of the past 25 years? I think not. One thing is for sure: she did not steal a whole idea, as "parts" of the book are claimed to be "similar." She also vehemently denies any previous knowledge or reading of the book, making it entirely impossible to plagiarize. Perhaps it proves that there is a pre-determined direction for a book or idea to go in, regardless of the author's own bias, and that writing is truly an unconscious being in and of itself.

Monday, June 15, 2009

City and Town Stimulus Instead

Have I not been saying this for the past three months? Directly to towns and cities, not the country as a whole with spending spent arbitrarily. Begin at the trickle-down point. The government cut funding to cities and towns, which in turn had their internal funding cut because of decreased tax revenues, etc. Then a stimulus is passed, but little money is given back to the cities and towns that it was stripped from. An economic 'stimulus' should have been to bridge the incurred budget gaps of the cities and towns of America--that way towns that wanted it could accept it, those who didn't, would not be required to. It would have alleviated a lot and would have offered up some resolution to cities and towns still battling with budgets currently, and that will continue to struggle for a few years to come until things 'level out'--notice: not 'return to normal.'

A New Way To 'Rate' Schools

During my long and arduous job hunt, I researched many school districts and schools throughout MA, RI, CT, and NH, looking for leads on the school environment, the level of commitment, respect and interest of the students, the comaraderie of the faculty and staff, and, of course, the availability of jobs (often information related to school enrollment, growing/shrinking population and/or enrollment, impending teacher retirements, school size and size history, etc. were all pertinent).

What I found were a ton of websites offering scattered, outdated, or partial information relating to one or a few of the things I felt were pertinent to my search. Concurrently, if I were a parent or new family looking to move, I would be looking for much more information on a district than what could be garnered from the websites listed. Of course, it seems the web is the fastest and most comprehensive way to discover as much as possible about a town or a school district, short of sitting down and studying the district or speaking with a few dozen townspeople, teachers and administrators, and students.

So how does a prospective teacher find out as much as possible about a district? Well, the MA Department of Education has a website listing the district profiles, which outline the demographic, enrollment, test scores, staffing, salary, etc. data for the school district, up to the most current year (2008-2009 data was on the website). This is helpful, but leaves out many crucial aspects of a school, mainly: the average class size.

I could find no website offering the average class size. As a teacher, this is very important to me, and as a student and a parent, it is dually important as no student wants to be lost in a sea of sleepy adolescents and no parent wants their child to join these ranks. Everyone wants a healthy mix, manageable and teachable class sizes, and ample opportunity for extra help, further explanation or additional projects/assignments/etc. Arguably, learning isn't as fun and interesting if there are no opportunities for discovery and appreciation of the material being presented and many research studies have found irrefutable correlations between class sizes, student memory and enthusiasm, teacher longevity and passion, and (perhaps most importantly in today's world) test scores.

There are websites which offer up the average student/teacher ratio, which is helpful in determining class sizes, but these numbers also take into account special education teachers and teacher's aides (even if any of these teachers aren't 1.0 FTE [full-time educators]). Therefore, the numbers are skewed. A student/teacher ratio of 13/1 might sound appealing since it would seem like class sizes of 13 are the norm, but a school might have classes of 20-30 with a number like that, given the number of special education classes with fewer than 13 students in them, and with the addition of teacher's aides of classroom aide's which also lower the ratio.

One school district I investigated has a student/teacher ratio of 19/1, which was above the MA state average. After calling the school to get some further information, I spoke with a representative from the high school who informed me average class sizes for seniors averaged around 20-25 (not bad by any means), but average sizes for freshmen classes could average up to 40 students per class (and one of her classes that year was at 43).

For both a teacher and a parent, this is necessary information that, although it might be a turn-off to some, needs to be presented in some way to give a proper portrayal of the type of atmosphere of the classroom. Does this mean the classrooms are filled to the brim? Students without desks or proper materials? Does it mean there is a burgeoning influx of freshmen each year and a high drop-out rate, which offsets the average class size?

With so many questions there is only one thing for certain: 19/1 is incorrect at best, and negatively misleading at worst.

For some teachers, demographics (racial makeup, socio-economic status, two-parent households, amount of population with at least a diploma/bachelor's degree, etc.) is extremely important in determining a district to teach in. As a young (and arguably too optimistic and passionate) teacher, I could care less about such factors as the potential for success and unconfined achievement is inherent in every student, regardless of these factors, and is often used as an excuse or a crutch by people (sometimes the students' themselves) who look for explanation behind a negative or skewed number, and look for somewhere to cast blame. Pulling up one's self by one's own bootstraps is arguably the most noble or virtuous ideal in our current society, as rags to riches is still glorified tremendously, perhaps even above middle-class to riches. The American Dream is alive and well still (despite the recession), but its shape has changed, its ideals are shifting, and its parameters are constantly jostling for proper position. But this is another entry entirely.

So how can a school district/town properly portray their schools and get all the important or necessary information out to the public, to prospective students/families moving to town, to students deciding on public vs. private school, to teachers looking for their first jobs or for better positions? The answer is: the internet.

Websites such as a offer a lot of information not readily found elsewhere: test scores from year-to-year (to determine if improvement is present or a plan for it has been implemented recently), enrollment size, spending per pupil, advanced placement exams, school demographics, and, most importantly and uniquely, parent reviews and ratings.

While ratings can be arbitrary--a student has a bad day and comes home and rates the school as a 1 star out of 5--the parent reviews, student reviews, and faculty reviews are very helpful, informative and offer a great glimpse into the types of relationships between parents, administrators and teachers. It is arguably the most unique and important tool in discovering how your child will like a district, how you will be respected as a parent, and what type of education and enviroment your child will experience. For prospective teachers, it's important to understand the current mentality and attitude in the district, the school and how it has changed (either for better or worse) over the past few years. is a great tool that, I believe, students should be urged to use at the end of the school year--to provide their overall vibe and experience for the year, what they thought of their teachers, if they felt they learned a lot, and perhaps, what can be done to improve the school(s). There is nothing like hearing from the mouths of babes what has to be improved and what needs to be improved to really cause a town to rally behind improvements, changes or ratifications to schools, budgets, etc.

Another important and relevant tool is Wikipedia. Seeing if a school has a webpage on Wikipedia is helpful in determining the technological prowess of a school district. Often, a school district will have an outside company or a technology specialist do their websites, but often Wikipedia entries are created by faculty/staff or students themselves to chronicle and display their school. It shows pride and thanks, positivity (or negativity, depending on what's on the page), and offers another glimpse into the school behind the numbers--especially if its a large and comprehensive Wikipedia webpage, and includes graphics, or includes some type of information not found elsewhere.

