Friday, January 31, 2014


            Judged simply on its visuals alone, this film gets a solid 10.  Technology has progressed to such a point that these walking-talking anthropomorphic animated animals actually look real.  And the bizarre characters and setting of this film are wonderful.
            With all this, you would expect a story that is equally bizarrely wonderful.  Unfortunately, what you get is a story that is just another conventional children’s movie.
            Still, it’s not entirely unenjoyable.


For my review of Chinatown, see here.  (Much of the plot of Rango is borrowed from Chinatown.)

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky - On TomCast  (27-04-2010)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pete Seeger Memories

When we were children, we had a Pete Seeger album in our record collection: Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Fishes
I'm not quite sure how it got there.  For that matter, I don't know where any of our records came from.  We weren't going to the store and selecting them ourselves when we were 3 or 4, so our parents must have bought it for us.  Or a Christmas gift from a relative.  Or a hand-me down from someone.  Who knows.

As tastes change rapidly in childhood,  my sister and I went through several stages with this record.  (Or I should probably just speak for myself actually....)
First I loved the songs.  Then I got bored with it.  Then I hit an age where I was just at the perfect stage to enjoy the humor in this album, and my sister and I thought "The Foolish Frog" song on this album was the funniest thing ever, and we listened to that song over and over again, laughing our heads off each time. 

And then eventually I outgrew that humor, and got bored with the album again, and it became disregarded.

I rediscovered Pete Seeger when I was 18, and beginning to become interested in the history of popular music, and  protest music.  I began to hear Pete Seegar's name a lot in connection with other artists like The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul & Mary, et cetera.
I bought Pete Seeger's greatest hits on CD.  I hadn't realized at first that this was the same singer whose animal albums I had grown up with, but once I listened to the voice on the CD, I immediately made the connection.  I was pleasantly surprised to combine childhood nostalgia with my more adult tastes.
I used to play the CD around the Calvin College dormitories. 
My roommate Brett initially mocked me at first for the CD--the song Little Boxes in particular he thought sounded like a parody of a children's song instead of what an 18 year old should be listening to.  But then after a few spins of the CD, he became a Pete Seeger fan himself.  (This was back before the song got renewed popularity from the television show Weeds).

I saw Pete Seeger live in November 1999 at the School of America Protest down in Georgia.  I had gone down with a Calvin group, and we were sitting on the lawn listening to the speeches and the music, when suddenly I thought the voice of one of the musicians sounded familiar.  I left the group to get closer to the stage, and there was Pete Seeger singing.
Although this was 15 years ago now, he was already not young at this stage, being 80 years old.  His singing voice seemed pretty shot, and he was singing with his grandson who helped him carry the song.  But in between the songs he would tell stories, and his talking voice hadn't changed at all from the familiar voice I grew up on.
This was in a big field, and I saw him only from a distance, but I was happy just to say I saw him.

However I got a much closer look at him later that night.  We went to a non-violence training workshop in the evening, which was a small group of people in a small little room.  And before the training began, Pete Seeger came out and sang several songs to the room, and I was really elated to have seen him up so close.

During my time in Japan, I was delighted to discover Pete Seeger was also quite popular in Japan.  During my brief experiment with joining the town choir in Ajimu, I discovered the choir sang some Pete Seeger songs translated into Japanese.  The choir director asked me if I had ever heard of Pete Seeger.  "Have I ever heard of him?" I replied, "Let me tell you the story about how I saw him play in just a small room once..."
 I also enjoyed the Japanese version of Big Muddy.

By the way, sorry I'm a few days late on this post.  The news that Pete Seeger had died completely passed me by the past couple days.  Despite the fact that I try to keep an eye on the news, the past few days I've heard plenty about Justin Bieber's exploits, but nothing on Pete Seeger's death.  I suppose I always knew the media would largely ignore him, although I somewhat expected facebook and other word of mouth would alert me.  But my facebook feed has been surprisingly quite about Pete Seeger's death.

Related Posts: A post from about 10 years ago, when I recounted the same story as above.
A post on Non-violence, in which I recall a Pete Seeger anecdote that I heard him tell once in an NPR interview.
A list of the top 10 Biopics I would like to see Hollywood produce, in which I include Pete Seeger.

Link of the Day Interviews Noam Chomsky

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Why I Saw This Movie:
            Some friends from work invited me along with them, and I’m pretty much game to see anything.  If I had needed extra convincing, Whisky Prajer’s unqualified recommendation of this movie would have pushed me over the edge.

Positive Points
* Likeable characters that are easy to cheer for.
* Beautifully animated
* A Ruritanian romance story in the fictional German Duchy is beautifully animated, and with enough loving details to make you really immersed in the setting.
* The Mickey-Mouse short at the beginning is a great tribute to the era of “Steamboat Willie” cartoons.
* As my friend pointed out to me upon leaving the theatre, the film does a brilliant job of creating expectations for a cliché fairy tale ending, and then turning that cliché on its head—I can’t say more without spoilers.

