Updates & miscellaneous musings!

Saturday, December 31, 2005

These kids, I tell ya...

So, there was this really dumb editorial in the New Times (SLO's independent weekly) about how stupid the kids today are.

Here's what she said (sorry, this is long...)--

A nation of morons?
Hellenism, the way of intelligence and conscience, is dead.

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 11 million Americans are illiterate. The report concluded that one in 20 American adults lack the literacy skills to perform everyday tasks. In 2003, college proficiency tests revealed that 31 percent of college graduates have a difficult time comprehending classic novels. Even Allan Bloom, author of “The Closing of the American Mind,” would find it hard to believe that the average American college graduate is illiterate.

The illiteracy problem explains why college students are dropping out. In a Reuters article, “More College Students Drop Out Than Graduate,” the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) reported that less than 50 percent of students entering four-year colleges or universities actually graduate. “And that's a conservative estimate,” said Richard Hersh, who co-authored the report on the quality of higher education for the National Governors Association. The report includes high dropouts among Hispanics and blacks.

Cal Poly averages a 67 percent graduation rate. At Cuesta College, according to the latest chancellor's report, only 7 percent, out of the 13,472 total credited students, are “transfer prepared.” These figures are subject to change, and to the faculty's credit, Cuesta held impressive state and national student university transfer records in the past. Currently, enrollment is high at the beginning of each semester, but retention levels are moderately low by mid-semester.

In my introduction to philosophy class at Cuesta, a high percentage of white, middle-class students are illiterate. There is, of course, a difference of academic standing between Cuesta and Cal Poly students. Academic standards are not required at Cuesta. Nevertheless, the latest national statistics illustrate that illiteracy and high college dropout rates are significant at universities.

The object of this assessment is to examine the possible causes or trends associated with illiteracy and the high college dropout rate. Cuesta College's faculty has taken important measures to rectify these problems by offering remedial English courses and excellent tutorial services.

The foremost reason why college students drop out is because they're academically unprepared for college. In high school, they managed to skip through multiple choice tests and CliffsNotes summaries, but they're neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for rigorous academic demands at college.

There are several explanations for the academic shortcomings and the high college dropout rate:

Students don't read

“There are worse crimes than burning books,” wrote Joseph Brodsky. “One of them is not reading them.”

Students have poor reading and writing skills essentially because they don't read books. Reading and writing are limited to brief Internet and e-mail texts. Studies have shown that without language development skills, children do poorly in analytic and mathematical skills. They also have a difficult time solving problems in imaginative and rational ways. Conversely, studies show that children and teenagers who read books excel at their studies.


Teenagers today are raised in a cultural vacuum of distractions. They are subjected to mindless TV shows, violent video games, and degrading music that glorifies promiscuous behavior. Computers have replaced books. U.S. corporations in targeting the youth have succeeded in producing a nation of morons. As a result of these corporate influences, teenagers' emotional and intellectual faculties are severely underdeveloped.

Students don't study

Given their immature attitudes, students have poor study habits and poor attendance records. In a word, American students are lazy, which leads to deficiencies in critical thinking skills. Worse still, they are not motivated or challenged by books or reading assignments. They're neither disciplined nor conscientious. They want to do the least amount of work for a passing grade.

For example, a number of students will take classes without buying the required books because they believe they can pass the course without reading the books. This would all be quite amusing if it were Monty Python's Flying Circus. But it's not. It's the typical reality of American college life. In the past, students wrote letters in correct English. With the advent of computers, correspondence is reduced to illiterate e-code: “will u be their? tnx.” Translation: “Will you be there? Thanks.” Strangely enough, they don't use the computer's spelling and grammar check for term papers. Another common example of laziness is when students believe that they can make up for excessive absences and insufficient work by making a grand appearance for the final exam, which they inevitably fail.

Party life

Late-night drinking, barhopping, and drugs factor into the high dropout rate.

Gloomy future

In addition to being academically unprepared, students are confronting a dark future. They've been told that they'll have to attend college for higher paying jobs. But now, computer engineering, scientific research, and corporate positions are outsourced to India and China. Graduates from China and India excel at math and computer engineering skills. Bill Gates recently discussed his decision for turning to India for several reasons: They're highly motivated, excel at tech skills, and they'll work gratefully for $200 a month. It's a depressing picture for American graduates. If they don't quite understand the “global-corporate economy,” of wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, they feel its weight and believe that a college degree is futile.

Money problems

Under the Bush administration, federal grants and scholarships have been severely cut in order to pay for the invasion of Iraq, which is costing American taxpayers billions of dollars. Without Pell grants and an accommodating job that allows schedule time for classes, it will be financially difficult for students to succeed. As a last resort, they may join the military. When the nation's government invests the people's treasury into weapon industries instead of schools and hospitals, expect a high college dropout rate. The upshot: If students don't have parental support, it's a real struggle to attend college.

