Sunday, August 02, 2015

A woman on money is the kind of debate we like; Part 1: Save Hamilton


In 2020 a woman will be sharing the $10 bill with Alexander Hamilton according to the Department of the Treasury.  I love this kind of discussion.  There are plenty of opportunities to reflect on our history and at the same time create massive amounts of hyperbolic chaos that will ruin friendships and destroy marriages.  Shall we get started?

First on the agenda is the horrible decision to have a woman share a bill with a current occupant.  If the woman is important enough to be on currency either create a new paper currency with her image (impractical) or supplant a current image and move on.  I vote for the latter. 

I do not vote for Alexander Hamilton. 

Neither did Lin-Manuel Miranda or cast of the Broadway play Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton is my favorite Founding Father for a few reasons.  He’s an educated “self-made” man.  He is a pragmatist.  He’s an economist.  He’s a brilliant writer.  And he was willing to sacrifice his own values for the good of the country.  Oh, and he was one of history’s great smooth smart asses.  The Tyrion Lannister of U.S. History may have been Alexander Hamilton.

But enough about my thoughts, how about the real accomplishments:

-Actually fought in the Revolutionary War.

-Staunch abolitionist.

-Delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

-Wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, possibly some of the greatest political documents in existence. 

-Wrote Federalist Essay #78 which discussed the necessity for an independent judiciary and life terms for judges.

-Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington

-Created the American federal economic system.

-Created the first American National Bank.

-Although he can’t stand Thomas Jefferson, he convinces the House of Representatives during the Election of 1800 to vote for Jefferson instead of Aaron Burr, whom he found morally bankrupt.

That’s man deserves to stay.  Period. 

Then who?  Who should be replaced in the pantheon of great Americans?

The popular answer is Andrew Jackson.  Most people simply point to Jackson’s role in the First Seminole War and the treaties that lead to the Trail of Tears and call him a bad president.  Most people are fools and use 21st Century values and mores to armchair quarterback historical controversies.  Jackson was the first real populist president while at the same time the first “imperial president.”  He brought the country back from the brink of civil war with the Nullification Crisis ($1000 says you have no idea) and brought the attention of the elitist nature of government to the people.  Was he an asshole?  Well sure he was.  That doesn’t make him a very good president.  By the way, if you want to start using body count as a measure of whether or not a president is worthy, you better start tossing Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.  The bombings (fire and nuclear) they ordered probably killed millions.  Or you can actually read history in context. 

This leaves my choice for the switch-a-roo on the U.S. paper currency as:


That means no $50 bill for Ulysses S. Grant.  Yep, the famous Civil War general was pretty much just that, a great Civil War general.  During his time as president he oversaw the mess that was Reconstruction and had more scandals as president than any other person that has held office.  If there is anyone that should share the bill or better yet be totally removed, it’s Grant. 

So that’s the end of part 1.  Let’s dump Ulysses S. Grant and add….who?  Ah, that’s for part 2!

Day 2: Little Wild Horse Canyon, Goblin Valley, and pie

Slot canyons.

Basically a slot canyon is a narrow canyon that has walls sometimes over 100 feet high and can be as narrow as 2 feet at the base.  Slot canyons can be insanely dangerous when it rains because the whole canyon is simply a huge funnel that the water shoots down.  Thankfully it wasn’t raining when we hiked Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Little Wild Horse is a long way from anything.  Tiny Hanksville, Utah is 40 miles away.  This creates a tiny thrill from realizing that you really are on your own out here if something goes badly.  It sounds like a ridiculous way to get a thrill but that’s part of the experience.  It makes you more aware, more apart of the environment.  Now, granted, the Little Wild Horse has become very popular and chances are that someone will be there to help.  But it is easy to get hurt.  Very easy. 

We pulled up to a packed parking lot and …..

…oh, hello 55 Girl Scouts. 

Not wanting to get caught behind the early high school aged group we quickly loaded up the packs and sprinted the half mile to the canyon mouth, where the girls were very nice and let us take lead into the canyon.  Little Wild Horse is popular because it is considered the perfect non-technical canyoneering experience.  You have to do some climbing (aka “scrambling”) and bouldering but no ropes or pulleys need to be used.  It also gets narrow real fast. 


Hence the areas that are known as narrows.  In this confined space with walls 100 feet high we climbed and bouldered our way up the canyon.  Then we saw water.  Because this is a slot canyon you often run into pools of leftover rain water that take a real long time to evaporate.  These are called potholes and this one was snaking around an S curve so we had no idea of the depth or length.  Another gentleman was already there deciding whether or not to get his boots wet.  He had no idea about the size of the pothole either.  This was about a mile in and we still had 2.5 miles to go.  Going back meant squeezing through 50+ Girl Scouts and shame.  My wife and I started to get a little depressed. 

Enter the Girl Scouts. 