Faculty/staff webpages, blogs (ahem, ahem), etc. really convey a sense of wherewithal between the students and faculty and show the gap between classroom teaching and technology is beginning to close. What is more important to implement than technology? With most of the US population now 'online' in one way or another, is it surprising or depressing that 25% of schools in the US are not using the internet, are not internet-ready or do not even have a computer lab? (A story in the NY Times a few months ago chronicled a school in Mississippi that has been struggling to get a computer for years and has finally gotten one--a 1999 Gateway computer, unable to connect to the internet [which is also not available in the area], and printer. The students are finally able to type papers and use the built-in encyclopedias on the computer as an additional resource. While some may argue that it is simply a sign of the region the school is located in--disadvantaged, rural or isolated--the story continued on to say that more than 20% of the town has both a computer and internet access.)

The Bottom Line

Teachers and administrators need to do everything they can to promote the schools via new technology: internet pages and blogs (both personal and classroom), online assignments available long after the class recesses for summer, a comprehensive and inventive school webpage, and a determination to listen to students and parents and attempt to solve problems from year to year to increase the cohesiveness between both parties.

Parents need to vocalize or electronically express their concerns, but also their appreciations. Stating on that your daughter wasn't satisfied with her education in sixth grade says nothing about any improvements that she experienced in seventh or eighth grade, and displays nothing about any progress that may have been made by that teacher or that district when your son came through the school three years later. An entry that states concerns were met with answers, and solutions have been implemented, progress has been made, or you can tell that there is a caring and determined staff despite uncontrollable factors or budgets, is key to asserting the successes of a district, not simply its shortcomings.

Students need to truthfully and, without bias as much as possible, reflect what they subjectively thought about their teachers, administrators, school, etc. and what can be done to improve it. I will urge my students to create a Wikipedia page and add any historical information they can find about the school and/or town, to insert any successes (both personal and school-wide) to the page, to offer information about faculty and staff, and to continue to explore the opportunities the internet provides to thoughtfully and realistically portray their school so that any necessary changes or augmentations can begin as soon as possible.

The technology or graphic design classes in the school need to take over the school website and make it flashy, including the latest java applications, etc., and need to give a comprehensive overview of the school: include a separate webpage for each teacher with their name, photo, classes taught, educational information, and either a statement about themselves or their educational philosophy. What could be more helpful or important than knowing that? I know, as a former high school student, this would have helped me when I was in high school to avoid a certain teacher who believed that rote lecturing was the best method to teach. She refused to allow discussions, was not available for extra help, and had an educational philosphy which didn't appeal to me or work for me--as a result, I ended up switching out of her class halfway through the year and entering another class (same level, same period of the day) down the hall, and saw my grades improve by one and a half letters quarter-over-quarter.

1) Create/update reviews, Wikipedia webpage,, etc.
2) Have graphic design classes update school webpage to be more comprehensive, colorful and appealing.
3) Urge all faculty and staff to have some type of online presence to bridge the technology gap
4) Create a comprehensive online presence to address needs, to display all necessary information, and create a platform for ratifications, discussions and improvements.
5) Encourage cohesiveness and camaraderie and promote discussion between the different parties.
6) Get students more involved, interested and aware of their place in the school and the world.
6) TK.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Current Reading

Currently, I'm reading "A Farewell to Arms," for whatever reason (I saw it on my shelf and suddenly decided to pick it up and begin rereading it [first time since high school], perhaps because another book I'm reading is befuddling me), and "The Collected Poems of Allen Ginsberg," which is very trying and very different from a lot of what I have read in the past.

I am also rushing through Cate Marvin's "Fragment of the Head of a Queen," mainly because she will be at the upcoming residency and, having never met her before, I'd like to have some idea of how she writes. So far, I'm coming up with a lot of Plath-esque feelings toward her poems. They seem disjointed in parts, and more about description and frequent divergences than they do about a total, singular revelation--which tend to be more of the type of poems I write.

Maybe it would be good to get some advice from her or to work with her during one semester to get an alternative approach to writing poetry. I can tell that she has done her homework on some of these poems where certain ideas and images are amazing, but, as I said before, her type of poetry doesn't necessarily appeal to my poetry likings. I'm inclined to learn from her, and to read her, but I'm not necessarily inclined to write like her or to spend hours scrutinizing her work (as I do to other poets) to attempt to discover their inspirations and processes of writing.

Saturday 6/13

Went for a tremendous run this morning/afternoon. I ran from our apartment to the city park (a little more than 3 miles one way), then did two laps there around the park (about 1/2 mile) and then ran back--only stopping twice to stretch, once on the way there and again at the park. I also must admit I walked for a tiny bit when I began to cramp up on the way home. So all together, I'll give myself a solid 6.5-7 mile run today in 55 minutes--which brings me to running about 9 minute miles (with all stretching time included.)

My goal is to be doing 7 minute miles to do this circuit in under 40 minutes total, which will be incredibly difficult to do. It also means probably only stopping once to catch my breath and stretch while at the park and turning right around to run all the way back.

K. and I are headed over to her cousin's house this afternoon for a cookout and party leading into the evening. I'm bringing a book and a notebook with me and will probably work a bit in the car seeing as how I have become greatly inspired as of late--strange, I know. I plan to gain back in hamburger and hot dog weight everything that I lost today from my run.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fire Teachers Because of Decreasing Enrollment

Now here's an interesting argument.

The town of North Kingstown, RI, has voted against three separate tax hikes and budget amendments, and voted yesterday on whether to cut $1.3 million from the school budget.

They voted against it, thankfully.

I think this properly displays the fortitude and forward-mindedness of those in North Kingstown who didn't want to see any more cuts from their budget. The school budget for next year is already smaller than it is for this year, and with no raise halts in place, 16 teachers were notified in April that they were being laid off. The school committee was able to save money by reorganizing the middle schools in the town, thus being able to eliminate a crossing guard/bus monitor position, 1 position each in ELA, Social Studies, Science, Math, PE & Health, Art, and Media Center/Library. They were then able to eliminate a .75 secretary, three special educators (after moving most special ed students to the other school), a vice principal, a janitor, and three teacher's aides (that's 16, right?). In addition, the foreign language program at the high school level was slightly trimmed.

A town councilman voted to slim the budget even further because, as he protested, the school is highly overstaffed due to a decrease in enrollment each year for the past 15 years. His vote would have eliminated an additional 9 full-time teaching positions, it would have done away with an entire year of foreign language offering at the high school level, it would have nearly obliterated middle school sports, and would have put resources and staffing at an all-time low.