There are solutions.

Home schooling

If parents hold degrees and can afford the time, home-schooling may be a wise alternative to the public high school system. The sooner parents introduce the great classic books, in addition to math and science lessons, the better prepared they'll be for meeting university standards. Trust me, your children will not learn about Homer, Plato, Sophocles, Dante, Shakespeare, Euclid, the Bill of Rights, or anything closely resembling college prep at public high schools.

Corporate responsibility and vocational schools

Gates prefers to hire grads from India. He's not alone. It's time for that to change. Since corporations contributed to the illiteracy problems, they should be responsible for funding public educational programs and student college grants. True, academia is not for everyone. We need to provide vocational training at the start: K-12. This training should include hands-on experience in nursing-medical programs, auto mechanics and computer engineering, electronics, secretarial and office skills, forestry and conservation programs, and so forth. Why can't we reinvent Roosevelt's New Deal at our high schools?

The biggest obstacle for students is lack of motivation. Teachers can perform Herculean somersaults and it won't do a damned bit of good if they're lazy and apathetic. Motivation encompasses a passion for learning, a sense of wonder and engagement. Why are students so indifferent to learning?

Corporate America promotes the material life at the expense of the educated life. Our children are living in a superficial society that turns them into automatons by the time they're 18. The media is also a corrupting force. The assault on Baghdad was largely a matter of marketing. Politicians are seen as corrupt and greedy. The lesson of today is cheating and lying pays and people in high positions are indeed above the law. T.S. Eliot symbolically coined the predictable fate of a hollow age that lives by commercial jingles and empty social conventions: “The Wasteland.”

Are we really surprised by the high illiteracy problems and college dropout numbers in this country? It certainly paves the way for a military state. ∆

Jacqueline Marcus teaches philosophy at Cuesta College and is the editor of ForPoetry.com. She can be reached at joiemarcus@tcsn.net.

I ranted about something very similar in this space about a year ago, but that was on national television. This is local. Maybe this time I have a chance to be heard. So I sent an email to the ole New Times--

Date: Sat, 31 Dec 2005 20:06:10 -0800 (PST)
From: "Kane Lynch"
Subject: A Nation of Morons
To: letters@newtimesslo.com

I'm a 19 year old San Luis Obispo native in the middle of my second year of college, but even an "automaton" like me can see that Jacqueline Marcus's editorial ("A Nation of Morons," December 29-January 5) is full of poorly-qualified internally inconsistent assertions.

She complains that, "computers have replaced books," but then laments our inferiority to Indian students who, "excel at tech skills." Are we using computers too much or not enough?

Marcus regales us with a vision of teens who've never read a book and waste all their time in the Internet and TV's "cultural vacuum of distractions." Lovely how she doesn't provide a single concrete example.

What she has is sweeping generalizations, perhaps based on her failures with students at Cuesta, perhaps wholly imagined. I don't know.

What I do know is that many people my age (I'd like to think myself included) are clever, articulate, well-read and do what they can to be well-educated. Others aren't, of course, but that's not a disturbing development in "teenagers today"--that has always been true, and probably always will be.

If we'll ever return to a golden age of "Hellenism", it's not going to be through telling 30 million people--an entire generation--that they're all idiots. That is prejudiced, ill-informed, and unproductive, and a supposed philosopher should know better.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some "drinking, barhopping and drugs" to attend to.

Kane Lynch
San Luis Obispo

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bismillah, no.

A couple days ago I bought "One Way Ticket to Hell...and back", which is the new The Darkness album.

I was kind of ambivalent about spending most of my remaining itunes gift card on it, but one of the reviewers called it "The best Queen album they never released" or some such, so I thought what the hell.

It's not bad exactly, but...
My problem with The Darkness, I think, is that while they sound reasonably good (often), they are not smart or even particularly creative people, and the subject matter of their songs reflect that.

Here's a sample of the very best lyrics (honestly) from "Ticket", in the song "Blind Man"--
Tell me why the blind man cries
Oh, he sheds a tear because he just can't hear
the children singing
How he used to fantasize
Of standing next to some children who are doing singing

The song sounds a lot like Queen's "Barelona", but it's just too blantantly dumb and devoid of substance.

Queen are eclectic, both musically and in subject matter.* It always sounds like something's happening, even when it's not a coherent narrative. That's why their catalogue lent itself so naturally to a musical.

Queen's lyrics aren't terribly deep and meaningful, but they are quirky and evocative. You may not be able to say exactly just what is happening in Bohemian Rhapsody, but something certainly is, and it's something interesting.
And some of their more obscure songs (like my favorite '39 tell somewhat intricate little stories.