“Ok ladies, get on your water shoes!”

The 20-something short blonde, the leader, smiled at me and walked up to the water where she proceeded to take off her shoes.  She didn’t have water shoes, which seemed to be sandals.

“You’re going barefoot?”, I asked.

“Sure!  No big deal!”, she replied.  My wife and I looked at each other and quickly unlaced our boots.  Boots-in-hand we followed the Scout leader, with 50 ladies in tow, through the murky pothole that was about a foot and a half high.  It was surreal.  The rocks weren’t sharp and we went nice and slow.  After about 25 feet the water ended, we laced up the boots, thanked the Scouts, and off we went! 

After more scrambling and narrows we came upon hikers coming from the other direction that told us there was one more pool to conquer.  It was a small pond at a sharp turn beneath an overhang followed by four foot climb over a boulder, then another slick four foot climb up a shoot.  Onward!  We reached the pond and followed the advice of the hikers and stayed left, once again with shoes in hand.  This time the wading was waist deep although it was entirely in sand.  No problem!  It took us about ten minutes to scale the boulder and the chute, and we were off to the top! 

The head of the canyon was a 7 foot dryfall that usually represented the end of the line for most hikers.  We didn’t want it to end.  We wanted to exit out the back of the canyon, loop around a small swell, and enter Bell Canyon from the back.  We would make our way down Bell back to our car.  That is if we could traverse a 7 foot wall.  We back tracked a bit and I found a couple of ledges to climb.  It was not easy and I had to heave my way up.  My wife followed my lead and she worked here way up.

It might not sound like much but that climb, combined with scrambles and water-filled potholes, was fairly life-changing.  It was an accomplishment.  It was real.  We continued up and around the canyon, came through Bell Canyon (not nearly as interesting although tough because we were tired), and made our way back to the car.  Yes, Little Wild Horse is bucket list material.

We stopped off at Goblin Valley State Park after the hike and enjoyed the totally bizarre valley with its multitude of massive clay toad stools.  Unfortunately the long hike and hot temperatures made the visit a little short and we headed back through Capital Reef to our cabin.  But first, a little pie.

One of the traditions of our trips is enjoying pie.  Good pie is actually fairly common.  Bad pie is rare.  Fantastic pie is very, very rare.  My wife tries many different pies, usually recommended or regional specialties.  I stick with apple pie and ice cream.  Last year we watched a pie special on CBS Sunday Morning that mentioned the town of Bicknell, Utah.  The restaurant was called The Sunglow CafĂ© and Motel, a rundown motel attached to a greasy spoon style restaurant.  I ordered the apple pie and was completely underwhelmed.  It was almost in the “poor” range.  My wife ordered the pie slice sampler: buttermilk, oatmeal, pickle, and pinto bean.  You read that right.  A slice of buttermilk pie, a slice of oatmeal pie, a slice of pickle pie, a slice of pinto bean pie.  How was the pie?  Well, in order of yumminess: Pickle, Oatmeal, Pinto Bean, and Buttermilk.  Apple not included in ranking.  Overall yumminess was very whatever.  Believe it or not the taste is barely, barely the actual flavor of the ingredient.  In the end the slices were a good example that anything can taste pretty good with a lot of butter and sugar.   

Hikes: Little Wild Horse Canyon/Bell Canyon Loop, Goblin Valley

Miles hiked:  8.5

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Day 1: Salt Lake City, Utah to Torrey, Utah via Landscape Arch, Dead Horse Point, and sleep.

With the end of AP Reading came the official end of the school year.  The College Board released me, I picked up my wife at the airport, and this morning we started bright and early for the San Rafeal Swell and the town of Torrey.

That is, until we came upon a fork in the road.

Eventually Highway 6 from Spanish Fork ended at Interstate 70 and we had a choice; go right and head to Little Wild Horse Canyon, or go left and go to Arches National Park because we were 45 minutes away and who cares. 

We chose left.

Part of being done is the fact that we were now accountable to nobody but ourselves.  Ourselves felt like visiting Landscape Arch so we drove the 45 minutes to Arches and hiked to Landscape Arch because we love it.  Then we left.  Yep, that’s it.  That’s not to say we didn’t drive slowly through the park to enjoy the view but we didn’t stop any other place.  Not one.  We had hit this park two years ago and we knew what we wanted.  We drove to Arches to see one thing and we loved it.  We were accountable to ourselves and we marveled at that massive structure, and left.  It felt good.

Then we headed over to Dead Horse Point State Park because someone on the plane told my wife that it was worth visiting; that and we remembered passing it a couple of years hence.  It was an interesting park with some sweeping views of the Colorado River and Canyonlands off in the distance.  But the hazy day made for meh viewing so we just enjoyed the hike, and these interesting things:

Those are potash quarries.  Apparently there is an underground sea at this location and Intrepid Potash LLC pumps water underground and pushes the salt to the service where it is evaporated using a blue dye for quickness.  Then a twenty (yes, twenty) ton scrapper goes along and picks up the loose potash and transports it to a plant for processing into fertilizer.  Interesting. 

