24 September 2008

Some follow-ups from the last time

Band has improved a far shot from the Friday tragedy! Thank you everybody for your cooperation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Also, regarding the NACAC's report on the SAT that urged colleges to put less emphasis on such tests, that story was also reported on Monday's edition of ABC World News.

21 September 2008

The Option of Standardised Testing

As Sunday draws this weekend to a close, I decided to spend it happily and wisely. For those of you who were terrified by my previous diatribe against the symphonic band, I apologise for being so gratuitously angry. Me, you, and Barnhill will forget about that and just move on as a great group of students; I know it.

I woke up around 8 this morning, unlike most Sundays, to watch ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos to watch Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson discuss the government's bank rescue plan. Since August I've been watching the Sunday morning news talk shows regularly to keep up with the latest developments in the White House and the election. Later today I took a practice SAT exam, and I received a 2010 on that, by my own reasonable estimations. My actual SAT score, from May 2008, was 1990, and I think I'll be on the Improvement Road as I keep on trying. For now, I feel that I need to improve on following directions on some of the more deceptive, pesky questions - it's true, all 3 sections (Readin', Ritin', and 'Rithmetic Reading, Writing, and Math) contain "trap answers" to certainly worded questions in order to test our attention span. The most difficult section there is Critical Reading (the full name of the Reading section) due to its testing of obscure English words and the tendency for me to imagine "hidden" elements of the reading passages.

And just now I came upon this New York Times education section article "College Panel Calls for Less Focus on SATs" by Sara Rimer, who reported on a report led by William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions/financial aid at Harvard University. Fitzsimmons's report argued that the SAT/ACT standardised testing is screwing up secondary education and is out of touch with what students need to prepare for life college & beyond. The article page links to the report, titled "Report of the Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission" and published by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. Arguments in the report included:
- Colleges should make the SAT/ACT optional if their admissions directors have good reason to believe that the SAT will be useless in determining student merit.
- "Cutscores", minimum SAT scores required for admission, should end; the more advantaged students would have a nearly unfair advantage over others who probably cannot afford tutouring. (Personal note: For the earlier part of 2008 I had tutouring for the SAT Writing Section and AP Calculus AB Exam; the California State University system currently uses "cutscores" system)
- The PSAT seems to be a less-than-reliable way to determine National Merit Scholarships
- SAT/ACT scores should not and cannot be seen to correlate with college's financial resources.
- Such scores can under- or over-predict first-year GPA's, especially for English learners/women/minorities, or "calcify" racial, ethnic, or parental educational gaps.
- It's a better idea to emphasize the SAT Subject Tests/Advanced Placement (AP) Exams/High School Exit Exams instead, since those products will further motivate state educational boards. (Regional note: In my state the public school students get "Early Assessment Program" exams from the CSU system to determine college readiness)
After having read through the 56 pages of the report, I almost have to agree. Even the SAT prep book that I own, Cracking the SAT, admits that the way the SAT evaluates - among other anamolies! - is different from how teachers instruct in the classroom. I really think that this "unfair advantage" system of getting better score on college admission test needs to stop - trust me, I've had coaching, and I still haven't done the best job I thought that I could. As Fitzsimmons's report states, students should be able to prepare for the SAT/college in general through the high school curriculum, not through extra coaching. It's no wonder public schools get so much heat these days.

19 September 2008

Symphonic band on strike?

Today was a pretty good end of the week, with an easy calculus quiz on integration by parts, followed by the usual 15-minute break, where I got to wish my friend Rachel a happy 17th birthday. All went well until the next period, which was Symphonic Band. The ensemble rehearsed two pieces out of four to be played this 11 December for the school band concert and had been playing them since the week of Labor Day. Most of the days since then, the band has been practicing around an average level, with certain mistakes or anamolies making the conductor stop the band and advise on corrections, which turn out to be usually simple. "That's all you gotta do," he'd say.

But today, 19 September, the ensemble sunk to a new low. Guess what kind of errors happened today? Trombone players were nearly a measure behind, trumpets played too slow, drums were off-beat, and soon the whole ensemble "falls asleep" and literally slows down to ritardando when they are not supposed to. All when I, a mallet player, am keeping my eyes between the conductor and my score and waiting for my turn on the music, having done a competent job all along. Those parts of today's rehearsal sounded so disorganized and chaotic that Soulja Boy's annoying, ubitiquous "Crank That" song even sounds more musical than a high school symphonic band!

