Thursday, February 17, 2011

Musing on Academic Success and Failures …

Me as a hopeless 17-year old with my friend Marie Sprugasci, who was my maid-of-honor at my wedding. Marie was just so darn spunky! She's now an elementary school teacher. I'm the blonde.

I don’t romanticize my academic career prior to working toward my B.S. and M.A. I seriously hated high school, except for a few teachers and classes. I was not popular, and never really found my niche. Some teachers accused me of being lazy. In hindsight, I probably had a learning disability that affected me ability to grasp the abstract thinking required in algebra. But because I was supposed to be “bright,” any problems I had in algebra were of my doing, out of laziness or spite.

Thing is, I really didn’t have a problem with math until 6th grade. My teacher, a fine instructor named John Andes, took a group of his brighter kids, including me, and wanted to “introduce” us to some higher-thinking math. It had to do with thinking of math systems in different “bases.” The “base” we work in is base 10, in other words, numerals are grouped by tens. That’s really as much as I got out of it. By the time the school year was done, I was hopelessly confused.

Then came junior high, switching teachers and subjects throughout the day for the first time. I found myself in “A” rail everything except for math, which was “C” rail. My math teacher was a man Mr. Yeager. We called him “Bird” because he had severe, sharp features like a bird and wore his hair in a crew cut.

He was the first teacher I had that I hated. I was so confused in his math class, confused to the point that I didn’t even know how to ask questions. I received my first D from him—up until then my lowest grade had been a C in penmanship in 4th grade!

My lot got no better in 8th grade. I was still C rail math because I was too smart for D rail. I was again stuck with Yeager. And again I learned nothing. Adding to my problem was my English teacher, Mrs. Grote. She too looked like a bird, except she was small and skinny, and an even worse teacher than Yeager.

I received my first F from her, in English, a subject I’d always excelled. My mother came in and had conferences with Mrs. Grote and Mr. Yeager. To this day I think the only problem I had in English with Mrs. Grote was I didn’t understand any of the directions she’d given—ever. The math problems were chalked up to laziness. I was getting high marks in social studies, science, and Spanish.

Things did not look much better for me going into high school. Because of my crappy grades in math and English, I was going to be put on the “career” track; in other words, enrolled in office classes in the hopes I could work as a secretary. At the time I had aspirations to be a veternarian, but the high school counselor, Mrs. Olsen, suggested I not think about pursuing that as a career. It was only at the cajoling of my mother that I was put into the “college prep” path, and put into one of the higher-functioing English classes, because by that time it had been determined I was simply bored with whatever it was Mrs. Grote had tried to teach me.

I was lucky that I ended up in the classroom of Dan Hoffman. Sure he frustrated me (Can anyone remember diagramming sentences? I thought “How useless,” but I confess that I use those skills whenever I am editing a poorly-written academic study.), but I learned from that man. I went on to take drama and journalism classes from him, and in a large part, he gave me the confidence and knowledge to craft powerful words.

Of course there is also the bad, and he came in the form of Mr. Quatre. He was the algebra teacher, and because algebra was required for college, I was put into a 2-year Algebra I class—designed to cover the subject a bit slower for students who struggled.

I never made it past the first year of that two-year course. I re-took the class my sophomore year with the same results—Ds and Fs. The only time I got an acceptable grade was the semester we did word problems. To this day I can set up word problems, but the operations just confuse me.

The traumas I endured in algebra stuck with me well into my 40s. I was math-stupid, and pretty much any and all four-year degrees required some sort of math. Even while earning my AA which allowed me to write the RN boards, I avoided taking pre-algebra. In order to graduate, I had to take a basic math test and pass with a 75. I waited until a week before my coursework was done, and passed with a 76.

In my early 20s I again tried algebra at the college level, at a night class. I cannot remember the teacher’s name, but I know I worked my butt off doing homework, which I earned As. However, at testing time, I’d go blank, and was grateful for a C. Going into the final I had a B based on my homework—I didn’t show up for the final, knowing I’d tank. The teacher offered for me to make up the final or accept a C in the class.

