Thursday, May 27, 2010

Congratulations, Dana

My friend and colleague, Dana Homo, is retiring this year. Here's the speech I gave yesterday to honor him:

"When I came to Pierre Moran in 1997, I was placed into the ultimate middle school teaching situation. Dana Homo, Dave Walker, Laura Bultemeier and I were a team. We were in a block system then, and we were block 8B. It was amazingly successful, and in no small part it was thanks to Dana’s leadership. It was the only time that it was ever appropriate to call Dana a blockhead.

"Dana is by far the smartest person I know. He exemplifies the idea of lifelong learning. His mastery of the language is second to none and the sheer number of books he has read is beyond compare.

"Dana has been an innovator. His ideas led our block to use the middle school concept to its full advantage. We created interdisciplinary units that involved all four core teachers at the same time. Under Dana’s guidance, our students hunted mammoths and wrote about the experience. He spent hours setting up game tables with prehistoric settings and painted figures that the students then used to simulate a hunt. Using a game system that he devised, our students were part of Pickett’s Charge, both on the Union side as well as the Confederate side. He engaged students and inspired generations of them. I don’t mean that figuratively. He was teaching his third generation of some Elkhart families this year.

"I wouldn’t trade those eight years we were teamed for anything. It was the most rewarding experience of my career. I will forever remember them as the good old days and will probably regale younger teachers for a long time of those days just as Dana always regaled us with tales of the Halcyon Days of Brookdale. I think that I know more about those times now than anyone else who never worked there. He knew he was part of something special when he worked there, and I am thankful that he shared that experience…over and over again.

"What most people don’t realize about Dana is how much he did behind the scenes for Pierre Moran. He served on numerous committees and quite often was the most vocal advocate of not only Pierre Moran’s students but also its staff. He saved us many, many times from unreasonable people trying to do unreasonable things. One of the benefits of his long experience was his ability to recognize old concepts dressed up in new clothes. He would often deconstruct new terminology and buzzwords before the author of the latest educational fad had time to explain it to those of us who hadn’t seen it before. He kept presenters honest with tough questions and preserved the integrity of Pierre Moran’s educational programs.

"I know many of you will miss Dana. I won’t. Because I’ll still see him. We’ll still make our trips to Detroit to see ball games and we’ll still eat at great restaurants together and we’ll still meet in his pole barn to play games together. I only wish I could have granted his one request about my speaking about him today. He asked me to keep it short. Sorry, Dana. This is the best I could do and you deserve no less."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lessons Learned from "Lost" (SPOILERS THIS TIME)

Spoilers follow.

No matter how many people you murder for hire or revenge, no matter how many people you torture (even if it’s for asthma medicine), no matter what dark forces you serve who are trying to destroy the world, you still get to go to heaven.

If you are a doctor who violates the Hippocratic oath, deliberately killing a patient, cut open a dural sack to blackmail people into saving your friends, even if you become a drug addict after ratting out your father for the same offense, and order the torture of an innocent man, you still get to go to heaven.

If you steal a woman’s child, raising her as your own and then allow her to die to save yourself—even if you bring a woman to an island so that you can claim ownership of her—if you constantly lie, cheat, even murder an entire village of people (not to mention the island’s protector) to advance your own interests, you still get to go to heaven.

You can blow up your stepfather’s house, killing him, get your husband killed while fleeing the police, rob a bank just to get a pair of plastic wings, and you still get to go to heaven.

You can con people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, strangle a bound man, shoot another for revenge, have a child out of wedlock, rob dead bodies to keep their items for barter, and shoot a polar bear, and you still get to go to heaven.

What did you have to do to go to hell on “Lost?”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


No spoilers! Feel free to read if you've never seen "Lost."

I wasn’t watching “Lost” when it started in 2004. It was still baseball season. And while the Tigers weren’t in the race, I was just getting back into baseball after a long absence and I couldn’t get enough. My wife kept telling me about this great new show, and while it sounded interesting, I couldn’t tear myself away from the Tigers. So, I missed the first few episodes and figured that I’d just have to watch it later. When they started rerunning the show on Saturdays, I was still watching baseball but it started to occur to me that the show must be pretty good. Then, in December, when baseball was long over they started showing the first season over again on Wednesday nights. I was hooked.