I conducted some research and found the overall school enrollment in North Kingstown has decreased by 150 students from 2003-2008, and, assuming this average has been followed for the preceding 10 years, 450 fewer students attend North Kingstown Public Schools today than in, roughly, 1994.

It seems like it would be a very tough argument to convince the taxpayers and parents of the town that because the schools lose, on average, 30 students each year, that 27 teachers and administrators should be laid off for the upcoming school year. Assuming this councilman is using the worst-case scenario and there have been no teachers retiring, hired or fired since 1994, and he really wants to present the argument for over-staffing, then each teacher in this school district, would only be in charge of roughly 15 students. I'm not so sure you can make the overstaffing call based solely on that assumption because I doubt there is any school district in the US where each teacher, elementary, middle and/or secondary (including principals and special subject instructors) only have 15 or fewer students.

So, Where Is All This Stimulus Money?

Many say that a turnaround is already upon us and that many places have already seen a large decrease in firings, a leveling or even uptick in employment vs. unemployment, and a real estate bottom. But most towns and states argue they haven’t seen much of the federal stimulus package and with the government acknowledging that only a fractional $44 billion has been issued, the question is being begged: where is all the stimulus money? Obviously it is not the sole catalyst for this burgeoning recovery.

'It’s coming' is the best the administration can do, with many saying this summer we will see an explosion in spending and a ramp-up of production, projects and job growth (seasonal employment leading from mid-June to mid-September—potentially settling 4 months of joblessness for many around the country). The beginning of so many projects is supposed to have a ripple effect (presumed, anyway).

So, do we ramp up spending for the summer? Or give it a continuous nudge along and prolong the funds for two-to-three years until we're positive the crisis has passed?

Or, do we ramp down the stimulus (as many are calling for now) and save billions from our massive current-year deficit, now that a recovery seems impending.

We proceed, obviously, is what this blogger believes and recommends.

Think of it this way: would you rather have no job for potentially 18 months until the economy picks up again? Or would you rather have a job for 4-12 months, then be unemployed for 6-9 before finding a new job in a more long-term stabilized economy?

In order to save states from exhausting all their funds for unemployment benefits, for bringing funds to the states, etc., the stimulus needs to stay in effect. Much of what was earmarked in it is necessary anyway, or will be necessary in the years to come. It's time to ensure that projects to improve our impact on the earth are moved to the forefront. It's time to double budget allocations for certain agencies (like the Department of Education for example), which are in desperate need of more funding for a common goal everyone should be in agreement with.

And no matter how much Republican chatter abounds to the opposition, NASA did need more than $1 billion for research and extra development. We need space exploration and understanding so much more than the recessive agendas of the religious elite who fear this means the eventual disproval of divinity. It will not. But if we can find life elsewhere, it certainly will present an interesting argument.

Let's keep the stimulus where it is and continue to provide funding for specific organizations that will assist everyone, not just a niche of our country's corporations. Let's play hardball when it comes to increasing taxes. Let the tea parties continue. The amount of taxes that our forefathers once protested against were radical and outrageous--these new proposals are marginal and might not be felt by many. Imagine paying an extra $.50 in taxes for your $2.13 coffee at Dunkin Donuts--that's what the colonists once dealt with. The measly 5-6% sales taxes of most states are minuscule in comparison and shouldn't be confused with over-taxation.

Conservatism needs to step aside for the sake of progress in the case of the stimulus. It's the constant forward march and backward pull that is driving the country to have an unsustainable discrepancy between rich, poor, majority and minority, frivolous and frugal, etc. etc. There is most likely a total secondary agenda to many projects, but a solid argument can be made to each of them--especially' volcano research.' I realize Louisiana doesn't have many, Bobby Jindal, but if you lived in Hawaii or Alaska, you might feel differently.

It's all a matter of prospective, and it's time to consider other ones when deciding.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The blogger as a newspaper columnist

I can't help but consider, in this new age of information technology and declining newspaper readership, if the job of "Columnist" is simultaneously more outdated than other other, yet more relevant than any other.

For a traditional newspaper, the relevant and/or crucial jobs are few and far between, and clearly, an opinion job is less crucial than say a beat reporter given the inside knowledge into court cases, town budget meetings, etc.--elements which are hard to come by for the traditional news buff or for the internet to grasp ahold of before the hard-hitting investigators. Especially if this person is able to break some national story or conspiracy, etc., which has been the essential task of true journalism for centuries.

Therefore, I think it's fair to assume that the job of the columnist--a frequent opinion or reflective area of the newspaper--is a dying art form when it comes to traditional newspaper publishing.

But in the overall scheme of things, there is no more relevant job. To a newspaper struggling to sell copies, it might bring in a few more readers, but placing these same opinions online brings in a much larger and more diverse readership, and therefore, more profits. Perhaps newspapers would be more likely to profit from columnists if the columns were online instead of some online and the majority in print? It might seem a bit radical, but then again, the times we live in mirror this assumption pretty well.

Which brings me to the catalyst for this post: am I not a columnist? I believe I am.

I am a columnist without a newspaper. Much like 'the man without a country,' except I do feel I belong, but to the world, much like to the world wide web. So is everyone who has a blog in all actuality a columnist? Well, if the writing and ideas are focused enough and not all skewed about everything and anything, then perhaps, yes, everyone is a columnist if they are a blogger.

My column would clearly be about the world I live in--that of poetry, literature, teaching, facts, current events, and the exciting things I encounter either in person or over the internet. If newspapers were still popular and were hiring in a healthy economy with a populous focused on reading as much as possible, I would without hesitation place a link to my blog on an application.

If online readership can translate into success for a newspaper, any s mart editor or publisher would grasp onto that columnist immediately.

But is the job of the columnist dead entirely--as it relates to newspaper publishing? I don't think so. There are still many people who buy a newspaper solely to read the comments, opinions and insights of their favorite columnists--and more specialized columnists, who refuse to go viral, can still maintain a healthy following through newspaper readership.

I do, however, believe the future holds an online presence (almost solely) for columnists as a way to reach a much wider and diverse audience. The issues can be more widespread, the focus can be honed, deadlines can be extended, entries can be more plentiful, and insight can be just as keen and challenging to any status quo.

Lauren Conrad Writes Fiction/Non-fiction

Oh, yay! Look, Lauren Conrad, AKA LC from MTV's "The Hills," has just signed a 3-book deal with HarperCollins. Her first book, LA Candy, will be released later this month.

The premise to the book: A popular girl from a smallish hometown in California moves to the Hollywood Hills, gets a 'fabulous' job, and ends up starring in her own reality show. The book then delves into the difficulties in maintaining friendships and relationships, and displays the challenges associated with balancing work with life with reality television stardom.