I was no dummy—I took the C!

A good 15 years later, I decided I really wanted a 4-year degree. By this time, the math required for a PR major was statistics. The prereq for statistics was intermediate algebra. I was still math-phobic, and spoke to a counselor at Hartnell College (the community college closest to me) who told me they had teacher on staff named Ken Rand who had a way with math-stupid people. I was lucky to be able to get into his class.

I worked harder for those 4 units than I have in any other class before or since—including nursing classes, science classes, and anything at San José State or the University of San Francisco. Mr. Rand gave his students the opportunity to have a signed “contract”—a promise from the student that he/she would ask questions in class, would do all homework, attend all classes, and participate in class. If you did all to his satisfaction, the lowest grade you’d get was a B. But it was no cakewalk. I spend at least two afternoons a week in his office, learning about quadratic equations. I also spend 4 to 6 hours a week in the special math lab Mr. Rand has sent up. He’d also give us a practice exam the night before an exam—and that practice exam consisted of the kind of questions we’d be asked on the real exam.

I earned an A from Mr. Rand. To this day, I give him full credit for my academic success. I was able to take statistics the following semester, and although I liked the class, my math anxiety came back in full force. I’d get As on my homework, earned an A+ on my class project, but when it came to exams, I’d look at the questions and ask “When did I learn this?”

I am done with math, period.

To end this entry, I’ve made a list of my favorite, and least favorite, teachers or professors I have had the pleasure or mispleasure to know.

Elementary School Favorites: Miss Dvorak (2nd grade); Mr. Andes (6th grade)

Least Favorites: Mrs. Bryan (4th grade, she just scared me, she was so strict!); Mrs. Nunley (5th grade, a waste of a year. She was very discouraging toward my creative writing attempts. I had a thing for science fiction…); Mrs. Pitcher (physical education; she did not believe I had knee problems…)

Junior High Favorites: Raymond Miller (social studies, 7th and 8th grade). LOVED his class and his way of engaging students. He’d have a weekly current events “college bowl” quiz and I’d usually end up on the winning team.

Least Favorites: Mr. Yeager (7th and 8th grade math); Mrs. Grote (8th grade English)

High School Favorites: Dan Hoffman (9th grade English, drama 10th through 12th grades, journalism 11th and 12th grade); Larry Sonniksen (Agriculture 9th and 10th grade). Yes I was an aggie, in FFA and all that; Stephen Highfill, 9th and 11th grade Spanish. My Spanish used to be good enough that was a teacher’s assistant for Mr. Highfill in 11th and 12th grades.

Least favorite, and the one who had the most negative effect on my life: Ed Quatre, 9th and 10th grade Algebra I; Mr. Campbell, 10th grade science—KILLED my interest in science until I had to take biology classes for nursing school.

College/University Favorites: Ken Rand, Hartnell College. The MOST influential teacher I have ever had; Dr. Lucindi Mooney, English 1B and Literature. Ultra-picky when grading my writing, which in the long-term has been very helpful to me. Debby Figurski, RN program at Hartnell College; threatened to fail me when I did not thrive in my ICU rotation, she made me get off my butt and want it more. Judy Duffy, RN program. Taught OB nursing, which ended up being my favorite area of practice; Connie Powell, RN program, taught pediatric nursing, which I hated, but she so obviously loved it she could not help make you care more about it.

Chris DiSalvo, San José State University, public relations instructor; Dr. Bill Briggs, SJSU, mass communications instructor. Sad thing about Dr. Briggs is I did not appreciate how brilliant he is until he was no longer my professor. Dr. Dennis Wilcox, SJSU, public relations professor. Dr. Wilcox is another of those brilliant, but I got it too late types… Dr. Kathleen Martinelli, SJSU public relations professor. Just makes it look so easy … Dr. Dan Rascher, University of San Francisco, master’s program sport management—made economics fun. Dr. Maria Veri, USF. Reminded me of the importance of accepting and embracing cultural differences.