Negative Points
* This is one of those annoying stories in which the whole premise revolves around a simple misunderstanding and a contrived reason for why one character can’t just simply explain to the other character what is happening.

* The movie is overloaded with songs—a couple of which are good, and the rest of which are just filler.

* This is probably because I’m not in the target audience, but the humor of this film felt desperate, like the writers were flailing just a little bit too hard to try and land the jokes.

The Review
          I won’t lie, this film had its irritations (listed above in the Negative column).  But mostly those irritations were trumped by the film’s ability to create a beautiful, magical 19th Century Ruritanian (W) environment, and my desire to get immersed in that environment. 
7 Stars (Based purely on watchability factor, not on the film’s status as high art.)

Other Things I Would Talk About If I Wasn’t Limiting Myself To 100 Words
* The experience of seeing this movie in a theater together with the citizens of a tropical country


Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky University Commencement Address 1999 Speech to College Students

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

First Conditional Brain storm activity

   (TESOL Worksheets--1st Conditional)
      Google: drive, docs, pub
    [Use with younger students. Put them into groups.  Give them a prompt, and give them a set time (5 minutes?) to come up with as many sentence endings as possible.  Then award points to the group with the most endings at the end of the time.  Then give them the next prompt.]

11.       If you eat too much ice cream….
22.       If you don’t do your homework…
33.        If you forget your raincoat…
44.       If you go to the zoo…

Monday, January 27, 2014

Henry VIII and his Six Wives by Janet Hardy-Gould

            The danger with a book like this is that it can reduce the significance of Henry VIII to a series of soap-opera like relationships.
            On the other hand, the great thing about a book like this is that it retells the story of Henry VIII as a series of soap-opera like relationships.
            Unlike some of the other history books I’ve tried out with my young learners, this one really caught their attention.  I could tell they were becoming interested in it, because they started asking a lot of questions at the end of each chapter.  “Wait, teacher, is this story really real?”   “How many of his wives did he kill again?”  “Why did he behead his wives?”
            I myself learned a few interesting facts from this book.  For example, I learned that Thomas Seymour, a character I knew from The Tudors,  was later beheaded for trying to become the lover of Elizabeth I. 

Teaching Materials
[This book contained a glossary at the back for words that might be problematic for students.  On the first day, I had the class read through the glossary, then on subsequent days I made matching exercises for the words in the glossary.  I know this is all terribly boring and uncreative, but my theory was something was better than nothing when it came to the vocabulary.]

artist, beheaded, believe, bury, buried, calm, Catholic Church, cousin, uncle, aunt, divorce, dream, engaged

_________ to think that something is right or true
________a picture in your mind when you are asleep
_______the child of your uncle or aunt
________past tense of bury
________to finish a marriage
The center of the _________________ is in the Vatican in Rome, Italy
_________a person who can paint and draw pictures
_________to put a dead person in the ground
_________when a person's head is cut off
_________the sister of one of your parents
_________quiet, not worried or excited
_________have promised to marry someone
________the brother of one of your parents
Henry died and we _________ him last week in ST. George's Church, Windsor.
I don't __________ he was telling the truth.
I had a ________ last night.
After they had been married for several years, they decided to get a ____________.
The Pope is the head of the ___________________.
I am ___________ to be married to a beautiful girl.
Both Anne and Katherine were ____________ in that terrible prison, the Tower of London.
An _________ can paint a beautiful picture.
Don't panic.  Keep ________.
My father's brother's daughter is my ____________.

forgive,  God,  great, handsome, jewels, king, kiss, lady, look after, maid

_______special, important
_______a woman
_______to touch somebody with your lips to show love
______a woman or girl who is paid to work in another person's house
_______ to say or show that you are not angry with someone anymore
_______good -looking (for men)
_______the most important man in the country
_______the "person" who made the world
_______beautiful and expensive stones (e.g. diamonds)
_______to take care of somebody
A month ago I was the Queen of England, the wife of _______ Henry the Eighth.
Margaret, my new _______, came to the palace with me.
I love that new movie.  It's really _______.
We have been married for more than twenty years in the eyes of _______.
She wore many __________ around her neck.
You see that picture of the King? That's what he was like when he was young--tall and strong and ________.
When a girl grows up, she becomes a ________.
Could you please ____________ the baby for me?
I'm sorry I ate your pizza.  I was wrong.   Please ________ me.
miscarriage, mistress, necklace, paint, palace, Pope, pray, prayer, prince, princess

_________ when a women loses a baby before it is born
_________words that you say when talk to God
_________ the head of the Catholic Church, who lives in the Vatican in Rome
_________the daughter of a king or queen
________to make a picture with colours
_________a piece of jewellery that you wear around the neck
________the girlfriend of a married man; she is not his wife
_________the son of a king or queen
________a very large and beautiful house, usually for a king or queen
________to talk to God