How did she ever come up with such an amazing idea?

WWII Pilot Reincarnated?

I also felt the urge to post this video, though the embed feed doesn't work from ABCNews.

So here's the link, to a news story about a toddler (now a 7-year-old), who has had vivid memories and recollections (including initial nightmares) about flying an airplane, more specifically, a WWII aircraft in the war. The boy can recall the names of airplanes, the names of the aircraft carriers, the names of submarines, facts about the war, locations of battles, installments and bases. He has been able to do this since his toddler years. So the question is begged: is he a reincarnated WWII pilot?

Note the ominous and theatrical music in the background... (they also have a new book out--so it could be all a giant ploy.)

Bridging the Gap Between Tennis and Poetry

That's right. I found a video of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal reading Rudyard Kipling's "If."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Poem Idea

I've found a tremendous idea for a poem, through none other than a great factoid: Tennessee Williams (playwright author of The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire) died by choking on his eye drop bottle cap. He routinely leaned back in a chair to apply his eye drops, and as a mode of convenience, held the bottle cap in his mouth. One day he accidentally half-swallowed it, resulting in his choking. The autopsy technician maintained that it must have been the result of both alcohol and drug use--if he was not inebriated at the time, the technician said, he would have been able to expel the object or swallow it entirely.

Pirated Books

The link posted above goes to a new study conducted about book sales and pirated book sales. The study's authors found that while both books that are not pirated and books that have pirate copies available on the internet both experience peak sales and then dramatically drop off several weeks after their peaks (which usually occurs about 14-22 weeks after their initial peak), books with pirated copies available saw their sales rise less high than books without pirated copies, and also saw their drop in sales (denouement!) occur much quicker.

Seems like a no-brainer.

And the study is relatively concise, leading one to wonder what is so impressive about the study?

Well it shows that the OVERALL number of books being read overwhelming goes to the books that have pirated copies available--showing that despite sales numbers which are often smaller at their peaks and drop off quickly, interest continues on them at the same pace and rate after the initial spikes (in profits for book publishing companies) because of the word-of-mouth from reader to reader.

What does this mean for the future of book publishing? Is it going entirely viral? Will it become like movies--where the new (insert your favorite author here)'s new book can be read in January on some pirate website when the actual hardcover won't appear until March 1?

Whatever happens, one thing is promising. The study revealed a turning trend in which certain types of books are being read MORE than they were before 'the internet revolution,' and that certain demographics are reading more (both online and by buying books) than in the previous ten years. Certain areas of the country are experiencing dramatic upswings in demand for books by schools, libraries, etc. (showing more people want to read, but might not be willing to shovel out $34.99 for a hardcover during the first two weeks a book is printed). And more schoolchildren are reading that in the past 20 years (however, their books are relegated to Eragon, Harry Potter, Twilight, and other, simpler texts, whereas many classics and new fiction authors are experiencing a dry spell akin to the Dust Bowl.

Reading is the most important thing that this study can highlight--and so the job now becomes the book publishers'. They must devise a way to lower their overhead on marketing a book, thus reducing the price of the book in order to sell books at a price like $6.99 brand new. Something that people can easily afford. Perhaps marketing will have to come through online ad sales or 'collage advertising' (when 50-100 new books and titles are mashed together onto a single advertisement that is placed in a magazine)--a neat way to advertise, certainly, but not very glorifying for both the book and the author (and the cover illustrator/photographer/designer).

The Possum Cat

I think this speaks volumes about the need for education in our country, though I must admit I'm very surprised everything on the sign is spelled correctly, considering...

Fitzgerald Quote

While organizing a lesson plan for next year, I stumbled across a tremendous quote in The Great Gatsby that I've never acknowledged before:

"No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart."

Pay particular attention to the precise use of 'ghostly' there...what a quote.
I stumbled across this website: and accompanying blog: the other day and haven't yet gotten a chance to post the links to them.

Roz Savage is a former office worker who decided to put away the filing cabinet and pull out the paddles. She rowed across the Atlantic Ocean (3,000 miles) and is current trying to row across the Pacific. She has already rowed from San Francisco to Hawaii, and she left Hawaii 16 days ago--you can track her progress on her blog/website.

What an accomplishment! It speaks volumes to those of us (present company included) who sometimes fail to recognize that reinvention is possible at any time, and that aspirations are attainable though the goal may be daunting, and in some cases, dangerous.

New Bing Commercial

This new commercial, after some research, is really for Microsoft's new 'search engine' designed to cut down on junk search engine results. Whoever uploaded it onto Youtube cut out the final product advert., but the lead-up is still intact. Funny.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Where Will the Unemployment Rate Go?

This is one of the many questions weighing on most Americans' minds, but it might be the most personal and relevant. There are few out there who feel so secure and untouchable in their jobs, salaries and homes that they are virtually unconcerned by The Great Recession.

So where are the jobs, and when will they start to materialize at the necessary rate to lower this ridiculous unemployment rate from its current 9.4% to something much much less?

The answer is not soon enough. The types of jobs that this country was built on: construction, manufacturing, education, and producing/farming have been disappearing at an alarming rate. If the amount of people unemployed today were factored into the size of the workforce in the early 1980s, the unemployment rate in the 1980s would have been 31%.

The 9.4% unemployment rate is a figure that is desensitizing at best, and sobering at worst. There are few people that really understand what the unemployment rate actually shows, and the rate itself is flawed at best.

Yes, it's sobering to hear 9.4% of the country is unemployed, but the usual percentage of unemployment in our country has been, on a stable average, 5.5-6.5% over the past 60 years. To hear that the rate has increased less than 3% during what is being called "the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression" is unimpressive and ineffective. What does work is saying that, on average, there are 8 million Americans unemployed in a 'healthy' economy--a figure that is shocking and should never be considered 'healthy' to the average American, but always seems 'healthy' in the overall scope. Hearing that now there are 14.3 million Americans unemployed is a much better figure to properly showcase how far we have fallen.

A lot of the media would have you believe that very few people, if any, were unemployed before the recession hit, but the truth is the unemployment rate had been at 4.6% before the recession began (which was a large fall from the 7% seen in the late 80s and early 1990s, then again in 1993 and 1994). Now a lot of political pundits would have you believe that this low unemployment rate was proof that the previous administration created plenty of jobs, and was much better suited for the economy than the current administration. False.

The unemployment rate needs to hover around the 5.5-6.5% level in order to maintain a healthy economy. Anything less means that the rate must increase later on as a result--it's a leveling out process, which is what we are now experiencing. The rate will decrease again, I believe, by February 2010 (meaning we will increase from now until then, but we will see at most 9.3% by Feb. 2010.)