So the conductor stops the band and furiously wants to know what has happened with them. He felt that the players were on "last day of school" mode rather than September & "excited for school/concert" mode. Wow. We're really supposed to be superior to the average dumb high school students. Given how much bull$#!7 I had to suffer today thanks to the other morons who were supposed to be concentrating together as an ensemble - two people even lost some of their musical sheets - I feel compelled to turn up Weezer's new song "Troublemaker".

Don't worry, my fellow Symphonic Bandmembers. I've been through your kind of trouble before when I joined the ensemble last year to make up for a lack of performing arts class for my college entrance requirement (both the University of California and California State University systems require "at least one year" of Performing/visual arts type of class) I made a lot of effort to learn how to grip mallet sticks properly and follow the conducting. A year has passed, and I've become a welcome member of the family. But now we need to sink so low as to THIS crappy level - which as I mentioned earlier sounds even WORSE than the most annoying pop punk/emo/pop rap/bubblegum MTV corporate radio pop/MMMBop/Britney/NSYNC/Backstreet Boys/Simple Plan/Good Charlotte/Soulja Boy/Fall Out Boy/Limp Bizkit songs out there?!?!?!?! Maybe now it's OK for Michael Savage to trash-talk about Muslims and the mentally disabled. I think I'll just quit life and start smoking all the marijuana and drinking all the beer/alcoholic drinks I want and fail all my classes and eventually end up homeless/single/still a virgin after high school and spend the rest of my life in who knows where. College sounds worthless. Finding a job sounds meaningless. Everyone is an idiot. My local school district is a run by a mob of brainless drunken bastards for failing to fix a dying softball field at one school yet fixing other stuff everywhere else. MY school does things even worse by denying the right of one of my best friends to attend Calculus BC after having passed the Calculus AB exam

Back to the main topic. For this weekend, we all need to rethink this stupid situation and redeem ourselves and prove that we are all TRUE students and authentically-trained musicians and wanting to be among the best students out there. A CHANGE IS GONNA COME. If not, I might probably start ditching band class and later put the blame on whoever is causing me the most problems there, Barack Obama might lose the election simply because we weren't willing to accept change for the better, the world will decompose into a violent anarchy...OK sorry enough with the insane doomsday predictions right there. But seriously. You and I ALL NEED TO F\/|
PS: I thank all members of the Wind Ensemble, the highest level of band at school, for their hard work and making class "fun" for my other friend Jamie, who advised me on the state of that ensemble today after 6th period ended today. I guess that means that the WE was actually being cooperative unlike the Symphonic knuckleheads.

13 September 2008

What's going on at the Parents Television Council? (Sept. 13, 2008)

Turning now to the mainstream TV viewer's all-time bete noire: the Parents Television Council. (Brent McKee used to write a semi-weekly column "Who Does the PTC Hate THIS Week?" on his blog I Am A Child of Television, but that column hasn't been written since mid-August, and right now he's focusing on the fall 2008 premieres, so I shall do the business for now until further notice.) Their lead headline as of the time I'm writing this up? "NBC Airs Unbleeped S-Word on Today Show" Holy cow! I took a deep breath and opened up the link, which explained that on the Thur., Sept. 11 edition of the show guest Hans Lange used the S-word uncensored, and Matt Lauer laughed but did not apologize. Lange recently made headlines in the US for surviving a malfunctioned BASE jump. The expletive was shown unbleeped only on the East Coast; everywhere else in the US it was edited out (since the morning shows are usually shown on tape delay in the West unless there's a breaking news story, say for instance the recent Hurricanes Gustav and Ike). The video in question can be seen below but is excised of the profanity.

I happened to be watching the "preview" of the Lange interview that morning but had to leave for school before it came on! Dang, I missed a funny event in morning show history! But oh well since I live in the Western US and wouldn't have heard the profanity anyways. That's the third time this year uncensored profanity made it on morning shows: On the Jan. 15 Good Morning America (ABC): Diane Keaton dropped the four-letter F-word, and on the Feb. 14 Today (NBC), Jane Fonda dropped the C-word that rhymes with a certain word used to describe, err, an action that would be executed in searching for animals for food.