And I think that's important. I think it's really cool when people can use songs as an effective storytelling medium and still have them sound good.
It's something that, say, Iron Maiden and The Decembrists have in common, and The Darkness and Queen do not. And it's an important something.

I wouldn't say the album is bad exactly...there's a couple songs I rather like (including, believe it or not "Blind Man"), but there's a reason why Queen's special, and The Darkness simply don't get it.

*The rest of this is about the subject matter, but musically it should be noted that while Queen seemingly effortlessly bleneded countless musical genres in various interesting ways (sometimes to great effect, sometimes not), The Darkness range between successfully sounding just like a particular Queen song (or, in one particularly weird instance, a particular The Cure song) and sounding like squeaky shit. I'd say there's maybe three or four songs between the two albums that sound both good and not like a specific copy of someone else.

You scored as Art. You should be an Art major! How bohemian!





























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Monday, December 19, 2005

Either you are with the Constitution, or you are with the terrorists.

So, I think Bush authorizing warrantless wire-tapping should be grounds for impeachment.

I'm not particularly angry about this particular incident, and I doubt it'd even make the top ten worst things he's done in office, but it seems particularly contrary to his duties as President.

When you're sworn into office, you say, "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

If the President, without the approval of Congress, willfully violates the Constitution (in this case, the Fourth Amendment), he's violating that oath.

The legal grounds for impeachment are extremely vague. The president (or anyone else in the Executive Branch) can only be impeached for committing, "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." What constitutes a "high crime" is up to Congress to decide on a case-by-case basis.

Bill Clinton was impeached because Congress decided that getting a blow job and then lying about it was a high crime, which seems dubious, but for the sake of argument let's assume that's legitimate.
If lying about having sex is a high crime, isn't lying about upholding the constitution as well?*

I doubt it would happen, but it should. I'm not even saying he should be thrown out of office (though I certainly wouldn't shed any tears if he were), just that if he's going to take an action like that he should be prepared to deal with serious consequences.
It's possible that his actions were justified. But if that's the case, that should be determined by the people (well, Congress) not by him and his buddies.

According to Wikipedia, News of tapping sparked an outcry from many groups, including members of Congress, who feel such actions are a violation of constitutional rights. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that "there is no doubt this is inappropriate" and "clearly and categorically wrong" and that he would hold hearings into the matter early in 2006.

I'd like to think that those "hearings" would be something on this scale, though it does seem unlikely. Pissed though they may be, it's hard for to imagine that the Republican Party would be sufficiently indignant to throw Bush to the wolves.

But, as we say here in the biz, only time will tell.

*No, he didn't lie about what he did. But he said he'd never do it, then did, then obscured that fact.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty, and from that day it was as one dead.

I'm mostly just writing this now instead of in the morning in the hopes of scooping people, but I just saw King Kong.*
It's really cool and it's kind of encouraging when you think about how in the last 7 years we've stopped seeing movies like Godzilla (1998) and started seeing movies like this.

I love the original King Kong (I just got the DVD on my birthday), and I was more than satisfied with this one, which is exciting, moving, and looks great, from the creepy beasts on the island to the theaters and slums of New York.

But what really struck me about it was how Peter Jackson could be both incredibly obsessed with the original King Kong, and so very critical of that movie's values.
(minor spoilers ahead)
Single shots and lines are taken verbatim from the original, and some of the action sequences (like Kong's fight with the T-Rex, which he kills by forcing open its jaw) are very similar, and it's obvious that Jackson knew the original backwards and forewards.

But a lot of that material is recontextualized in a really weird way--the film revels in the spectacle, but also seems critical of it.

The difference is most evident in the scene of Kong's capture and display.

Carl Denham's line after the capture is the same as before--"We're millionaires, boys. I'll share it with all of you. Why, in a few months, it'll be up in lights on Broadway: Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World."
But this time we've just seen, from Ann's point of view, the cruel treatment of Kong by the sailors at Denham's behest, as well as the carnage that proceded it.
In the original film, Denham's words were still cavalier, but they were more or a rallying cry--here, he just seems opportunistic and wreckless.

When Kong is revealed to the paying audience, Jackson uses elements from the earlier film in a really bizarre way.
The natives in this movie are creepy and emotionless, unlike the dancing bushmen of the original.
But in Denham's mock-up of Kong's home, we get actors (apparently in blackface!) doing the exact dance from the original movie. The orchestra plays the original's 'native' music. Here, Jackson seems to be commenting on the exploitive nature of the earlier film.

But what's coolest about all this is that by alienating us from Denham and bringing us closer to Kong (he has some wonderful bonding scenes with Anne to the point where his biplane death really feels like a tragedy), the two are made to be equally human, and Denham becomes Kong's dramatic foil.
Denham destroys what he loves, while Kong is destroyed by them.