Least Favorite:

Ms. Brown, SJSU, marketing professor. I HATED her class, 120 bodies and most were in the class because it was required of their major. I still don’t really get the point of her class—and didn’t until grad school.

A pair of female professors at USF, I have conveniently forgotten their names. One was a marketing teacher who did not understand the NHL or how inept it can be; the second was the sport law professor who was confused by my research paper about civil RICOs and the Alan Eagleson mess with the NHL Player’s Association in the 1970s. My lowest grades in grad school from the two—a pair of B+, messing up my grade point averages. Hags.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Last Word (maybe) on the Michael Jackson Stuff

Thanks to my conspiracy theory friends for contributing to this entry. You know who you are!

Let me remind anyone tripping over this that I am not a fan of Michael Jackson, the Jackson 5, or that genre of music. So when I heard that Jackson had died in June 2009, I thought, “How sad for those kids,” but not “Oh my God, the world has lost a living saint!” as it seems so many people think or feel. They argue, “Look at his humanitarian efforts, look at how much money he donated to causes for children! He cared about the earth!”

Well that’s all fine and dandy. No one really knows where Jackson’s heart was on those issues. Was his “famous” generosity actually a way to pay less in taxes? Was it his way of atoning for possible questionable behavior around pre-pubescent boys?

I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: At worst he was a pedophile, at the minimum he exhibited some confusing behaviors around elementary/junior high-aged boys (never girls). At best he was a very talented entertainer, at worst someone who came along at the right place at the right time and was discovered. What I can write with certainty is he was a human being full of self-loathing because of what his father did to him. And that’s a fact—how many people go through so much effort to distance themselves from their father by subjecting themselves to plastic surgery to look less like him (and ultimately look like an alien, related to no one on earth, except for his sister LaToya)?

My friend Sprocket at her blog Trials and Tribulations attended the hearing for Conrad Murray, the physician responsible for Jackson’s death by abandoning his heavily sedated patient. Her blog entries brought out the best and worst in Jackson fans. I believe it is possible to be a fan and be able to understand that Jackson’s death was utterly avoidable, that Jackson’s behavior in seeking a doctor to put him to sleep using a drug that is NOT approved in any way, shape or form for insomnia, and that he has left a legacy of music that many people love.

Said rabid fans are also convinced that Murray is being undercharged, no matter how concisely it is explained to them that the law, currently as written, does not allow for anything other than involuntary manslaughter at the time of Jackson’s death or today. In other words, if the same thing happened today to a person as famous as Jackson, or a nobody like me, the worst that could be charged is involuntary manslaughter, unless there is malice. (“I want that person dead, so I’m going to do it with propofol.” That’s malice.)

But oh boy, the conspiracy theories surrounding this death are friggin’ hysterical. I refuse to “visit” any links sent to T & T proving those conspiracy theories. AEG did it, Sony did it, I am sure there are more but I refuse to investigate. I think for shits and giggles I will share some of my own, along with theories brought by friends.

1. The “this case is just like a repeat offender drunk driver running over someone and killing them while drunk, hence malice, hence second degree murder” argument. Proof: Conrad Murray delayed calling 911 and then made himself unavailable immediately after Jackson was pronounced dead 'cause he was chemically impaired on whatever.

2. The “This is a federal case and the FBI should be involved ‘cause Murray was on the phone to someone in Texas when Jackson stopped breathing in California” argument. Only problem is Murray wasn’t doing anything illegal by flirting with a girlfriend in Texas, unless he was trying to sell her something stolen or illegal.

3. The “Jackson died of sleep deprivation” argument. So to best buy into that one, you must embrace what you remember (erroneously) of your high school biology and assume that Jackson’s sleep deprivation caused hallucinations. The ensuing stress response caused kidney failure and cardiac stress. The chest pain, renal failure, and hallucinations drove MJ to recklessly climb onto the roof of the rented mansion, seeking relief from insomnia, whereupon he slipped and fell, impaling himself on a large syringe of propofol held innocently by Conrad Murray who was busy making dates. Sadly, AEG had not anticipated this situation, thus no insurance coverage. The beneficiaries of this conspiracy were Tito and LaToya, who placed the banana peel on the roof, in the hopes MJ would just accidentally fall to his death and allow them to take over MJ’s bankrupt empire.