I’m not going to try to convert anyone into becoming a fan of this show. Like my reaction to “Watchmen” last year, I loved it and I don’t really care who else does or doesn’t. I don’t care what the ratings were, how many people watched the finale Sunday night, or what anyone else thinks about it. For me, “Lost” was the ultimate TV experience. Like “Twin Peaks” before it, “Lost” kept you guessing. It was non-formulaic. The one thing I hate about TV series is how they repeat the same formula, over and over again. I don’t understand how anyone likes “Law & Order,” “NCIS,” all of the “CSI” shows, or even “House,” although the latter has been surprising lately. I like shows such as “Hill Street Blues” and “The Wire,” which were episodic, yet told a very long story with ongoing subplots, like televised novels.

“Lost” was the ultimate water cooler show. Scenes and events were open to interpretation. Where the show looked initially to be just another version of “Cast Away,” (the producers did use the Tom Hanks movie as inspiration), that notion was quickly dispelled in the first two hours when Sawyer killed a polar bear. But when the pilot of the crashed plane was yanked bodily from the cockpit (which was suspended high in a tree) by some unseen monster and slaughtered, it was abundantly clear that the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 were not on a typical tropical island.

People who weren’t familiar with the show have asked me over the years, “Isn’t that the show about the plane crash?” I always responded sarcastically and said something like, “Yeah, and the Star Wars trilogy is about two robots that crash in the desert.” It’s hard to describe the show, though, to someone who hasn’t experienced it. The first season was primarily about survival on the island, but it’s so much more I don’t know where to begin. The show is about survival, yes. But it’s more about faith. It’s about destiny. It’s about redemption. It’s about purpose, greed, leadership, guilt, love, hate, fear, revenge, compassion, perseverance, jealousy, protection. It’s about people.

“Lost” was a great show partially because of storytelling techniques. When we first meet the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 they have already crashed. We see how they act under the worst conditions imaginable. Through flashbacks, though, each character in turn is fleshed out, their motivations examined, their previous interactions with the world and even the other characters revealed. Through the looking glass into the past, the viewer finds that each character has his or her own flaws, and more than a few secrets.

Over time, “Lost” became a show that Magi and I watched together. We found ourselves having conversation after conversation after each show about the mythology surrounding the island and the interactions of the characters. Then, when that wasn’t enough, we started watching it together. We’d have conversations during the commercials. Sometimes the commercials came so abruptly that we were upset by the interruption, but other times we appreciated the chance to reflect together on what had just occurred. I don’t know how many times we both said, when an episode ended, that it was the best show ever. It was dozens of times, at least. We often found performances that we thought should earn Emmy awards. Josh Holloway, who played Sawyer, had a number of scenes last season that should have made him a shoo-in. Sadly, when any kind of science fiction or fantasy element is added to a show, your Emmy chances drop like a hot potato, and “Lost” has its share of those. Actors of the highest quality are often relegated to other science fiction shows of decidedly lesser quality when their shows go off the air. I hope that doesn’t happen with these people. They deserve better.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music, here. It’s so important to the pure emotion of the story. Michael Giacchino, whom I’ve mentioned before, is one of the real stars of the show. His Academy Award-winning score for “Up” is really a spinoff of his work on “Lost.” The montage that introduced us to Carl Fredrickson is indicative of his previous work on this show. Often, the directors would just shoot a montage of the interactions of the cast of characters with Giacchino’s score over it to close an episode. There was no need for dialogue. And in the series finale Sunday night, his Oscar win was shown to be entirely justified.

If the music wasn’t beautiful enough, the setting of “Lost” certainly was. Filmed almost entirely in Hawaii, we were treated week after week to lush, gorgeous scenery that I had not fully appreciated until I saw it in high definition. I typically watched the first several seasons in standard definition, often on my 20” television in my basement office. With Netflix streaming the show in HD to our newer television, we are gaining a new appreciation for the way this show was meant to be seen. We always noticed that the credits were half on the screen and half off, when we watched those first seasons. “Lost” was working ahead of its time, with the full intention of being seen on higher-quality screens, much like “Firefly” was, three years previously. Sometimes we need to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new, more enjoyable experience. I can hardly wait until the series is released on Blu-Ray in August. I have never purchased “Lost” on DVD, so I won’t feel cheated for having waited.