The way to boost the employment rate, of course, is to spend more money than you have, which is what the previous administration did--running from surpluses to severe deficits, to manipulating budgets to not reflect costs incurred during wars/conflicts, extra funding spent on materials (weapons, vehicles, etc.) for these wars, and hidden funding for activities that have only come to light since the previous administration vacated (waterboarding, extravagant bonuses, severe deregulation). The commingling of all these factors led to a serious boom akin to the roarin' 20s, and now a serious bust akin to The Great Depression.

Are we due for a repeat?
I think not...we persist in a way of life that is much higher than that of The Great Depression. Instead of sparring a dime, we're sparring some digital cable for our neighbors who longer can afford their HDTVs and their DVRs.

It's easy to say that the cause of this Great Recession is because of too much spending and too much regulation, and its easy to say that the unemployment rate will continue to rise for a while as a result and that this is a catastrophic event of legendary proportions. To say all these things would technically be correct, but the root causes, and the impetuses for this far exceed what is broadcast on the news and are truly interwoven into nearly even company in the US and into the government itself.

The unemployment rate will eventually decrease, but it will cause the graduates from 2007 (present blogger included), 2008, 2009 and 2010 to face a world that is unlike anything that has been seen since the 1930s. A generation has not been lost, but at least four years of college graduates have been lost as a direct result of this recession, which is worse than any other recession.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Auto Industry Will Create American Ghost Towns

With the announcement of plant closures across the country, both GM and Chrysler are devastating communities which have relied upon these plants for jobs, tax revenues, and futures. Now that many of these towns are facing plant closures, the laid-off workers are grappling with exactly what they are going to do next, and what will come next for the town.

In some of the towns which received the awful news, nearly 20% of the workforce works either directly or indirectly for the automotive industry: whether it's building the cars, working security at the plants, creating graphics or additions to the cars, running repair and maintenance shops for the vehicles, working for trucking companies shipping the vehicles around the country, etc. etc. This move is truly going to create new American ghost towns.

One plant that is closing is the Mansfield/Ontario plant in Ohio. This community relies heavily on the plant and within days of the plant closing, more than 3 dozen local businesses (within a 20-mile radius) closed. The ripple effect is almost immediate. About 15% of this community's population worked directly in the plant. With the loss of jobs, the local unemployment rate will skyrocket, the local housing market and property taxes will plummet almost immediately, and cuts will be made across the board to schools, police officers and fire fighters, and town and city workers. This doesn't include everyone else that will then be affected by THIS second ripple effect. Where will it end?

Somewhere with very high unemployment, and a town that is nearly (if not entirely) an American Ghost Town.

In addition, this community also had two Circuit Cities (bankrupt last year), which employed a good percentage of the population, and featured three GM and/or Chrysler car dealerships, which are also marked by the companies for closure. All told, the community will be going from boom to bust in approximately 16 months. One person interviewed stated they are making plans to move as soon as possible as the future of the town seems to be "dying by the minute." I would argue it is dying by the second.

But with all of this going on, one has to wonder where allegiances lie and who is to blame for all of this? Of those interviewed, NOT ONE blamed either GM or Chrysler, and did not reference their gross overestimation, their lack of planning and cognizance about the future of the automotive industry, the UAW and its skyrocketing demands in the past two decades, which ultimately have put a fiscal strain on the plants and the companies that could have adapted much more easily if the unions weren't so steadfast on keeping wages above those that most Americans make. (Average auto worker in the town = $44 per hour. Average police officer = $28/hour.--Reuters)

I understand a certain allegiance must rest with the company that provided your livelihood for years (if not decades or your entire family's lives), but there seems to be an overwhelming naivety prevailing in the town when it comes to the root cause of all of this. It is, of course, greed.

Greed from unions, consumers, companies, etc. etc. etc. The exorbitant lifestyles and sales could not be maintained, and that's a reality that no one there seems to understand or accept. Is it really a shock that 13 million cars per year (from a SINGLE company!) isn't maintainable? It would have been a huge warning signal for me, had I seen those figures before this recession hit hardest. I would have warned and begged for immediate concessions, furloughs, etc. to try to stave off these severe layoffs and now plant and dealership closures.

But I suppose that speaks to the heartiness of the American worker--that we will keep fighting for what we love, will hold our enemies at bay and keep our friends close.

But what really fired me up was one man, an employee for 21 years at the plant, who blamed President Obama for the plant closures.

If anything, this man should be thanking the government for doing what it has done. Without the serious interventions and the billions spent to prop up these companies, the plants would have closed long ago, more jobs would have been lost, and the industry itself might not have recovered at all. Now I understand that this man was upset because his plant was one of the ones that was closed, so to him the whole automotive industry might as well have closed down completely. His subjectivity on the issue is definitely something I empathize (perhaps sympathize as well) with and understand completely, but he has to read the writing on the wall.

It was inevitable, and should have happened long ago. The roof could not be supported for much longer, and the past administration and the current one with spent billions to prop up the roof with support beams. Ultimately though, part of it had to come crashing down in order to support the majority of it. (I know the minority and majority is a bit of a 50/50 in some arguments, but in the overall scope, it's more like a 80% maintain, 20% fail/close scenario that has played out).

President Obama is not to blame at all, and no blame should fall on him. If I were President Obama, I would be greatly offended after trying to assist American workers like this man who then appear ungrateful that anything was done in the first place! Is it really so shocking that so many other Americans were so irate about the amount of money spent to prop up these failing companies?

They all had a long, prosperous run, but just like the stock market and the overall economy, there comes a time when there has to be a recession (or depression) in the automotive industry. I believe this is the big one for the Big 3. With restructuring comes a slow rebuilding (akin to putting up support beams first BEFORE building a heavy, gold roof), will come more jobs and possibly plant reopenings in the years to come. Production is very low right now, but a need will arise years from now for more cars again (just as long as these companies realize that a huge demand akin to the 2004-2006/early 2007 surge is not sustainable!). As the company restructures and creates more appealing and useful automobiles, perhaps some of these closed plants will become specialized plants. It is definitely time for these companies to invest in bio-diesel, hybrid, electric, etc. automobiles and begin mass producing them as soon as possible.

The only way for GM to survive is to evolve.

In 1916 they were General Motors. In 2009 they are Government Motors. In 2012 they SHOULD be Green Motors --the company at the forefront of the race to be green, to create the types of environmental-friendly cars that will be cherished by those who want excellent gas mileage (for the $4.50 gallon gas of the near future), want to save the planet, or want a car that is sleek and attractive and not a wallet-breaker.