We eventually made it Torrey and now I’m sitting on a porch overlooking the red rocks with a glass of wine.  The vacation begins.

Hikes: Landscape Arch, East and West Rim of Dead Horse Point

Total Miles Hiked: 6

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Confederate bastion of Fort Bragg insults us all.

I’m probably engaging in hyperbole. 

I have a question.  When you think of Fort Bragg, California, what comes to mind? 

The Mendocino coastline?  Definitely.

Whale watching?  Right there.

Fishing?  How can you not think about fishing?



Gimme dat!

An aristocratic style society with a cotton based economy that desires to break from the United States and continue to institute slavery to maintain social and economic viability? 

Not so much unless you’re a state senator from Orinda, California who got done golfing early the other day and decided to write a bill.

SB – 539

   (a) On and after January 1, 2017, a name associated with the Confederate States of America shall not be used to name state or local property. If a name associated with the Confederate States of America is used to name state or local public property prior to January 1, 2017, the name shall be changed and any sign associated with the name shall be removed.

(b) For the purpose of this section, “name associated with the Confederate States of America” includes, but is not limited to, the name of an elected leader or a senior military officer of the Confederacy.


Apparently the law would impact, on the surface, two elementary schools (in Long Beach and San Deigo) named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and public buildings in the city of Fort Bragg, the city named after Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

For a second let’s throw out the anachronistic assholery of op-eds and look at the situation from a practical point of view.  I’m not pro-Confederacy so you can pause before you sprint to your closet for the cloak of self-righteousness.  Both Lee and Braxton have a history within the United States before the Civil War.  Braxton’s is much more boring and the city of Fort Bragg was actually named when the man was part of the United States military.  Robert E. Lee is one of greatest generals in all of U.S. History, and he didn’t like slavery and only fought for the South because he was from the state of Virginia.  In fact Lee was a strong supporter of the union between the North and the South and found his command regrettable but necessary.  He was treated with incredible respect by the United States after the war, and was actually given back his citizenship by the United States Congress and President For in the late-1970’s.  Robert E. Lee was not Hitler. 

It’s not for me to judge whether or not Long Beach or San Diego want to name elementary schools after Robert E. Lee.  That’s up to citizens of the respective towns.  Nearly every person in U.S. History has skeletons in their closet and if you start looking for angels you’re going to run out of names real quick.  If I had a vote on whether or not Lee’s name on a public school is appropriate in California, I’d question the validity but call it fine.

But the Fort Bragg problem represents how a person that has no working knowledge of history can make life irritating by using political overreach.  I will guarantee that the people of Fort Bragg don’t see themselves as sympathetic to any Confederate narratives, and that visitors don’t make any connection at all between the former Confederacy and Noyo Harbor’s delicious clam chowder.  The State of California already (rightfully) banned the sale of Confederate flags from government offices.  Time for the state to stop being stupid and let local constituents figure things out on their own.       

Monday, July 06, 2015

Young teacher is risky, stupid, gets fired. Hire him back.

I remember back when I was a young and impulsive teacher.  Mid-twenties, full of vim and vigor, willing to try almost anything to get the attention of students.

“(Jordan) Parmenter said the subject of his apology occurred while he was teaching a lesson on freedom of speech during a junior-level English class. Wanting to direct attention to a chart, Parmenter said he made what he now calls the poor decision of using a small U.S. flag in the room as a pointer.

One of the students in this class stated that using the U.S. flag as a pointer is disrespectful, Parmenter said. The teacher said he then made what he says was the rash decision of dropping the flag to the floor and stepping on it to illustrate an example of free speech as part of the lesson that day.”


Since I started teaching a month before the attacks on September 11, 2001, playing around with patriotic symbolism was pretty much the farthest thing from my mind during my impulsive years.  Like everyone else in the U.S. I pretty much wrapped myself in the flag in 2001-2002, and then watched the curious steps leading to the Iraq War later on.  I did things for shock value and attention but the national symbols were off the list as being unnecessarily controversial.   

After his flag-stepping Mr. Parmenter did all the right things; he immediately realized his error (in class he apologized), and went full mea culpa in front of his small town school board. 

“The Martinsville School District board voted 6-0 to fire English teacher Jordan Parmenter.”

That a bummer.  This is a clear case of “hey I might be able to make a strong point but, you know, flags and things.”  The thought passes through your head that you can make a shocking, and pretty much harmless, impression on your students while making a very valid point about something important like the First Amendment of the Constitution.  But at this point you realize that in public schools you don’t always deal with rational people (including school boards) and some of the more shocking lessons can pose risks to your ability to retain a job.  As an adult and a credentialed teacher Parmenter should have known that. 