Another amazing quality of the show was the fan following. Like Star Trek before it, “Lost” has a cult following. Scads of websites exist in support of the show, cross-referencing character appearances, settings, objects, and events. There are blogs aplenty about it. People comment on Doc Jensen’s blog by the thousands. I have to wonder now what Star Trek would have been like in the 60s if the Internet had existed! I bet it would have looked a lot like this.

I do marvel, though, at the way some of the reviews of the finale have been written. I don’t know how many times I have read something to the effect of, “I haven’t watched ‘Lost’ since the first season but the finale stunk.” People who have hated the show since the beginning have decided to pop by different websites to express their sympathy or disgust for those of us who have watched it for six years. I’m not sure of their motivation for doing so, and I never quite understand the loathing that geeks like us seem to attract, but there’s one thing of which I am sure. These snobs could really learn some lessons in humanity from actually watching the show. The messages sent and the lessons taught therein could benefit them far more than they have benefitted those of us who have seen it through. They shouldn’t feel sorry for us. It is we who should feel sorry for them. On those people, the irony is lost.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Insane Heat Vision Eyes, Redux

Here we go again, only this time, it's part of the new Earth One graphic novel series: "Set in an all-new continuity re-imagining DC's top heroes, Earth One is a new wave of original, stand-alone graphic novels produced by the top writers and artists in the industry."

It seems to me instead of being a model of what humanity aspires to be, Superman is becoming even more of an alien whose appearance is intended to either intimidate or look cool. Take your pick.

Here are some more:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Crossover Hell

I’m not especially fond of the company crossover event in comics these days. I still remember when I was in college, and I discovered that you didn’t have to be a complete nerd to read them. There were even girls who read them! Those were the heady days of the Secret Wars, when the status quo was being upset. For too many years, the Marvel universe was incredibly stable and no one really changed. I remember the excited conversations people were having. “There’s a new guy in the Iron Man suit! And the Hulk broke his leg! And Spider-Man is –gasp—getting a new costume!”

Then we had the Crisis, which crossed over through every DC book. Then Secret Wars II, which crossed over through every Marvel book. And then it just started getting ridiculous. Every so often, there’s a new “event” that is intended to start new books and shake things up. Whatever happened to simply putting together a title that has ongoing stories that someone can enjoy without having to be involved in every facet of these so-called universes? It’s not even that anymore. Now, every subset of the comic book company gets its own crossover, too.

I had really enjoyed this new run of Detective Comics featuring Batwoman, including the backup feature with the new version of the Question. I liked the creative teams and was enjoying the stories immensely. And then, I was removed from the story for a crossover event. Oh, look. Batman's coming back. No one could have predicted that! I stopped buying the title. I was reading and enjoying Batgirl with my daughter. And then, the crossover story came in, interrupting the flow. I stopped buying that title, too. Adventure Comics, with both Superboy and the Legion? Same deal. I don’t know exactly how many times this has happened recently, but I know I don’t like it. I’m not even going to start buying the Flash, even though I enjoy Francis Manapul’s art, because I know the same thing is going to happen.

I am down to buying Invincible and Astro City. One big reason I buy both of those titles is that I know I’m getting the whole story and it won’t be interrupted by some artificially created stunt that derails it. I don’t care about the return of Bruce Wayne. That ship sailed when they brought Jason Todd back to life because Superboy punched a wall. I don’t want to know about the Care Bear Lanterns. I don’t care about a civil war in the Marvel universe if I’m enjoying a Fantastic Four story.