Get to work, GM. And to the auto workers cited in this blog, please reconsider your stance on who is to blame. Ultimately there are many culprits, not a single one. And each of these culprits dealt in a single themes: greed.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Disney World Wait Times

Due to the many requests from the members and readers of the Disney World websites I used prior to my vacation, I will pass on the favor and write about the wait times and lines I experienced in Disney World during my trip in October.

I went to Disney World during October, 2008, from October 25th until November 1st. We did NOT get the tickets to any of the Mickey's Not-So-Scary-Halloween Parties, though we did meet many people that went on them. The consensus was that the experience is a must for all small children, but there were a number of rides that were shut down during the time which were promised to be open--Splash, Space and The Haunted Mansion being the most prominent and surprising of these. It is definitely geared towards little kids, so don't go into one expecting it to be like an extra Extra Magic Hour evening at the Magic Kingdom, but approach it as a chance to get A LOT of food (not all candy), be part of a very eerie and exciting ambiance, and to ride SOME of the most popular rides after the park closes. The predetermined ticket amounts definitely keep the crowds out and the ride lines short, so that's a big plus if you do decide to go.

Each morning we arrived at the park with the Extra Magic hour in the morning prior to the rope drops, and during two mornings (one Disney Studios, the other Epcot), spent the mornings going to a resort other than the one that had the early morning Extra Magic Hour. We found this to be our best weapon to beating the crowds. The Disney World crowds in October are nothing compared to those during February, April and mid-summer, and are 1/4-1/5 what you will find during the Christmas vacation week (December 19th-January 3rd), which is rated as the worst time to visit Disney World. If you want to go for the ambiance of winter and holidays in Disney World, aim for the first week during December which is traditionally the third or fourth sparsest week for crowds in Disney World.

For the first 90 minutes to 2 hours that each park is open, the crowds are far below their sizes and heights of mid-day, when it is also the hottest. (Makes perfect sense to return to the resort for some time out at the pool and to grab a big bite to eat before heading to another park during the evening.) Which brings me to a crucial point that must not be overlooked--get the Park Hopper passes for any vacation you do at Disney. There is no better value or better idea you can have. This is crucial to visiting your favorite rides, and sneaking in your fastpasses simultaneously. You can get another fastpass exactly when your current hour time frame occurs on your ticket. A hint: you do not have to use your fastpasses during the hour they give you on your ticket--they are good up to an additional 2 hours or so after the time 'expires.'

I used the website to really get a good sense of the wait times we'd be experiencing and the best parks to visit--they were pretty on target with both, but were completely incorrect in several very crucial areas.

The first thing I must warn anyone about, regardless of when you are traveling to Disney World, is that there will be an exorbitant wait for two rides in Disney World, and basically only those two, though waits could be minuscule or non-existent at others.

Soarin', Disney's answer to the California Adventure's ride of the same name, is located at Epcot and REALLY attracts the crowds. When I say really, it is in no way an exaggeration; in fact, hyperbole would do no good in this situation--only actual facts and figures can truly demonstrate the wait times. Within 45 minutes of the park opening, the wait is that long. Within two hours, the wait time approaches that. Now the ride itself is exciting, but it is NOT worth two hours out of my Disney World experience to wait in line for it. 1/2 hour to 45 minutes is OK, but any longer is completely unacceptable. The shortest wait time for the ride was within the first 15 minutes of the park opening and it was 15-20 minutes. The longest wait time I saw for the ride was 205 minutes, which is just under 3 1/2 hours!

And this was in October!--one of the 'recommended' times to visit Disney World because of the sparse crowds and low prices. Now, don't be scared by assuming that this is the standard wait time for all the rides.

We walked onto Spaceship Earth, Mission: Space (which goes through periods of hour waits and then dissipates to 5 minutes because it is a ride that you cannot stomach to ride more than once without a good deal of time in between), Nemo, Ellen's Energy Adventure, and the Maelstrom (never any Fastpasses needed for it). Walked on--we never observed any waits longer than 5-10 minutes for these during any of the three days that we visited the park.

The wait times for Test Track were higher, of course, and averaged between 45-60 at their peaks and between 10-15 during the first two hours the park was open. The Fastpasses for Test Track and Soarin' should keep your park tickets sufficiently busy, but don't neglect the opportunity to wait in the lines during the first two hours the park is open in order to maximize your amount of rides.

In the Disney Hollywood Studios, Rock N' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror never had wait times longer than 45 minutes at any time--peak hours, extended hours, etc. The average time observed was 25-30 minutes. (Tower of Terror likes to post "13" as the wait time if the actual wait time is less than 20 minutes--very funny!).

The Great Movie Ride and Star Tours were usually walk-on, with the highest wait times at 15 minutes. Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and the Lights, Motors, Action! stunt show are must-sees and didn't usually have wait times more than the 10-15 minutes of time it takes for the show to begin. The show times are always posted during the day and are usually available at your resort hotel--so look them up ahead of time and plan accordingly!

Now here's the ride that takes the cake at the Hollywood Studios--Toy Story Midway Mania! The ride opened in May, 2008, so it was still nearly brand new and was still malfunctioning here and there, so sometimes the ride would be broken down for 10-15 minutes or it would open an hour or so later because it needed some maintenance. No big deal, as all new Disney rides usually experience this. The big deal about the ride was the wait times though.

Within the first hour that the park was open, the wait times ballooned from walk-on (first 10-15 minutes) to 90+ minutes and remained at least at that level for the entire day. The longest wait time I observed was 135 minutes--just a smidgen over two hours.

Toy Story Midway Mania! and Soarin' at definitively the two rides with the longest wait times and seriously throw-off the average or mean wait times at their respective parks. The wait times are ridiculous, especially since Fastpasses SOLD OUT by noon for both rides, despite it being October!

In The Magic Kingdom many of the rides were constant walk-ons: Jungle Cruise, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White, Tomorrowland Orbiter, Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Carousel of Progress, and the Walt Disney World Railroad. All of which are must-rides!

It's a Small World, Peter Pan, and The Tea Party were the most-packed rides in Fantasyland and all had waits of 45 minutes or more at times, with Small World having the shortest wait times of 30 minutes or so at maximum. Most of these were great bets for the late evening within the final hour of the park's hours because most of the small children had left for the night.

The most crowded areas were around Splash/Big Thunder, Space Mountain and ALL of Fantasyland. The amount of young children (younger than school-age or elementary-middle) was overwhelming and was the main reason for the huge surge in lines in this area.

Buzz Lightyear, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion all had waits of walk-on to 15 minutes on average, with the highest wait time being 1/2 hour.

The big 3 had the highest wait times in the park: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain. Each one had wait times of 1 hour or so at their peaks, but were mostly around 30 minutes.