Now I can understand why parents would be concerned over the morning shows - PTC has primarily been concerned with primetime programs - because what if they had those shows on while the kids were having breakfast/preparing for school? In the cases of Keaton and Fonda, their interviews came on around 8:20 AM (Eastern Time); most K-12 schools begin the day around 8-8:30 AM so I do find some reason to be concerned. And Lange's interview had the profanity on about "7:37 AM [Eastern]" as PTC estimated - kids wouldn't be in school yet so there is reason for concern. PTC has filed complaints with FCC for all three profanity incidents, but the thing is that if FCC does decide to fine ABC and NBC then the fines will be small - say around $1 million since it covers all the Owned and Operated stations in the Eastern Time Zone - as compared to the whole nation.

The "Worst Show of the Week" was a rather unexpected one, much like McCain picking Palin, the ABC special America United: In Support of Our Troops. The reviewer acknowledged so and admitted freely that the program was rated "TV-14-DL" - due to vulgar performances by not-so-family-friendly celebs like Snoop Dogg, DL Hughley, and Kathy Griffin. It seemed disappointing that this special was supposed to be a moment of unity yet "not everyone could enjoy the show". But then PTC reviewer extends concerns to the kids attending the live audience of the program and uses them as evidence to claim that the program was supposed to be family-friendly. America United was Worst this week because of "targeting families without delivering family-friendly content". That's the same argument PTC uses when condemning such "smut" as Family Guy and Two and a Half Men - the former being animated and starring a family as lead characters and the latter starring a child as a main character and both often being rated "TV-14-DL".

Yet on their weekly "Misrated" report targeting the CW's Gossip Girl, whose first season I've actively followed & enjoyed (esp. Leighton Meester) but whose second season I haven't been able to watch due to problems with receiving the local CW station in my home. Although the CW rated the episode "TV-14-DL" as had ABC with America United, PTC made absolutely no suggestion that Gossip Girl was "intended for families" despite the lead characters of the show being high-schoolers - meaning they'd be minors by age, like the characters of Family Guy and Two and a Half Men. Based on several sex scenes in the episode, PTC believed that the show should've been rated "TV-14-DLS", due to scene of Dan and Blair making out in a bus bathroom and Nate having sex with a 40-year-old woman. Sure, PTC is worried about parents of teenagers whose pure minds have been burned down by watching this episode, but I have another question. Why would parents of teens set up the V-Chip so that teens can hear suggestive dialogue and coarse language at the TV-14 level but not sexual behaviour at the TV-14 level? I mean, the D and L descriptors also warn of sexual content in the verbal sense - as there do exist colloquial English language expressions implying such evils. This "descriptor-harvesting" argument has been used by PTC countless other instances without much thought. What's even funnier? PTC's mainpage for "So You Think You Can Rate a TV Show?" (official title for its Misrated column) has blatant typographical errors in some spots, such as considering a Grey's Anatomy episode to be rated "PG-14" (even in the review itself), and right beneath that lies a "TV-14" graphic in the description for a Misrated ep of Dancing with the Stars that they affirm is actually rated "TV-PG". So flippin' hilarious for an organizaion that claims to be experts on how corrupt the TV Parental Guidelines rating system is.