Still, 6-0 in favor if firing?  There might be something else in play here because a unanimous canning of a new teacher because he goes overboard on a perfectly legal (although unwise) flag stomp doesn’t really warrant automatic dismissal.  Risk and passion are good things when harnessed correctly and cutting this guy loose won’t help him learn how to do that.  Plus the guy instantly realized he had gone too far.  Parmenter wasn’t trying to justify anything after the act; a good sign if you are looking for a teacher that might be able to “get it.”

In the end the whole thing is rather tragic.  It was a poor choice that resulted in an overwhelming use of force by the school board and a rough beginning of a career for a teacher.  Learn, young Padawan.  Learn and move forward. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

Lee Siegel is kind of a prick

“….I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.

I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans.”

Ahhh, from the mouth of babes who really, really want to avoid the cost of doing anything in society.  Real talk from a man who thinks society owes him maximum benefit with minimum cost, with a sugar cookie on top.

Mr. Siegel wrote this op-ed column in the beginning of June and the shockwaves have pretty much reverberated around the country as an example of what not to do.  Let’s see if I can summarize.

-Siegel went to a “private liberal arts college” and was forced to transfer because of tuition costs.

-Siegel then went to a state college in New Jersey and dropped out because he “thought I deserved better.”

-Siegel then went to Columbia where he obtained a Bachelors and two Masters degrees.

-Siegel didn’t want to work in jobs he didn’t like when he was in college because he likes writing.

-Siegel defaulted on his loans because fight-the-power.

The unfortunate thing about this story, aside from the fact that Lee Siegel thinks society owes him three degrees from Columbia and an income, is that it actually resonates with this generation’s college attending crowd.  My Facebook feed is full of my former college bound students all clamoring for the platform of Bernie Sanders; the presidential candidate that has made himself known for the “fuck it, let’s just make college free for all” mentality towards college.  This is the realm where Lee Siegel’s actions are seen as legitimate. 

I’m all for reforming the system regarding student loans and college tuition but let’s deal with two issues that people don’t like to acknowledge.

First, students are part of the tuition increase problem.  Not only is the demand for college increasing at a dramatic rate, the demand for the “college experience” is expanding right along with it.  Students want to go to a colleges with great living conditions, high end food, walks through gardens, superior athletic facilities, phenomenal technological equipment, classes about researching Quidditch and analyzing white privilege in ferrets, and having well-known speakers and professors lecture for about 90 minutes a week.  Students are getting iPads to read with their sushi and gluten-free lunches, then heading off to run on the indoor track before attending the Harvard law class taught by Elizabeth Warren (to which she was paid over $300,000).  The college experience could be made to be cheaper except for the fact that students don’t want it that way.

Second, students have been going into debt for a long time.  I recently finished paying off about twenty thousand in college debts, some of it from my own stupidity.  That’s significantly less than most students seeking a Bachelors Degree will have upon leaving an institution of higher learning, and the odds of that debt becoming a greater standard of living are still much higher than someone without the degree.  And as the New York Times highlights, the number of people that do default on student loans is extremely minimal.

Every statistic out there says that while going into debt sucks, the benefit from receiving the college degree far outweighs the problem of going into debt.  This is not to say that every student is prepared to take on the responsibility of the debt, and part of my job as an Economics teacher is to show students that there are ways to minimize the debt burden by the college-going folk.   However many students have been drilled in the art of going to “the best college” without really researching all potential aspects of the decision, including the state college system.  They see California State University of Disappointment instead of the potential to get the same degree at less than half the financial cost.

Lee Siegel’s column is representative of that attitude.  The feeling that society owes them best of everything if they only “work hard” in their own way, and that society then owes them a sense renewal when they screw up because society is mean and corporations are horrible.  Not to simplify the argument for Siegel but suck it up.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hey California teachers, Jerry Brown just screwed you. Just a little bit but still….

It’s summer time and that means house cleaning.  That’s a metaphorical term as I’m doing plenty to prepare not only for the upcoming school year but also for my educational future.  So, since December 31 of this year is the expiration date of my teaching credential, it’s time to head to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and renew my license.  It’s only a cool $70.  

Wait a minute.  The damn site won’t let me renew my credential.  I wonder what’s going on….


Wow, what a coincidence!  The CTC won’t let me renew my credential now and is raising the fees by over 40%!  Actually, the total fee for me is going to by $102.50 because if you want to actually renew online (you know, without paper) the online processing fee is an extra $2.50.  Why?  I have no idea.  How about this; if you have to go through that boring, pointless horror show known as BTSA, you forgo having to pay for credential renewal forever!  It’s a fair trade.  

So thanks Jerry Brown!  You can’t tell the government to fund a government agency because politics.  Nice job!