Sunday, August 30, 2009

One week down, 42 weeks to go

After a week and a half of excruciating new employee inductions, coma-inducing orientation and staff committee meetings, mind-numbing guideline sessions full of TLAs (three-letter acronyms), and the occasional respite of a school spirit speech, classes finally started this past Monday, and I finally got around to my job: teaching. Well, kind of.

On Monday, first and second periods were shortened owing to a pep rally, so all I did there was take attendance and distribute class syllabi. The remaining periods, I was able to do what I had hoped: namely, to introduce myself at length, and to have all of my students do the same. With some of the classes, this activity quickly de-evolved into a chaos of excited questions about my tattoos. Go figure.

On Tuesday, I went through the tattoo show-and-tell lunacy with my first two periods, then caught up all classes on lab safety. One of my Chemistry students astutely noticed we don't have a fire extinguisher in the room. At least he was awake!

On Wednesday, more flat-out chaos: I marched every one of my classes down to the Library so they could pick up their textbooks. Since all the Science classes were slated to pick up their books that day, the wait took up most of the class period. Upon our return to the classroom during one of my Physical Science classes, I noticed there were still some ten minutes left until the bell, so I asked the students to go ahead and start reading Chapter 1, to which one unfortunate soul replied, in shocked disbelief: "You want us to read? ON OUR OWN?" It's gonna be a long year.

On Thursday, finally! Lecture time. Well, lecture time for the first four periods, since the school photos "grade X students go during period Y" designation left me with only half of my Physics students during sixth period (the juniors left), and only one Physics student during seventh period (the seniors left). At least I was able to help her with her Algebra II homework.

Friday was doubly good: no more administrative garbage or interruptions, and since we have casual Friday at our school, I was able to wear jeans and tennis shoes. The jeans aren't such a big deal, because even my dress pants are comfortable. But the tennis shoes were a gift from God -- I have blisters on my heels from a week of wearing dress shoes. Time to splurge yet more money I don't have to buy a pair of fancy sneaker-dress shoe hybrids.

All in all, the first actual work-week of my new job was: exhausting, because I found myself leaving school and coming straight home to prepare lectures and activities for the next day; frustrating, because I (the whole faculty, really) had to deal with an absurd amount of transferring students, the class sizes are absolutely enormous, and all of our schedules were shifted around the day before classes started -- yes, you read that correctly, and in my case, it was actually the NIGHT before; but also very rewarding, especially when it comes to my Physics students, who are attentive, funny, and understand that once we're on task, I need them to stay focused. It was tough keeping some of my other classes equally focused, especially my non-honours, we-don't-want-to-be-here Physical Science students, but aside from the occasional "QUIET, please!" warnings, I had no disciplinary problems. And if that's all I have to worry about when it comes to discipline, then I'll be thanking God profusely, because that kind of restlessness was to be expected during the first week of school.

May the next 42 weeks be more like Friday -- a nice, relatively stress-free, routine learning / teaching experience.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I just don't get it

I've tried, repeatedly, but I don't understand the fascination. UFC / Strikeforce / MMA / Affliction / Ultimate Fighting / Whatever just doesn't make it for me. Last night's card was advertised as an epoch-maker, because lots of supposedly spectacular match-ups would be televised, and the headliner was a battle of the best two female MMA / UFC / Whatever fighters. Well, I toughed out the entire card, again, and was disappointed and revolted, again. It isn't a problem of the sport being too barbaric -- even though I understand that all such fighting sports are barbaric -- because I love boxing. It isn't a problem of the sport being too seedy, because it's come a long way from those disturbing clips of that homeless dude fighting weirdos for cash or food; in fact, last night's event was as glitzy and well-produced as any stellar boxing card in recent memory. I can't even say, in good conscience, that it's a problem of a lack of skill, because I'm not well-versed on the finer points of take-down techniques, submission holds, or shoot (chute?) fighting.

