Monday, June 26, 2006

When will they ever learn?

Get an honest, current job description from a Texas school teacher and too often it is "teach the tests."

Which is the same direction California schools were traveling back in the '60s during my more formative years there. "Teach the tests" leaves you, eventually, a great tester and lacking in the daily approach. Daily study habits are probably much more important to the growth of young minds and people than the ability to take a test.

You can get sloppy and negligent in daily work, chores and attitude when the eggs are all placed in the testing basket, but education has become a political football here in Texas, so meddle on lawmakers. Your emphasis on the tests might get someone's vote and that, for you, is the real test. That's what it's all about.

Some day, hopefully soon, the political football tide will turn toward balance and quit giving Texas children the shaft. Eventually, they will have to go to work every day and not just show up for a big "test" day every other week, or so.

Don't take my word for it, research it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Nacho Libre - Buena Pelicula



“Nacho Libre” is one of those fun, friendly and funny movies that you don't mind running into anytime later.

Once seen, this Jack Black-starred comedy - based on a true story, but straying way out there somewhere effectively to keep viewers watching - has enough varying scenes and well-done human nature shots to warrant several looks. It might seem a little different each time, with it's fast-pace and carefully planned close ups of little things like the mishaps with Black as the often failing priest and even worse cook, Ignacio “Nacho,” who falls for beautiful nun Encarnación, played by Ana de la Reguera. But Nacho finds himself when he sees that he must dedicate himself to the orphanage where he grew up and lives.

“Nacho Libre” is for anyone who appreciates a well-done movie, or who even slightly observes Mexican culture. Viewers get plenty of both in this Oaxaca-area adventure, ending appropriately in the ruins of that area's famous Monte Alban as Nacho and Encarnación stare into each others' eyes after his eventual ring triumph buys a bus and field trips for the orphans.

“Nacho Libre” is written and directed by Jared Hess, who gave us “Napoleón Dynamite” a few years ago, but this is better. The long and wide camera shots are similar, but the difference is much like that of a maturing comic who grows to understand the importance of timing when telling jokes - Black and “Nacho Libre” have better timing than “Dynamite.” This one also serves to deliver Black as a good lead funny man, something his fans have said he was good for for several years.

Black adds to the comedy with each line -- sounding very much like Antonio Banderas in his Zorro movies -- playing with the pronounciation, milking it for a little bit more laughter. The packed theater left smiling, probably with Black's pronounciation of terms like “stretchy pants” still ringing in their ears.

The numerous fight scenes went off without a noticeable flaw, which will also help make this a good movie later on DVD, or unexpectedly on some cable channel in a few years.

Black's chip thief and eventual tag team partner - the somewhat, but not entirely effeminate, El Esqueleto, played by Hector Jimenez - keeps the crowd guessing and gains something of a following of his own. He can sew and design clothes yet wrestle against opponents several times his weight.

“Nacho Libre” is a winner, despite all of Nacho and Esqueleto's losses in the ring.
This one rates a healthy nine habaneros out of 10.

Note: A review available in print in Laredo, Texas' LareDOS.

Ex-FBI agent wins mayoral post


Raul Salinas was a very tired new mayor-elect on Sunday, June 18, talking, shouting thanks occasionally to well-wishers and dealing with media the day after his first political campaign turned out to be a winner.

Salinas, a retired FBI agent, pointed to the platform listed on his Web site as the phones kept ringing, hands kept pumping and backs were slapped.
“I am physically exhausted,” Salinas, 56, said.

Salinas had planned to take a few days off after the June 17 run-off election, but quick construction of political bridges and doorways wasn't letting him think much about a little escape before rolling up his sleeves and getting down to work.

Salinas tallied 1,008 more votes than city councilman John Galo, 9,665-8,657, in the decisive run-off.
Galo, 47, was also planning a quick break, telling LareDOS on the Friday before the election that he would be out of town on Monday. On Sunday both former candidates' cell phone mailboxes were full, but Galo wasn't returning pages.