I think one time when this was handled particularly well was when Walt Simonson was writing and drawing Thor. The casket of ancient winters had been shattered and the world was plunged into ice. Even in other titles, the characters were saying stuff like, “Hey, how about that? The world is covered in ice and snow. Oh, well, back to work.” That’s how a crossover should happen. Notice can be taken of a larger event because the characters do exist in a shared universe, but it doesn’t have to be a worldwide catastrophe involving every character who has their own comic book title.

I’m really curious about the new Legion of Superheroes title that Paul Levitz will be writing. I’ve always liked the Legion. One of the nice things about the Legion, for the most part, is that they can be left alone outside the normal continuity of the DC universe. They exist in the future. To them, these earth-shattering events have already happened. But I can almost guarantee that when the next event happens, someone’s going to get sucked back through time. I hope that’s not the case.

DC, can you give me one title that I can read without it being involved in the latest character-killing, dead-raising, rape-and-dismemberment fest? Please?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

It's Been Awhile...

It's been awhile since I did a full character sketch. As I draw more, hopefully I'll get back to at least the level I reached in the 90s!

Happy Mother's Day

To my wonderful wife, Magi. We couldn't ask for more happiness as a family.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Catching Up

Iron Man 2 comes out tomorrow. Can’t wait!

Ernie Harwell passed away. I heard his voice probably more than any other in my childhood. I’ll have to do a longer post about this soon.

Teachers remain under attack. National Teacher Appreciation Day came and went and I didn’t hear one person say anything about it. When I mentioned it at our faculty meeting on Tuesday our principal said, “Was that today?”

There are 18 days of school left with students. Then I have four days off (including the weekend) before summer school begins. Darned lazy part-time teachers!

May 4th has unofficially become National Star Wars Day. “May the 4th be With You…” Get it? How has it taken this long for someone to come up with that?

Speaking of Star Wars, I think I’m going to wait and have Sera watch it when it comes out on Blu-Ray (now that it’s been announced) and we have a bigger TV. And, we’ll watch it at night. I want her to get as close to the theater experience as possible. I just hope we are given the choice of watching the original version. Han shot first (and last)!!

I’m still not reading much in the way of comics. I’m still reading Invincible, Astro City, and that’s about it for regular comics.

Speaking of comics, I read the first 50 or so issues of Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” in bookstores over the past few months in a huge compendium. I normally don’t go in for zombie stuff, but his name was enough to get me to start. And once I started, I didn’t want to put it down. AMC is making a TV series out of it. Good stuff.

I’m drawing again. I don’t have a lot of time for it right now, but in a few weeks, I’ll be back at it. I got a new graphics tablet to replace the one I gave to my niece over a year ago, and I really want to learn how to use it well. She has inspired me.

I wish I could use the font that I set up as my default in Microsoft Word as my font on the blog. It’s CCComicrazy from Comicraft.

Rumor has it that through a grant, every secondary math teacher in our system is getting an interactive whiteboard next year to improve math instruction. I’m very excited about this. I’ve been using a document camera/LCD projector for a few years now to improve my instruction, and the whiteboard will allow me to do animations, show videos to get realistic data to analyze, and better capture the attention of my videogame-oriented students. I’ve been reading blogs written by young teachers who are doing some really cool stuff in the classroom and I will never be too old to learn from them. I don’t want to be one of those teachers who quits because technology and new techniques pass them by.

Facebook is great. I have reconnected with so many people I haven’t had contact with in years! I communicate with old school friends (some of whom are grandparents!), some of my old teachers, former and current colleagues, and people who post on the Tigers message board.

Economics have forced us to cut way back on everything. We now look at our expenditures much more critically. For example, going to the movies, just for the three of us, is a $35 experience if we get popcorn and snacks. We can buy the Blu-Ray of a movie for $20-$25 when it comes out and watch it as many times as we want.

Speaking of not going to the movies, I have no interest in the Jonah Hex movie. The character was retconned into a supernatural figure a few years ago, and that aspect never appealed to me.

That's all I can think of for now. Hopefully I'll get a sketch or two done this weekend and can have something to show off.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Bad Blogger!

I was reminded by one of my colleagues today that I hadn't posted anything in a while. She was right, and I will do better. It's just that Facebook is so much easier and I have a much wider audience. I'm working on something that I'll have posted here soon.