Anne wanted to marry the King and be his Queen.  She didn't want to be just his _________, like the other girls.
The son of a King is called a _________.
I _______ for you every day.
You must not divorce me.  The _______ and the Catholic Church will never agree to this.
An artist can ________ a picture.
The King and Queen live in a __________.
There's also a beautiful gold ___________ and a small piece of hair.
Perhaps Henry gave it to ____________ Elizabeth.
She nearly had another baby, but she had a ___________ after only a few months.
Every night I say a __________ to God.
queen,  sad, sword, ugly, uncle, view, witch, worried

_________ the most important woman in the country
_________unhappy because you think something bad will happen
________the opposite of beautiful
________a woman who (people believe) can use magic to do bad things
_________a long knife for fighting
________what you can see from a window
________the brother of your father or mother

On the top floor of the hotel, there is a very lovely______ of the city.
My name is Catherine Parr. A month ago I was the __________ of England, the wife of King Henry the Eighth.
__________es always have six fingers.
I am very _________ about the test.
The old man had a long nose and crooked teeth--he was very ________.
After my dog died, I was very ________.
Be careful with that ________!  It's very sharp and dangerous.
It was my _______ William.
The boy ________ the girl.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky (2013) Full Discussion with Jeremy Scahill and Amy Goodman ("Dirty Wars")

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dictation: Present Perfect

(TESOL Worksheets--Present Perfect)
Google: drive, docs, pub
[Use with younger students.  Standard dictation exercise.  The teacher reads the sentences and the students try and write on their paper exactly what the teacher says.]

I haven’t read the magazine yet.
I haven’t gotten ready yet.
I’ve already seen Superman.
I haven’t been to Canada yet.
I’ve already eaten lunch.
I haven’t finished my homework yet.
I’ve already played the new video game.
I haven’t finished eating yet.
I’ve already had something to drink.
I haven’t bought the milk yet.


Total number correct:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Catching Fire

Why I Saw This Movie:
            A group of friends invited me out to the cinema with them.

The Review
            The first movie was a retread of Battle Royale.  This film, initially, promised to go in a different and more interesting direction.  But then, one-third of the way through, it suddenly just started repeating the plot from the first movie.
            If The Hunger Games was a retread of Battle Royale, then Catching Fire is a retread of The Hunger Games.  And by this point the principle of diminishing returns is really beginning to set in.
            On the plus side, it’s got a very talented cast and very slick production values, which make it watchable.

Other Thing I Would Talk About If I Wasn’t Limiting Myself to 100 Words
* All the plot holes

3 out of 10 Stars (No points for originality, but at least it’s mildly entertaining.)

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky at Clark University - Part 1 of 2 - September 28, 1994

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dictation: Used To

(TESOL Worksheets--Used To)
Google: drive, docs, pub
[Use with younger students.  Standard dictation exercise.  The teacher reads the sentences and the students try and write on their paper exactly what the teacher says.]

I used to live in America.
I used to be a student.
I used to play the piano.
I used to be a runner.
I used to have long hair.
I used to keep a dog.
I used to eat pizza every day.
I used to watch Tom and Jerry on TV.
I used to ride a yellow school bus.
I used to be 12 years old.


Total number correct: 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Hunger Games

Why I Saw This Movie:
            My friends invited me out to the cinema to see Catching Fire, so I watched this movie the night before as homework.

The Review
            I know Hollywood likes to retread everything these days, but there are certain shockers that can only be played once. Battle Royale really shocked me, but I had limited patience for a remake of Battle Royale.
            Also, Battle Royale was able to set-up its premise within the first 10 minutes.  This movie took over an hour just for the set-up.  My patience was loooong gone.
            Both movies are psychological experiments conducted through fiction—given this scenario, how would people actually react?  I’m not sure I found the emotional reactions in The Hunger Games entirely realistic.

2 out of 10 stars  (If this had been my first exposure to the premise, I probably would have rated it higher.)

Things I Would Talk About if I Wasn’t Limiting Myself to 100 Words
* Expanding on the above points—which scenes in particular struck me as unrealistic emotions.

* More compare and contrast with Battle Royale.

*As to the above point—specifically how Battle Royale attempts to comment on human nature by showing ordinary teenagers driven to do horrible things because of the desperateness of the situation, whereas The Hunger Games uses the same premises to divide its characters into likeable protagonists and unlikeable antagonists and simply produces another mindless action film.

* Apologizing for not having read the books despite a number of you having recommended the books to me, and an acknowledgement that I’m sure the books probably are much better than the movie.

* Roger Ebert’s Review of the film.  (A different opinion than mine, but I still like his analysis.)

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky - Necessary Illusions 1989 Full