Note: I did not get to experience The Hall of Presidents due to the upcoming presidential election. It was shut down for a nine month period beginning the week before we arrived.

All in all, the wait times were almost in-line with TouringPlans' expectations for most of the parks. However, they grossly underestimated and did not make special mention of the extreme wait times of Toy Story and Soarin'. Everyone MUST know how long these wait times are in order to make proper plans during your visit to the parks. I would say that most days were, on average, a 4 out of 10 in terms of crowds (10 being wall-to-wall people and HUGE lines), with certain times and parks having spurts of 3s and 5s. But 4s are definitely a plus for visiting Disney in October! I witnessed a Magic Kingdom morning of a 2, not crowding until around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, and even then it was only a 4. All morning nearly every ride was walk-on, with Space and Big Thunder Mountains having waits of 5-10 at most.

At the Animal Kingdom, It's Tough to be a Bug, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and the live-action stage shows were all walk-on for the most part.

Dinosaur, Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids all had wait times of approximately 45 minutes at their peak, with Everest having nearly 1 hour waits at times.

Expedition Everest is NOT TO BE MISSED. The ambiance of the ride, the pre-ride visuals and smells, and the overall vibe of walking through the amazing 'town' surrounding the ride are unmatchable. Disney is able to transport you back into late 19th century India/Nepal when the British were still the rulers of the land. There is a large amount of memorabilia, and a lot of authenticity to each of the pieces (especially in the museum-esque areas of the pre-ride) of the ride. It was definitely the best addition to Disney World--better than Toy Story, Soarin' and Mission: Space.

We never went to the water parks when we were there, as most days the temperatures were perfect: around 75 and sunny. The one day there was supposed to be rain it was quick, heavy, and was over before it interrupted anyone's plans.

Downtown Disney is still transforming and promises to be doing so for years to come, but the one thing not to be missed is La Nouba, Cirque Du Soleil's amazing acrobatic circus of fun.

A crucial tip: Skip all the parades if you are able to. The wait times for ALL rides decrease by at least half and, in some cases, disappear almost completely. I witnessed a 60 minute wait at Splash Mountain reduce to walk-on during the parade--in a 10 minute period. Now that's progress!

October was a wonderful time to visit Disney World, but, as always, a plan was necessary to maximize the potential of the vacation. We left having gotten to do nearly everything we wanted to do with very few line waits exceeding 15-20 minutes. The two mistakes we made were to fall for Soarin' 's advertised wait time of 40 minutes (actual 1 hour 10 minutes), and to wait in line during Toy Story Mania on our first night there, where we read it was 50 minutes (but heard it was more like 20), and ended up waiting 55 minutes for the ride. The learned lesson: Always expect the wait times for the most popular rides to be LONGER than the advertised wait by at least 5 or 10 minutes. If they aren't, you will be pleasantly surprised. In my experience though, we were right on the money in predicting an additional 5-10 minutes onto the wait times (which were generally advertised as 0-15 anyway).

The Magic Kingdom was beautifully decorated for Halloween (see previous posts and look for more in forthcoming posts). The crowds were manageable, the weather was gorgeous, the food was amazing, and the experience was one to cherish for a lifetime.

More, of course, on the wait times, ride descriptions, pictures, etc. to come in the following few weeks as I have an opportunity to finally upload everything.

The REAL Penny Lane Music Video

The literal version of the Beatles' Penny Lane.
This one is for all of you who religiously follow my blog and/or read it at work. Enjoy this!

Our cat, Kozmo

This is our cat, Kozmo. As in K(C)o(z)smo Kramer from Seinfeld.

This is Kozmo hiding on top of the kitchen cabinets.

This is Kozmo hiding in a shopping bag.

This is Kozmo hiding under the bed.

This is Kozmo sleeping while sitting upright underneath an umbrella.

Does this properly make a case that there is a resemblance between the two? Does it make a case that he may be insane?

Disney 1

The first of what promises to be many many many Disney World posts follows. I still have to input the data of wait times, ride times, ride descriptions and various opinions of the park, as promised. For starters, here's a sampling of some of what K. and I did during our October trip to Disney World. (October 25-November 1, 2008)

The Magic Kingdom entrance decked out for Halloween.

The reverse of the MK entrance...

Chip and Dale

Some of the Magic Kingdom entrance decked out for Halloween, and many many many pumpkins to really put you in the spirit--though I'm not sure Florida is a major producer of pumpkins...Yes, some were taken at night, when we came back the 2nd or 3rd time.

Some pumpkin people...

Cinderella's castle--one of the most iconic symbols for happiness, childhood and fun in the world. Universally recognizable and at once thrilling and awe-inspiring, it's a feat of achievement, greatness and entertainment. Though K. and I were hoping to be awarded a stay in the Cinderella Castle suite (as they were giving it away daily while we were down there to young couples), we did not receive the invite.

On our way to Frontierland--the best place in the world. Home of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Tom Sawyer Island, The Haunted Mansion (sort of...I could it as part of it...)and an ambiance that can only be described as 'freedom.'

Note the crowds--at the beginning it is pretty dense and claustrophobic, but as the park opened and more people spread out, the crowds dissipated though the population inside definitely increased. It's a wonder of achievement that each 'land' in the MK is designed in such a way that someone in one of the lands cannot see any other land from wherever they are, making it seem like each land is its own theme park in and of itself. How awesome is that?

As a result, the crowds seem to thin and an illusion is presented that the park is actually less packed than it really is...of course when waiting in line for a ride, the reality is unmistakable. More on the ride times to follow.

K. and I arrived at the MK on two separate mornings in time for the park opening...we were waiting near the rope, anticipating its drop, but I, of course, was the runner and more enthusiastic. K. said I was way too OCD about the trip, and I do have to agree.

Any ride at the MK during the first two hours of the park's opening did not have a waiting time of longer than 1/2 hour, which is incredible considering the lengths of lines during the holiday season as well as school vacations. We rode Splash and Thunder at least four times each during our first morning excursion there.

Note: Cloudless sky.

The Tribulations of Financial Aid

I think I already posted something similar to this, but it's such a nuisance.

The application for financial aid is exhausting and takes weeks to process what should take only hours. Someone needs aid, you provided it to them last year, they want the same thing this year...
Seems confusing and difficult, I know...

After this process, I have to fill out a separate form for Lesley indicating that I'd like to take courses there (despite having already declared in writing at the beginning of the program, having registered for courses, and having paid my deposit...). This form can only be printed out and mailed in--there is no electronic option (for this reason, I do have to commend the FAFSA people for issuing the e-version a few years back.)