The "Worst Cable TV Show of the Week" column resumed sometime in August after a seven-month-long hiatus. The previous two columns dealt with Saving Grace (TNT) and The Shield (FX). This week's confronts the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, solely based on Russell Brand's controversial jokes over "purity rings" worn by Jordin Sparks and The Jonas Brothers to indicate sexual abstinence. That, the most recent "TV Trends" column "Cable Continues Its Downward Crawl", and the July 11 TV Trends column "BET: Bad Entertainment for Teens" show the PTC's heavily biased, one-sided reporting on cable TV. While PTC has been spending most homepage space on hunting down the demons of indecency, nowhere has PTC ever commented on some rather "decent" moves that networks have made:
- MTV hasn't shown Sucker Free, a program that PTC included in its April 2008 rap music video study, since mid-June 2008
- Brand did apologize for the purity ring joke, and it doesn't matter to the PTC if "clean" music videos like Chris Brown's "With You", Linkin Park's "Shadow of the Day", Gnarls Barkley's "Run", and Erykah Badu's "Honey" were winners. Everybody run, a comedian just promoted SEX to teens! (Like anyone over 13 doesn't know the human reproductive system yet.)
- BET has shown Diff'rent Strokes for much of the time before August 2008 and has picked up the former WB sitcom Smart Guy, which PTC ranked among the Best TV Shows of the 97-98 and 98-99 seasons, for syndication. According to the BET website, Smart Guy began airing Mondays 5 and 5:30 PM (Eastern and Pacific) Sept. 8, moving Rap City (also included in PTC's rap study) up to 3PM. And never mind that Smart Guy once was syndicated on the Disney Channel, which got the PTC Seal of approval in July 2007.
- If TNT is such a sleazy network for Saving Grace and countless Law & Order and Without a Trace reruns, has PTC forgotten about its own review for TNT original film The Ron Clark Story, TNT's annual showing of The Wizard of Oz, or ongoing sports events?
It seems that PTC covers certain cable channels only for the "sleaze" they deliver. Once a certain channel carries an evil, red-lighted shows (even at 10PM), it doesn't matter if the channel shows "cleaner" shows other hours - the case of FX, which shows reruns of The Bernie Mac Show, King of the Hill, and Malcolm in the Middle (all of which PTC has rated "yellow" in their traffic light rating system) during the daytime, or Spike, with its Star Trek: Voyager reruns late afternoons. PTC has left the one-sided impression that those channels are all-day smut peddlers, as it's taken extensive action against FX's The Shield and labelled Spike programs MANswers and movie presentation of Sin City as "worst cable shows of the week". (Surprisingly, PTC hasn't commented about Spike's heavy reruns of CSI!)

I do support PTC's efforts to push for "cable choice" - although I don't have cable, if I did, I'd love the luxury of being able to pick-and-choose! But things do look fishy when you have an influential organization that's complained to the FCC like an angry mob to influence broadcasting law.

Surviving senior year and the real world so far!

Time is moving along from Week 3 to Week 4 of school, and the countdown to probably the golden age of my life is coming up!
- Oct. 4 - SAT (I will got above 2100; I KNOW it; the UC/CSU systems require finishing the SAT by December)
- Sometime later in October: Training for poll working! I shalt riggeth thee election in favour of Barack Hussein Obama serveth the publick voters and earneth $120 - just on time for the holidays!
- Nov. 4 - ELECTION DAY! G0BAMA!!!!
- Various dates between October and November - writing up college apps & essays & all that business. So far SJSU, San Francisco State, and University of Washington (Seattle) are on my mind, although I as of late have been receiving invitations to attend local admissions presentations by Boston University and Washington University (St. Louis). Given my disappointingly scarce GPA and extracurricular record, I think I'll more likely be admitted to a public university (UoW is public too) or probably a private one - not all private universities equal Stanford given that they can set all their own standards whatever they please.

Today I had cross country tryouts up at the hill near my neighbourhood; it's my first year trying athletics at high school, and this is my attempt to pump up my transcript for the admissions officers. Given that I've never been a hardcore athlete in my life, the uphill runs were torturous. Although I finished at last place among all runners, chances are that I could still make the team by lucky chance given that the coaches count other factors like attendance & behavior - I've kept my attitude clean and attended all but one day of practice since they began back around late June of this year.

After cross country I sat down to watch the last of Charles Gibson's interview with Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin. Not just ABC, but ALL the news networks have been hyping the Gibson/Palin interview - it's been "Palinmania" ever since the surprise dark horse entrance of Palin, gov. of Alaska, as John McCain's running mate. Gibson did have some tough questions for Palin in the beginning but later became easier on her as he got to know more about her, as issues like the "Bridge to Nowhere" and Troopergate were brought up. Is this media bias? Maybe not, as when Joe Biden was confirmed as Barack Obama's running mate, the media was quick to point out Biden's 1987 plagiarism and more recent criticisms of Obama, such as the "first articulate African-American" comment and general claims that Obama didn't have enough experience. Oh well, but I'm in favor of Obama/Biden since they have shown the best potential to reunite the nation and help those who have been betrayed by 8 years of a less-than-stellar Bush administration. Still, I'm pretty open-minded and keeping watch at the McCain/Palin ticket and exploring the election from both the Democratic and Republican sides.