“It was a long and hard campaign,” Salinas said.

Salinas, who has never held political office, entered the what was originally a five-man race with the hopes and ambitions of making Laredo a better place to live and work, much as Galo said on his Web site, too, but Salinas appeared to be the more visible of the two, constantly showing up at public events but often low-keying his hand-shaking, trying to avoid being too familiar.

Salinas can't take any official action until after city hall certifies the election and he is sworn in, but he is laying the foundation, meeting with county judge-elect Danny Valdez on issues, seeking to avoid duplication of services and save money.

“We are on the same page,” Salinas said.

Salinas has a checklist of priorities, most of which are visible on his Web site at Salinas aims to improve the water system situation; public safety; bring in the automobile industry; deal with high-tax appraisals; improve recreation and entertainment; establish a civil service commission for all city employees; respect green space and the environment; stop city hall credit card abuse and nepotism as well as work better with local schools and colleges.

“Jobs, quality of life and infrastructure is key. There's a lot,” Salinas said. “We want to address the public relations image of the city. It's important because we want to be attractive for industry.”

Meeting Nuevo Laredo Mayor Daniel Pena, and other officials in Mexico, was also on Salinas' early priority list.

He also wants to see about getting a rehabilitation center built closer to home for parents who have had to drive troubled children to San Antonio or Houston for help.
Salinas acknowledges having plenty of help to win the election and says now it's his turn to make good on the campaign's goals.

“I am a good listener and I'm not for special interests,” he said. “I have contacts with people in Washington and in Congress and I want to make sure they give us any money we are due, but I want to see about some extra money, too.”

Salinas noted the campaign help of aunt Carmen Salinas, the same one familiar through numerous Mexican movies and singer Ramon Ayala appearing free of charge and the numerous donations, but says his campaign wasn't about the money.

“I had trouble getting into radio and into the FBI. There were barriers, being Hispanic, but we've crossed them,” Salinas said.

Salinas says he appreciated Galo and his wife having the class to congratulate him on his victory at campaign headquarters on Saturday night,

“Now it's time to forgive and get to work,” Salinas said.

Salinas grew up in Alice where he worked in local radio and newspaper before deciding on a law enforcement career, which began in Washington, D.C. as a Capitol policeman before eventually qualifying for the FBI. Salinas moved to Laredo in 1988 and kept it as his U.S. home when based in Mexico City.

Note: This story stems from a very similar store in LareDOS, a monthly publication worth picking up if in Laredo, or you can probably have a copy mailed to you.

The Blogging World


Blog isn't a misspelling of something else - it's a correct word and cyberspace's numerous blogs are a growing force in media and politics.
Blogs are a new generation of Web sites, which individuals upgrade on a whim, or instant of inspiration. All it takes is something to say and a cooperative computer to add it to your blog, or you can add something through comments on someone else's blog.
That doesn't always mean information on blogs is accúrate. Sometimes it's way off, but the many individual bloggers are recognized by vote-seeking politicians as a power they must address.
June's YearlyKos 2006 Convention in Las Vegas brought out ambitious Democratic politicians with eyes on the White House.
New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney summed up the relationship in a June 10 story from the convention.
“And right behind them was a parade of prospective Democratic presidencial candidates and party leaders, their presence a tribute to just how much and often rowdy voices of the Web have been absorbed into the very political process they frequently disdain,” he wrote.
Nagourney's story added that the bloggers are well on their way to becoming part of the American political establishment, noting that Democrats appear much more blog-aware than Republicans.
Blog awareness stems from its ability to press certain buttons in the public's mind more effectively than other media.