After this form, I was told that I would have to fill out a separate form, which is essentially a form explaining what job I had and why and when I became unemployed and if I 'expected to seek work again soon.' No...I thought I'd be insouciant and live off some kind of welfare for the remaining of my life...

The form does say optional next to it, which is nice, but if you're offered the chance to fill it out, you are required to send a letter to your institution saying you don't want to fill it out. I could not fill mine out because it would have required me to have become unemployed between Jan 08 and Dec 08, which I was not, so I didn't even qualify for it. Yet filling out the form is a necessity. Perhaps wording the section more carefully would be in order--did you become unemployed during 2008 or 2009 is simple, exact and would erase the need for all this extra paperwork and hassle.


Now the waiting game begins as everything is officially in (though I started this months ago), and I have approximately two weeks to come up with the money for the semester or I face a penalty (it's a small amount, but it's still a penalty--it's not like I'll be ousted from the program.) Perhaps I'll need to fill out more forms! Let's hope now.

Isn't financial aid fun?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Men Vs. Wild

As mentioned earlier, I have been awaiting with great anticipation tonight's Man Vs. Wild with Will Ferrell. It's airing right now and it is amazing. It's not as serious as a normal episode, but it isn't ridiculous, in a funny way, as Will Ferrell is known to be.

Sure they're in Sweden, so I'm a bit partial to their locations. But I am enthralled with this episode. There is little information, but a fair amount of adventure and a fair amount of humor. I love how Will started to get more and more animated as he got more comfortable with Bear, and how Will began to experience a bit of mania as he started throwing Bear around, talking gibberish and loosing coordination. Perhaps it wouldn't be funny if it happened to someone like you or me in a survival situation, but when it's fodder for a show like this, one needs to take the liberty to laugh. Especially since both you and I know that should anything have happened to Will, helicopters and remote hospitals would not have been far away. I wish I knew more about the Lapland area (where I presume they are), to know how many major cities are nearby (though I know there are practically none), but I'm sure they chose a location that was safe(r), was previously scouted and was easy to get in and out of should anything have happened. I wonder if any spotters were present?

Regardless, it was a great episode and I'm glad that Discovery is pairing up with this new Land of the Lost movie, though it looks mindless and stupid. It's a great advertising and PR move to promote both the new Man Vs. Wild season and Will's never movie. There wasn't any product placement in the episode, aside from the Twinkies in the beginning, so that part made me happy, but a lot of the commercials were similar--clearly cluing the attentive watcher into the fact that the show must have had a long-standing and thorough contract with most of these companies for strict rights to advertise during the show.

Always be on the lookout for product placement to see how the world tries to fool or influence you.

I leave with a fantastic quote I found spoken by one of our great orators (our = America), Ben Franklin. I found several versions of the quote, so who knows which is the authentic one, but I chose the one that I found from the most reliable sources, which also happened to be the one that appeared most frequently:

"[Our] fate is now...we may hang together, but surely we will hang separately..."

Things Fall Apart

Reading through a lot of my past poetry really brings back a sense of nostalgia for where I was at that point in my life when I was reading it. Yesterday, I managed to wrangle some poems from freshmen year of college and late high school/summer between hs and college, and found some great potential in some of them. A few lines stuck out in my mind as awesome, and I wonder how I forgot about them or haven't revisited them since. One of these poems was written about some aspects of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which I was reading simultaneously with Arrow of God, so I'm sure I mixed up some aspects, but I digress (and never miss an opportunity to use that phrase).

Reflecting on some of the references I made, I'm amazed at how much life has morphed and, unfortunately, unraveled since then. It seems the themes I focused on so much: a tight-knit community of friends and family, a feeling that the world is a wonderful and wholesome place (where nothing like a recession could ever happen...), a feeling that I have unlimited potential and a bright future, and an almost naive approach to death and destruction. The poems written of 9/11 are particularly interesting as they seem to signal this switch in me. And with the recent events of a friend dying of a drug overdose and another dying less than a week ago due to a repeat drunk driver, I feel that I have plenty to write about, but that my focus and enthusiasm is waning because of the current world we're in. It's an unfortunate feeling, but something nonetheless interesting. I wish I could revisit these 'safe' and 'boundless joy' feelings I seem to have had; I wonder if they would be conducive for writing now?

The recent events have put a serious damper on my outlook and it seems cloudy days like today just seem to heighten them. Paired with the fact that I indulged myself by listening to some of the music from the bands I grew up with (and not just Nirvana, but Rabid Abbey and Tepid), I'm left with a vapid feeling. Scratch that...more of a void that seems to be growing as I'm growing up. Perhaps it's normal and it's normal to accept these 'losses' in one's life of friends, the need to relocate, etc. as something that happens to everyone. Maybe Things Fall Apart isn't that destruction and unraveling happen because of something, but that they happen because I am something. Perhaps it's much like the phrase "rain happens," whereas rain is just rain--it will fall, it will evaporate, it will do so again. Perhaps things just fall apart and the lesson I am to learn is to rebuild from what s left of the rubble.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Disgrace in NH

A first grade teacher in Manchester, NH, who was diagnosed with leukemia, was recently laid off by her school district because a budget referendum failed to pass. She will become one of 78 teachers in the district to lose their jobs, and, as one of the newest in the district, she is automatically on the chopping block. Fair? Perhaps it is fair due to union constraints to eliminate the position, but hopefully, the taxpayers could find it in their hearts to keep her health insurance and possibly her pay for at least one year to help her (emotionally and mentally if not physically) fight the cancer and not have to pay millions, assuming she survives, after she recovers.

Despite the recession, there has to be an overwhelming push to keep our children educated and to keep schools fully staffed and learning properly facilitated. Right? I would sincerely hope so, but it seems like so many communities are refusing to raise their taxes a nominal amount to keep their children properly educated. In a world with such a push on standardized testing, don't these people realize smaller class sizes and more variations in courses and methods will actually AID overall learning and only support this 'teaching to the test' idea? Not only is it better for the students, but it's better for the teachers as they will have more opportunity to assign more hands-on projects, more in-depth research papers to assist students in really extracting the themes and ideas from materials. My former hometown proposes raising taxes (according to a local newspaper) by nearly $600,000 to stave off any potential layoffs or budget shortfalls that would snowball into the following year (an amount nearly totally bridged year-to-year by the state of CT). This boils down to...get this $72.15 per household per year. For the price of a fancy dinner out for two or for a regular family dinner at a restaurant, you can save your children from classes of 30+, keep electives and sports intact, and ensure scores will be raised year-over-year again. Sounds pretty simple.

But then again, everything sounds simple if you're willing to budge on things and there are MANY who will not budge their stances.