High expectations

So starts another year in the public school system for one of the younger Trackballs and the last year of private preschool for the other.

Athena help us.

The problem Dr. Trackball and I have is that we expect too much. Like quality, world class math instruction in grade school. Like some measure of efficiency in public schools. Like hanging on to a dynamite teacher who exceeds our high expectations in preschool. Like not having girls under 10 have to be blatantly discriminated against.

Well, the last one has already failed. And today we are 0/1 for school days of math instruction. That's right, this year, we're keeping count. In a school system that meets the 180 day minimum by stacking half days throughout the year and in a bunch at the end, every day counts, even the first. Not to mention that there are big time standardized tests in Minnie's grade.

What Renee Zellweger's character in Jerry McGuire said, "It used to be a better meal, and now it's a better life," now applies to education. So expecting a lot kind of comes with the territory and we don't see any reason to be reluctant in having high expectations.

Yes, this is a high scoring, well to do school system that is better than a lot others in the country and probably better than most of the rest of the world. We don't care. There are better ones out there, and those kids will have algebra in 9th grade, and plenty of AP and IB courses in high school. In the global market pool for talent, being a step ahead of Kansas creationistic science curriculum is not good enough.

Those who expect less get less, and those who are expected to provide less sense this and underperform a little more each year. That's fine at Giant supermarket (hellooooo Wegmans and Trader Joes!) but not fine with the Trackballs' education.

So, half-assed public school system, (motto: 'We coast on rich kids') you're on notice. Don't make us get involved with the math curriculum. Don't get us started on the lack of science and social studies curriculum. Don't enrage us with a communications blackout because teachers just don't want to communicate about upcoming tests, test grades, or anything at all. Don't make us start getting noisy about how in the early grades, nearly all the girls in a grade are stuck in the slowest math class. This has gone beyond the ability of trying to squeeze some special compensation for just our child when it's more than a teacher, it's the curriculum, the administration, the school board, etc.

Why don't you try to wow us? Just this once? Or as the op-ed in the Washington Post noted today, we might have to consider other options. And then only the lower expectation parents will be left, at least in this particular public school system. That pisses us off too.

It's those high expectations again.

Trackballs roll through San Diego

The Trackball family recently went on vacation to San Diego, where we caught the last day of Comic Con, geeked out at Legoland, saw tons of animals at the Zoo and Sea World, and generally enjoyed the super comfortable climate.

This was the first place I had visited in the real world after exploring it virtually in a video game. That was a bit surreal. Poring over paper maps, guide books and even Google Maps is not quite the same thing as racing around a city on the Xbox before seeing it for real. The sum total effect is for one to feel much more comfortable in spaces that are much less new and strange. I imagine this will become more and more common between Second Life type virtual manifestations and Google Maps becoming more and more sophisticated. And having seen several cities visualized in Lego means that those cities will feel much the same when I first set foot in them.

Representative wow points that speak to what excites the Trackballs:

Batmobile at Comic-Con

Lego San Francisco at Legoland.

Coronado Beach (little Trackballs loved it especially)

Balboa Park (this peaceful room in the Japanese Garden is a stylistic suggestion for the Lair)

The Truth about Harry Potter

The truth about Harry Potter is that it ended like it began, a fantastical tale with (mostly) lifelike characters with real issues, a story so fun that people took it too seriously. In the final analysis, all the analysis will lead the killjoys to scoff at the final book, and eventually, the entire series. Because the books are all of a set. The killjoys though, are usually too scared and insecure to rise above being overly critical. A good story is a good story if it's enjoyable to experience and one shouldn't be afraid of that happening.

Having said that, here are my thoughts about the final book and the whole series.

I didn't understand all the rules and bylaws that allowed the final confrontation to come out as it did. As someone who knows their way around a D20, if I couldn't follow the magic rules explained there, then it wasn't clear enough. It reeked of writing oneself into and out of a corner. The 7th horcrux bit was genius, but to use it and have an escape clause requires something clear and understandable.

Dumbledore was Gandalfian cool until he was turned into Tony Soprano in the final book; flawed, doubting, compromised and manipulative. Did anyone else notice the odd adult-like digression into giving good old Albus a needless complex? It was way out of character. This backstory never explained how an earlier trauma made him the wise mentor he was and it ran totally counter to the idea that runs underneath the wise mentor archetype: they have always been wise and good, it's not a cover or overreaction for old sins. General rule for the final book of a series is to not unload an entire backstory in the final reel. Everything should be set up, with only plot-advancing secrets revealed. Dumbledore got kind of mangled in the last book, and I think it undermined the greater conflict between him and Harry: which is why he kept Harry in the dark and how the heck could he know the future so definitively? Me thinks J.K. got a bit too tangled in all the narrative threads she was weaving, and that's something because she's a master weaver.

Snape, on the other hand, has been a brilliantly portrayed character from start to finish. In terms of most heroic and selfless, I think I might hand him the prize. He's the true long suffering hero and knowing his story, you begin to see Harry as a whiny Wesley Crusher who swoops into save the day without ever even losing his glasses. Severus is friggin' hurting for decades and unlike Harry, he does good things even though he hates it. However, as others pointed out, his finale and subsequent Pensieve episode happened too late in the book. It should have happened in the middle, and Harry should have been carrying around Snape's secrets the whole time, unable to tell anyone. Snape seems to be let off the hook too much by the good wizards for killing Dumbledore, and there's no emotional payoff when one finds out the real story.

Finally, the one character that I think has been way too underdeveloped, too shallow, too lacking in personality in every book is Harry Potter. All the other characters leap off the page but him. Yes, he's the audience's representative to a large extent, but after seven books, he's a blank. There's nothing there. His dead dad has more of a presence. His smarts only exist to expose plot points, his bravery is necessary to keep the action going, his angry outbursts keep the drama churning. This would be fine in a Dan Brown thriller where all the characters are kind of flat, but nearly every other character in the series is beautifully crafted. In the end, I didn't care if he lived or died: there was no emotional tugs to pull. The death of Anakin Solo was absolutely heart-wrenching because the author made it so damn tragic and noble.

Consider this: If Harry, Hermione, Ron and Hagrid all got on board a crowded Metro train, and Hagrid accidentally knocked over some frazzled commuter, what would each character say? I can instantly picture the general body language, tone and actions of each, except for one.