What bloggers say

Austin-based Laredoan Sean Claes,33, has covered the capital city's entertainment scene for 10 years and stays busy as managing editor of Insite Magazine there and serves as music editor of San Antonio's Iungo Arts Magazine, but still finds time to be logging online from his beats and freelance contacts.
“A personal blog, like the one I have, is a way for someone to share one's passion for writing, be it in a diary or journal or to publish ideas and thoughts. Since I'm a freelance writer and photographer, I usually take advantage of my blog to share press release information I think is interesting, stories I've written and photos I've taken. There are blogs dedicated to just about anything from origami swan-making to fans of metal band Slayer,” Claes says in e-mail from Austin. “A blog can also be a really strong public relations element. I think people are just starting to understand the power of blogging. Magazines are blogging to get timely information out in between printed issues.
“Newspapers now have a way of sharing information on an up-to-second format. Record companies can "leak" some new music and cause a stir. Online communities like MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster all have a great blog aspect to them.
The world and all of it's intelligent, helpful, arrogant, and ignorant people are now there in plain text at the push of a button.”
Solana Larsen, in New York City, agrees, seeing those specialized sites make the biggest difference in blogging's growth.
“Many of the most popular blogs cater for a niche audience:
technology, cooking, music, house rebuilding, local content, or confessional sites where the prostitute or soldier tells the world what they're up to,” writes Larsen.
Larsen is a blogger and editor with, a London-based online forum and information bank focusing on democracy and its related issues.
Serious blogging is loaded with and all about points of contention, emotion and society's problems.
Without coming from a recognized mainstream news face, or media name, or slanted through any media corporation politics.
“Blogs are a great new media that allows the average Joe the ability to feel as if he's on equal authority and equal footing as the traditional media,” writes Waxahachie Daily Light reporter and blogger Jonathan Blundell. “One problem I've seen though is more people rant and rave about issues without ever fully investigating them themselves. I've done it too.
“Real journalists call to verify information, bloggers typically don't.
The great thing is that you can get an opinion on anything and everything from around the world with blogs. You might find a soldier in Afghanistan writing about his time there, or a
peace corps volunteer from Uganda.”

Some have, some lack

A little farther north in Dallas, D Magazine's Tim Rogers believes he sees why some newspapers allow their journalists to have blogs attached to the paper's Web site and why some don't.
“My guess: newspapers are big, old, and slow. They have a hard time adapting. Too, I think some papers fear giving their writers unfiltered access to their readers. Then there are folks like business columnist Mitch Schnurmann at the Star-Telegram, who used to run a fine blog. But he up and quit because it was taking too much time,” Rogers said by e-mail. “Those folks have news holes to fill. Filling holes takes time. Blogging can interfere with that.”
Rogers understands, also, why insecure management at some newspapers are reluctant to embrace this new journalism.
Bloggers need newspapers even less than they did before -- if they ever did.
“I think they're changing the way journalism gets done. No question. Mostly because now any smart person with a computer can essentially start up his own news organization,” Rogers said. “Some of the most influential blogs in the country are run by people who don't have traditional newspaper/journalism