4. (This goes with the above) Jackson was being held by AEG and was tortured and deprived of sleep to get him to comply with showing up to rehearsal. MJ was being a bad boy and not practicing, so they had Dr. Murray take care of the problem.

5. G.W. Bush did it.

6. Dick Cheney did it, and waterboarded poor MJ, too.

7. Bush, Cheney, Obama, bin Laden, Kadaffi, and Kim Jong Il did it. It was the one thing they were able to agree upon.

8. It was Kim Il sung, who ordered the hit from his deathbed. (In 1994.) MJ's music has always threatened stability in that region. Kim Il Sung was a huge MJ opponent, and feared MJ's music would drive the North Korean empire into ruin.

9. PepsiCo did it. They meant for him to burn alive when he had his little "accident" that got him hooked on drugs. They didn't mean for him to live long enough to do that. Joe Jackson told them to do it!

10. There is also a distant association between the Jackson family and JFK’s extended family (former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, married to JFK’s niece Maria Shriver), which had something to do with the conspiracy faking the lunar landing. Jackson knew the lunar landing was fake, and his dance step, the moonwalk, was a secret code in acknowledgment. Both MJ and JFK (both of whom have "J" in their names) are now dead. That is no accident.

11. A pentagram has 5 points—and the Jackson 5 had five members. The “hit” on MJ was ordered by the devil!

12. Conrad Murray was born in Grenada. Grenada contains the letters A, E, and G. Murray was chose for that reason—AEG knew he would comply because they shared letters of the alphabet!

13. The Vatican is involved, too, because the Jackson Family are practicing Jehovah's Witnesses. It had to look like the Muslims or Hindus did it.

14. Paul McCartney ordered the hit, because MJ bought the Beatles’ catalog before Paul was able to buy it for himself.

15. The executors of the will did it so they could play around with all of the recordings Jackson left, so they could have full-time work and get paid lots of money by Jackson’s estate.

I am a firm believer in Occam’s Razor, that the simplest theory that fits the facts of a problem is the one that should be selected. The more people involved in a conspiracy makes it more likely that conspiracy will be uncovered. Over 2 ½ years after his death, no one has stepped forward (other than conspiracy theorists) to say there was indeed a conspiracy to kill MJ. No one has been able to prove how the main so-called conspiracists, Sony and AEG entertainment, were going to benefit from a dead Michael Jackson. There is not enough insurance in the world to make it profitable to have a corpse on their hands, allowing them to collect the insurance funds.

I also believe that the LA County DA performed an extensive investigation and would have upped the charges had they been able to find a reliable witness who could say Murray showed malice toward Jackson. Truth is, Jackson himself hired Murray, and demanded AEG hire/pay him to be Jackson’s personal physician. MJ did not need a cardiologist, he needed multiple specialists, doctors who would have said “no” to his request for propofol and benzos. While Murray is responsible for abandoning a patient receiving unacceptable medical care, MJ is the one who picked that incompetent physician.

If Jackson fans want to pursue any of their conspiracy theories, I suggest they form a group, collect the funds, and hire a private investigator or ten. Build an unshakable case. Look at both sides, pro and con. Make sure your evidence is valid and admissible in court. Only then do you take your unshakable case to the DA. They will appreciate all of the work you have done."

Or let LaToya and and the rest of the Jacksons pay for it. Just don't spend a dime of taxpayers' dollars on investigating something that has already been investigated and is going through the courts in proper fashion.