I think it's really cool that Jackson could take an awe-inspiring but rather stupid movie and turn it into something poignant and thought-provoking. I remember thinking before how fun it'd be to remake King Kong, but I'm really impressed that he could elevate it in the way he has, in a way that would never have occurred to me.** He played perfectly to its strengths while improving on its weaknesses, and while you could argue it's a less monumental achievement than the stop motion spectacle of 1933, it's just as awesome an experience.

Also, it has dinosaurs. DINOSAURS!

*My stepbrother Colby has a friend who manages a movie theater in Atascedero, so we got to see it two hours before it opened legit. But since it's over two hours long, it opened while we were still watching. Wah wah.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


My birthday marked the second anniversary of the mysterious appearance of Farabundo de Los Ratos Libres. My other rats barely made it to two years, but Farabundo's at least that old (she was young when we got her, but not a baby) and still going strong.

Bund, then known as Libre or Ninja (because of her mysterious nature and hood), the day after we discovered her under the couch.

The other thing was that I read two of my comics in front of my whole Creative Writing class with other helping me do all the parts.

My TA emailed me over Thanksgiving to tell me that she chose me to read to the class, but apparently I was chosen at random. But it turns out that in addition to that, the professor picked me to read a dopey comic I turned in to the whole class.

On Monday, I came to class and saw "KANE LYNCH" written on the projected powerpoint in huge letters. The teacher called me up and I hastily convinced Jamie to help me read the male parts and Julie to do the girl parts.
It went over wonderfully. Everybody laughed at everything (though especially the word "fag") and when I sat back down I felt pretty awesome.

On Wednesday, I was to read again and decided on doing "The 14th Saying", the short Quamran spin-off story that I wrote and Nikki drew.

Ahoo, another girl from my section, played Mala-Ke, the main character, while Julie played the bitchy girl and Dana-Min (the female cleric) and I played Alken the technician and Ret-Milan (the male cleric).

I thought we did a pretty decent job. Ahoo pronounced all the names fine, and captured the character's bitterness, Julie played both a bitch and a holy women well, and while I stuttered when I first started talking, I actually think it helped, since it made Alken sound different than the smoother Ret-Milan.

But the thing is...
The reaction wasn't awful. Everyone was polite and supportive, and one guy asked to see my paper copy afterward so he could look at it more.

But it got vastly less reaction than the (much shittier) comic we did on Monday, and much less than the guy who followed me, who won the crowd over by saying "blowjob".

Some people did some really awesome stuff (my TA read some of her unpublished novel, which was very neat), but nothing got as much reaction as the "blowjob" guy.

What does that say about us?


Still, it was a very neat thing that we got to do, and it was really cool of both our teacher and my TA to be so accomdating to my kind of weird idea. We're certainly not the first people to perform a comic (I remember hearing about David "Feminist-Homosexualist Axis" Sim doing one like a year ago), but I think it's something that should be explored further. Maybe.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Every article (like this one) in the mainstream press about comics always mentions Chris Ware as the pinnacle of comics acheivement. Chris Ware did Jimmy Corrigan and Acme Novelty Library and a lot of other very visually intricate, elaborately composed, extremely hard to read books.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two people I've actually talked to who liked Chris Ware--my first boss at Barnes & Noble, and Dan Clowes, who mentioned Ware when I saw him at Bookshop Santa Cruz.
I like him fine; I bought Jimmy Corrigan in 12th grade and somewhat enjoyed reading it.

But unlike David Boring or Sandman or Watchmen or Blankets or From Hell, everyone I've shown it to has started at it for awhile before dismissing it as unreadable.

Obviously popularity isn't the best judge of something's merit, and I'm glad that Chris Ware's work is out there.

But I think that comics are a medium, like film, which is so fundamentally accessible that it seems wrong to pride someone who seems to devote themselves to being hard to read as its champion. It's one thing to present complicated ideas, or a complicated story, but actually just making the thing hard to read is, in my opinion, a serious impediment to greatness.

I have real things to write about, and better things to do than be writing about even those things, but I feel like saying--

When I first showed everyone the Quamran short prose story back in 12th grade, Amanda said that it was so clearly "Kane" that even if it didn't have a name on it, she'd know I'd written it.

At the time, I thought of that as kind of patronizing, but now I sort of like that about it. So, when I'm thinking if I should throw in references to things that I particularly like or don't like, that might make people who know me and pick up on them roll their eyes, I think, what the hell.

It's not the be all and end all of me by any means, but I think even if you didn't know me you could probably learn a lot about me by reading it.

You know. I mean, if you wanted to. And stuff.

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