Your news might not be mine

Like many bloggers, however, non-journalist Nathan Nance, of McGregor, isn't simply all about the news. This one is personal.
Nance can blame, or credit a girlfriend for helping to get his blogging career underway.
“”I just started blogging because a girl I was seeing at the time had her own conservative blog. I had to one up her somehow, so I started doing my own. I would have come to it eventually anyway, though. I really saw it as a way to publish my own thoughts and opinions, something I had been trying to do unsuccessfully by submitting columns to the local paper and being rejected,” Nance writes.
Like many bigtime bloggers, Nance's hobby has become much more than that, providing a more serious stimulation than any boring day-to-day job provides. Blogging takes up much of his thought.
“I spend almost every waking minute thinking about the blog and what I can do with it. It used to be about me, now it is more about my readers. I go see movies and write reviews for the blog. I used to be content to wait a few weeks before I saw a new release, but now I'll go to opening night just so I can get my reviews up earlier. I'm also reading Ann Coulter's latest book, not because I want to, but because a few readers expressed that they wanted to read my review of it,” he said. “My life is now centered around blogging and I'm convinced the secret to success is to take it to that all or nothing stage.”
Readers, or fans, are a prime spark in Nance's day, but he hasn't left himself behind. Nance draws inner strength from his blog.
“In almost the same way an exhibitionist seeks attention, I write about my own life,” he says by e-mail. “Imagine things you would write in a diary or a journal, now imagine writing them on a blog for anyone with an Internet connection to read. I've gotten into more than a little trouble with my close friends because I write about what we do and how I feel without thinking. I endeavor to literally have no secrets from my readers. I think I'm at my best blogging when I take my thinking cap off and put on my feeling cap. When I write passionately from the heart, my readers feel connected to me and I feel connected to them, even though I'll never meet or know most of them.”
Nance and his blogging was featured in a related article in Texas Monthly last year.
The Uncooperative Blogger, Brian Bonner, writes largely about immigration issues from his home in Basin, Montana.
Bonner notes that blogging's personal side is important and he is far from being alone.
“Personal satisfaction? Hmm. Well, the ability to participate in the political process in a somewhat meaningful way. To be able to help form peoples' opinions and the way they look at the issues,” Bonner says. “My wife got me into it, because she was sick of me ranting at her. She thought it would give me an outlet. She had no idea what she started! LOL!”
LOL is short for laughing out loud, a universal online short for the term. A little humor is a good thing to have in all that serious blogging, too.
Note: Anyone interested in starting a blog can do so by online to, or, or Some blog services charge, but most are free and some people make money through advertisements on their blogs.
Ad salesman Michael Robinson, of Temple, has three blogs and isn't out to set the world on fire, but finds plenty of personal comfort in blogging.
“I like to write, but I also like to have some structure when I write. There are many blogs out where people write about anything and everything. For me, I like the framework of subject specific blogs,” Robinson wrote. “I didn't start out with three blogs. I started out with my religion/faith blog which I have had for several years now. I have used it to record my thoughts and experiences along my Christian faith journey. It has also been a way for me to share my faith with others.
“My second blog is more of a commentary blog about current events, human behavior and ethics in society. When I wrote a column for a local community newspaper, I used it as a way of posting my columns on-line. When I changed jobs, I stopped writing for the newspaper, but I have kept the blog as a venue for my thoughts and commentary.”
Robinson's third blog is for photos.
“I like photography and keep a camera in the car all the time,” he said. “If I see something interesting or travel to a different part of Central Texas, I take a picture and upload it to my blog. I also write a short commentary about each photos I take.”

Related blogs:

Sean Claes

Solana Larsen

Jonathan Blundell

D Magazine

Nate Nance

Brian Bonner

Mike McIlvain

Michael Robinson - my photo blog - my spiritual/religious blog -my commentary blog

Note: This story stems from, and strongly resembles, the story which is published in the June edition of LareDOS in Laredo, Texas. A monthly publication under the guidance of Meg Guerra -- a very fine journalist if there ever was one.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Selfish no more

A good friend of mine, Chuck Steward, editor of The Portland News, just outside of Corpus Christi, has been sharing his narrative gift with me for some time -- The Seadog Journals -- and I have kept them all to myself. Until now.

Following, are the first two graphs from today's entry, which do plenty for you if the smell of sea salt is still somewhere in your nostrils. Mine is from the Pacific as was some of Chuck's early surfing experiences.