A heads-up to would-be negative commenters: Don't bother to send me links proving the various conspiracy theories. I will not approve the comment nor will I check out the link. However, I will approve people who see this post for the tongue-in-cheek entry it is, and want to add their own conspiracy theories to the lunacy. This is MY blog and there is no freedom of speech unless I like it!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Happier Things

I have not written much about my first love, horses. It’s about time I do.
I was always a horsey kid. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love them. My mom has a photo of me, perhaps at the age of 12 to 18 months, sitting atop a neighbor’s horse (the horse’s name was Sammy), holding onto the saddle horn. I have no memory of that photo.
One of my earliest memories, perhaps at the age of three, is that of me feeding a horse from our backyard in Eureka. In hindsight, that horse might actually have been a mule, but that’s of no matter. I remember waiting for that equine’s daily visits.
My first horse was a pony named Dynamite. My non-horsey dad brought him home one day while I was at dance class. I vividly remember being dropped off by the neighbor, whose daughter was my age and at that time my BFF. The gray pony was tied to the swing set in the front yard. I think my dad was busy building his pen.
Years later I learned that the pony was a stallion and probably only half-broke. My dad borrowed a saddle from one of his cousins, and the bit we used on him was a ring snaffle with no stopping power. My riding lessons consisted of being put on Dynamite’s back, and being told to kick and cluck. I am sure that he ran off with me too many times to count, straight up the hill behind our house, toward the low oak trees that grew on the property surrounding the house. I remember one time that Dynamite had done just that, and my dad was not going to climb that hill and rescue me. I was crying, kicking that little devil, trying to pull him around and point him down the hill.
There was also the time Dynamite cornered me and bit me on the shoulder, managing to get his mouth and teeth all the way around my scrawny left shoulder. Again my dad rescued me—that pony was like a pit bull, with his laws firmly locked and me screaming hysterically.
That pony was gone by the time I started kindergarten. I bought my first real horse when I was in 5th grade, with my own money earned from babysitting and working in the fields. From that time, until 1997 or so, I was owned by at least one horse.
Here I am 50 years later, horseless. So I try to live vicariously by looking at horses from afar, wishing I had a place to keep a horse, brave enough to defy my doctor who told me that horseback riding was not a good thing for a fused back.
So for today, I am sharing two images of horses that have touched me and made me miss my horses all the more. One of the photos, that of the dark bay horse, is Zenyatta, 2010’s Horse of the Year, and one of the best thoroughbred mares to grace the track. She’s only the second racehorse I have been attached to, the first being the immortal Ruffian.
We know how that ended. Zenyatta’s story is much happier—she’s recently retired and waiting to go into heat, when she will be bred for her first foal. Z’s handlers have a website for her, with a daily blog entry. It’s so sweet that her people love her so much, that she is more than a machine. Z herself has obvious personality, and I am excited to meet her first not-yet-conceived baby.
The other two photos are of a paint mare that recently went through an auction ring in New Jersey. I do not know her name. With the economy in its present slump, many well-loved horses find themselves at auction, with no buyers, and no hay at home to feed that horse anymore. This mare, said to be a family horse, lived that nightmare on Wednesday night. She ended up in a feedlot pen, that is, she was headed to slaughter in Canada. Of all the horses that ended up in pen #10, she is the first one I would have taken home.
She had until today (Saturday) to find a home, or there was a very good chance she would be headed to Canada. Last night I learned she was still there, and I just sat here by myself and cried. Not only am I on the other side of the country, I had no money to buy her or even call the sales barn and offer to pay for her food for a week, just to buy her more time.
This morning I learned that pretty paint mare been purchased and would be rescued from pen #10. It was a nice way to start my Saturday.
Even though it makes me sad, I think I will take the time to write about my horses. Now if I can find photos …

Friday, February 4, 2011

Observations on the Craziness that are Michael Jackson Fans ...

I certainly have been neglectful in writing for fun, haven’t I? It’s certainly not due to being too busy with work, but that’s a rant for another day.

I’m still crime/trial watching, but not as much as I would like, because my daughter thinks I am a doddering nutcase when I do so. However, how can anyone who grew up in the 1970s miss what is going on with the manslaughter trial of Conrad Murray, the physician who was Michael Jackson’s “personal physician,” a man about to be convicted of involuntary manslaughter for gross negligence in Jackson’s death in June 2009.