For me, the biggest problem is that no matter what happens, MMA either fails to hold my interest or actually disgusts me. Last night was no exception. The four things that I remember the most from the two-hour program are not exactly selling points for the sport:
  • Prolonged stretches where the fighters just circled one another, followed by a quick takedown by one of the fighters, and said takedown resulting in prolonged stretches where the fighters grappled awkwardly on the floor, until the referee eventually reset them because the crowd would boo the lack of action.
  • Fighters taking entirely too much punishment. I don't think I'm being a hypocrite here. Boxing gloves are very well-padded, and I've actually experienced what it's like to get punched in the jaw by a gloved opponent. Sure, it doesn't feel too good, but to be honest, I've taken worse lumps playing soccer. I've also experienced what it's like to get pounded with a practically bare fist or get kicked in the thigh, and it's brutal. One complaint about MMA you'll never hear from me is that fights get stopped too quickly. In my opinion, the exact opposite holds true. Last night, some Armenian dude dropped his opponent with a crunching right hook, and there was no pause, mercy, or eight-count. Instead, the Armenian fighter immediately pounced on his helpless and halfway unconscious rival and landed at least five or six vicious blows on his face before the referee finally stepped in to wave off the contest. The bloodied and bruised loser was left to stare up at the lights with a thousand-yard glassy-eyed stare. It was scary and repugnant.
  • Testing is sorely needed in the sport, and I don't mean the "what multiple learning profile is Fighter X" type of testing. Yesterday's main event pitted Gina Carano, the supposed face of female MMA fighters, against an opponent who goes by the name of "Cyborg" -- I shit you not. Carano is a pretty good-looking girl, so I can see why the promoters would want to showcase her. As a bonus, her name allowed me and a group of equally immature friends to make roughly one million "pounding Gina" moron jokes. This Cyborg person, though... yikes. To quote the Steve Carrell character from "The 40-Year Old Virgin": her hands were as big as Andre The Giant's, and her Adam's apple was almost as big as her balls. She was more of a man than I'll ever be. Predictably enough, the good-looking but not very well-skilled Gina took a hellacious beating from Cyborg. I suppose we should be thankful there wasn't enough time for lots of grappling, or else Cyborg might not have known whether to throw punches or penetrate and thrust. [Shudders.]
  • There really don't appear to be too many rules. During the girl fight, while Cyborg had Gina pinned against the cage (yes, they fight in a cage -- draw your own conclusions), she was actually scratching Gina's face. I suppose that's pretty convincing evidence that Cyborg's a female after all, but still... that was just insane.

All in all, I was not impressed. Call me a stodgy old fogey, but I think I'll stick to boxing, where people try to punch each other's heads off in a civilized manner.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The fire sale from hell

To the remaining Tribe fans who haven't deserted the team after Larry Dolan took it over from Dick Jacobs, the current installment of the yearly fire sale does not come as a shock. Nonetheless, all of us are devastated by this latest round of trades. The CC trade last year was incredibly painful but understandable. CC was heading into free agency and had very honestly made it clear he would go to the highest bidder. Hence, getting something in return for CC before the foregone conclusion of his leaving at the end of the season made sense, even to CC's most ardent supporters. But this year's trades of Cliff Lee and Vicky Martinez are not justified by the same parameters. Both players had team options for next year, at roughly the same salary they're making this year. Why, then, not employ the same strategy as last year? That is, start the year with an intact roster, see if the team will contend, and, if things look bad as the trade deadline approaches, deal the marketable players who are heading into free agency for prospects. I like to think that we the Tribe Faithful understand that the salad days of Jacobs actually trying to field a winning team regardless of personal cost are over. We may be chronically afflicted with collective Sisyphus issues, but we're not hopelessly stupid, so we also realize that these are crummy economic times for everyone. But if Dolan hopes to make any money from his ownership stake in the Indians, he needs to field a competitive team.

Cleveland is a football town, and they'll support the Brownies no matter how putridly inept a team / coaching staff / managerial staff is in place. The attendance records for Browns games provides compelling evidence of this unconditional support. Since their return to the league, the Brownies' record of futility has been astounding, and yet they keep selling out game after game after painfully embarrassing blowout loss to the fucking Steelers game. Neither the Cavs nor the Tribe are granted the same luxury of seemingly unlimited support. The pre-LeBron Cavs were probably a few more lousy seasons away from being relocated (you can't convince me otherwise), and team owner Dan Gilbert has done a remarkable job of following previous owner George Gund's lead and investing oodles of money, time, and effort into building a first-class franchise. Sure, the fact that LeBron has blossomed into the league's best player hasn't hurt, but the point is still valid: unless you own the Brownies, you must spend at least some money to make money. The Cavs regularly sell out home games, and the crowd is enthusiastic and rabid, as it should be. The same scenario played out for the Tribe starting in the mid 90's and continuing into the early part of the current century. The new stadium, coupled with a team that actually started winning and became a perennial contender thanks to several shrewd trades AND lucrative player contracts (bears repeating: LUCRATIVE PLAYER CONTRACTS!!!), resulted in an unprecedented era of baseball success in Cleveland, as witnessed by the remarkable sellout streak of 455 consecutive home games.

If Dolan's only strategy for maintaining a positive bottom line is slashing the payroll, which GM Mark Shapiro has confirmed countless times, then the Tribe are in for a nasty free-fall of perennial rebuilding. Dolan would be better off selling the team to someone who actually has the capital to invest in team improvements and wait for those investments to mature, à la Dick Jacobs. Dolan would also be well-advised to sell the team before the average attendance plummets to the triple digits, something that was quite frequent in the 80's and early 90's. I used to work downtown back then, and can still remember walking to old Municipal stadium after work with friends and/or Fiancée No. 2 (she was a trooper), paying $5 for tickets, and, since the stadium would be practically empty, sitting anywhere we wanted -- even the ushers didn't give a shit back then, and with good reason: those teams were abysmal. I'm sure I speak for the remaining Tribe Faithful (all 13 of us) when I say that a return to those conditions would be nothing short of a catastrophe.