So relax, enjoy and feel free to encourage Chuck to blog, or publish his Sea Dog Journals. I have tried, but more voices might help. He can be e-mailed at

I went into the water at Port A about 9:30 a.m. Saturday. The water
was very choppy, but there were occasional clean large breaks. Going
out this early to avoid traffic and crowds was a good idea on one
hand, but I was also reminded: I am not a morning person. For the
first half hour in the water I felt like crap. I also fell off my
board a lot in a very ugly manner a few times. After I woke up a
little and my sinuses were thoroughly cleared from several wipeouts,
I began to jump some good rides.
It was a zig-zag day. My first wave to remember was where I caught
the break at the top and cut into the wave facing in, going north to
south. It was one of those lucky breaks (pun intended) where in spite
of the choppy water, this wave just kept going. It became a double-
ender where the first break finished and there was enough momentum to
send me to the second swell before it broke. I caught this second
swell perfectly at the top and cut in as the wave broke behind me. I
crouched real low and shoved my back heel down to jack up my speed.
This was a very sweet ride.

Friday, June 16, 2006

More Texas labor law abuse sightings

Word comes up from the Corpus Christi-area of county employees being laid off right before they can get any retirement benefits. Do other states here in the U.S. have similar wretchedness going on? That reelback loophole mentioned a little while ago here is bad enough. What else might pop up that Texas lawmakers have either overlooked, or allowed to happen?

Some good news today: Nacho Libre opens at a theater near you. It looks like it could be a good one. A labor of love for Jack Black and company? Could be.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Clean up time?

The alleged killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Habitha by U.S. Marines has drawn quite a bit of attention, but there are records of such events in recent times and quiet, often mumbled words of others.

In Korea we had the same thing at No Gun Ri, My Lai in Vietnam and now Habitha. The question has to be asked if these are the only incidents? We need to listen better and look closer. Right now the Marines are taking the flak, and they should be if the allegations are true, but other forces have weapons, frustration, physical and mental fatigue and the madness of war there, too. Ask questions.

It's not going to be easy to halt permanently, but this sort of wrong we can do much better without.

Monday, June 12, 2006

It's a tradition!

British, or maybe Dutch, soccer fans rioting? Why since the dawn of time those hooligans have been out to give sportsmanship a black eye, and possibly a broken bone or two, but The Guardian reports the latest mishap:

Plans to screen all of England's World Cup matches on big screens in London and Liverpool as part of a BBC-led initiative were abandoned yesterday in the wake of drunken violence during showings of the first game at the weekend.

Further screenings of England matches in the centre of Manchester may also be scrapped after an "unprecedented" number of people, as many as 12,000, packed into its city centre to watch the 1-0 win against Paraguay, many more than the authorities were expecting.

The move is a blow to the image of England fans, who ironically have been praised for behaving well in Germany, but also to the BBC, for whom the big screens initiative is a way of trying to reach out to the public.

-- Nice try BBC. You had good intentions, although they say the road to hell is paved with them.

One of these days

Some day the U.S. will win a World Cup. Maybe even more than one, but it looks a long way off judging from Monday's 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic.

Traveling, reading, watching and interviewing has led me to believe that the U.S. soccer training infrastructure is already stronger than several of the more established powers in that sport and the athletes are certainly here, despite all the draw to play other sports. Whenever that day comes it will really have to come from the players themselves who will battle through all the doubt and late night talk show jokes to live up to their potential.

Against the Czechs, however, it was the all too familiar scene of American players playing timid, too mechanical or both -- possibly trying too hard mentally and not allowing their true player selves into the game.

That group that breaks through some day will certainly find a place in U.S. sports history. These guys will be real sports heroes.

Sad summer news

Texas community colleges Blinn and McClennan County have decided to drop journalism.

This is certainly bad for those in Central Texas aspiring to learn the journalistic arts and it is bad for everyone else in the long haul, too. With however many students at those campuses in Brenham and Waco forced to look elsewhere, or wait until entering senior college, it will thin the knowledge, practical experience and numbers. This leaves more of an elitist bent in Texas-based journalism with more coming from the bigger schools where the programs remain intact.

Blinn and MCC, ironically, sit within a relatively short drive from Texas A&M University in College Station. A&M recently said it was going to eliminate its 900-strong journalism department, only to reverse field and reinstate it after considerable feedback. A few letters to presidents at Blinn and MCC might not be a bad idea.