To me it’s a cut-and-dried case, and I won’t write about that in more depth at this time. What I will write about is how the crazies come out whenever Jackson is mentioned.

My friend Betsy, who not only enjoys reading and writing about crime, lives close enough to the courthouse in Los Angeles to attend trials that pique her interest. She’s worked very hard to be a professional when writing about crimes, and because of her professionalism in blogging about other trials (most noteworthy most of Spector I and every day of Spector II), has earned the respect of the courthouse’s public information officer, and is now considered a member of the media—and that’s a big deal.

Last month she braved LA County public transit and attended the aforementioned Dr. Murray, knowing she would likely “watch” the proceedings from a media overflow room. Working against uncomfortable chairs, less-then-perfect visuals and challenging audio, she took notes during prosecution witness testimony, and posted to her website, Trials and Tribulations.

That’s when the lunatics came out in force. Said lunatics are fans of Michael Jackson who honestly believe a saint was murdered and that Jackson was the victim of a widespread plot.

Hey kooks, here’s the truth: your hero, who was most likely a child molester at worst, someone who no doubt crossed the line with inappropriate behavior with children, a man who bought his three children, a man who hated himself so much he endured who-knows-how-many plastic surgeries, died because he wanted to dictate his own medical care. After he found a doctor who would do what he wanted, he hired the man, a cardiologist by trade, Jackson told the doctor what he wanted and got it. Jackson could have, should have, bought the very best multidisciplinary health care for himself—sleep specialists, pain control specialists, addiction specialists—any of which could have made a difference and helped him sleep at night.

Jackson made a poor choice of doctors. He did not need a cardiologist—he needed sleep. And being knocked out with whatever general anesthesia agent one desires is not a treatment for insomnia. Period. Plain and simple, Jackson must have liked the feeling of being woozy—isn’t that what addicts do? I watch enough Intervention to see common threads, regardless of what the chemical of abuse is, addicts love the effects, be it feeling down and drooly or wired and paranoid. So what if narcotics were not found in Jackson’s blood after his death—there are plenty of ways to get that floaty feeling, and benzodiazepines fit the bill nicely. I am sure that Jackson’s postmortem hair sample is chock full of interesting information.

It’s been quite amusing reading some of the comments Betsy’s gotten from readers from all over the world. Some are pretty rational, but many are rants about how she should make the district attorney’s office charge Murray with first-degree murder and give him the death penalty immediately. Others are certain Murray is a scapegoat for a larger conspiracy, that AEG wanted Jackson dead and because AEG does business in LA County, the DA’s office won’t really properly investigate and find the masterminds of this “horrific” crime.

Recall that Jackson’s child molestation trial was heavily populated by fans that dressed like Jackson, wore t-shirts with Jackson’s image, and waited outside just to have a glimpse of their hero. There is no doubt that Murray’s trial will bring out the same kind of kooks.

So I guess this is my rhetorical question for today: what is so lacking in those people’s lives to defend a very flawed human being years after his death? Whenever anyone says or writes anything they believe is unflattering to Jackson, they become unhinged and accuse the writer of bias, prejudice, being a “hater,” jealous of Michael’s God-given talent—on and on. What makes a person be a fan of something to the point of blindness? I truly loved the Beatles, but I understood from a young age each was an individual, each flawed, and perhaps John, Paul and George worthy of my admiration for their musicianship and ability to write memorable music.

I don’t immerse myself in all things Beatles. I don’t spend money on memorabilia. I have a hard time understanding how anyone could worship anything or anyone like Jackson fans worship him? Why waste so much effort on someone who simply made music? And why make other people miserable with rantings, ravings and unkindnesses—especially toward those who do not fall in line with their thinking?

I’ll be researching and writing an article for T & T about the psychology of conspiracy theories. Perhaps I should also research why some people become so fanatical about someone (usually a celebrity), to the point of being blind and oblivious about that person’s faults. There is only one perfect thing in our universe, and we’d be better served being fanatical about Him.

P.S. Can you tell I am not a fan of Michael Jackson? Never was, never will be.

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