Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Here is the poster Dogboy has designed for my part of our booth at Rock and Shock. I've been arranging for some surprise guests (no, not Bissette – he's got other plans) to brighten up our space.

I will be selling some choice horror, science fiction and odd DVDs – factory new and a steal at $7 – as well as some books that I no longer need. There will also be the last of the stash of Wile Coyote cookie jars, an unopened "Chicken Run" set of figures, back issues of my animation magazines Animato! and Animation Planet and other assorted items.

Mark will be selling prints and sketches and with permission of Richard Gordon, one of the prints will be a dandy "Fiend Without A Face" poster.

Marty is offering a collection of homegrown video horrors.

Rock and Shock guys two years ago

Look for the "Inkwell Productions" sign! Go here for more information.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Okay, Bissette fans: This weekend, the man is prying himself from the Green Mountain state to make a relatively rare appearance here in Massachusetts to sign the new book he illustrated, "The Vermont Monster Guide."

If you're like me you can't get enough of Joe Citro's work much less Steve's, and this book is a must. As they say on TV, it makes a great gift.

Here are the details:

HOLYOKE – We know there are bears, deer and moose living in the forests and mountains of Vermont. We know there are trout and turtles in the streams and lakes.

But did you know about big hairy ape-men, indestructible bucks and large, unknown aquatic animals?

By many accounts there are beasts spoken about in whispers in the state known for fall foliage, maple syrup and dairy products. A new book, "The Vermont Monster Guide" (University Press of new England, $18.95), written by Joseph A. Citro and illustrated by Stephen R. Bissette, gives readers an encyclopedic look at the things that go bump in the night - and in the daytime as well.

Bissette will be signing the new book at the Holyoke Barnes & Noble at 2 p.m. on Oct. 3. He will also be signing two other recent books, the hardcover edition of "The Saga of the Swamp Thing, Book 1" and "Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaimen." Citro will not be able to attend the signing due to a previous commitment.

The two native Vermonters have collaborated on several projects, most recently "The Vermont Ghost Guide." Both men spoke to Reminder Publications in telephone conversations last week.

Citro is well known and celebrated as a collector and chronicler of the bizarre in such books as "Weird New England," "Curious New England" and "Passing Strange." Especially during October, Citro is in demand as a speaker about the odd footnotes of New England history.

Bissette is a veteran comic book artist, known for his work in such books as "Swamp Thing" and "Tyrant" as well as his cutting edge horror anthology "Taboo." He is now a faculty member at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., and continues an active career as an illustrator.

Both men agreed this book was a "fun project" and readily admitted some of the monster stories were more credible than others.

Bissette noted the story about a mystery mammal that looked like a miniature fur-covered stegosaurus was probably an injured fisher cat seen by someone who had never seen the elusive predator, a member of the weasel family.

Citro said if you created a continuum of credibility some of the monsters, such as the sidehill cronchers - a cross between a wild boar and a deer - would be at the ridiculous end, while others such as Champie, the lake monster of Lake Champlain, would be at the other end at real or almost real.

Catamounts or mountain lions are included in the book and Citro knows they are real, as he has seen one in a daylight sighting. Vermont wildlife officials claim the species has yet not retuned to the state, with the last cougar shot in 1881.

"They're passing through the state to reach the tax free shopping malls of New Hampshire," Citro said with a laugh. He theorized state officials might not want to admit their presence as another endangered species might make land development more difficult.

Bissette said that he has never seen anything in the wilds that has made him stop and ponder. The only "monster" listed in the book that both men have seen is the remains dredged from the Connecticut River displayed with Barnum-esque panache at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., that suspiciously look like a skeleton of a horse.

Citro said this book relied on a lot of research, stories culled from newspaper accounts as well as eyewitnesses, some of whom he interviewed.

Bissette said his challenge as the illustrator was to be as faithful as he could to descriptions of the various beasts. In the story of a foot-long caterpillar, he had a colored drawing by the person who saw it as source material.

For Citro's accounts of Vermonters who've seen aliens and UFOs, Bissette was able to use original drawings as the basis of his illustrations.

In another accounts, he had to use some creative license. In one story, in which a winged, feathered serpent was seen, he said, "There were five or six ways of picturing it."

Bissette said their new book is the "kind of book we grew up on" - such as "Stranger than Science," collections of stories of the unknown.

For Citro, his favorite monsters to write about were the two with the most documentation: Champie and Bigfoot. He explained a recent video shot at Lake Champlain has certainly raised additional questions about what is living in the lake as well as a scientific study that showed something living in the lake was using sonar in the same way as dolphins and whales.

Champie and whatever has been spotted at Lake Memphremagog for years are the two most credible of Vermont's many monsters, Citro said.

Although he has done research into the oddities of New England for years, Citro admitted he was surprised to find the number of monster stories from his home state.

"It's the reason I stay inside," he said with a chuckle.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My ten year-old nephew Douglas was the photographer as well as the individual who is doing the impersonation of Nelson from "The Simpsons."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Me and Max the camel getting close. Video to follow later today. Photos by Natasha Clark.

The secret to kissing a camel? Hold a cracker in your mouth. Hmmmm camel!

Ilustration by Leo Pilares

The day has come

So when my assistant managing editor Natasha Clark came to me and asked if I would kiss an animal to the Zoo in Forest Park for a fund-raising stunt for the Diabetes Walk, I said, "Sure."

I thought it would be a goat or a pig or something benign. Nope. It's the zoo's camel, Fergie. At least she's a lady camel.

The things I do.

At least I didn't have to shave my beard off or eat a bug.

If you in Springfield, drop by the zoo at 11 a.m. and witness what a managing editor of community newspapers does.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Photo Credit: Erinn Chalene Cosby
Talking with Cosby

Last week I had the opportunity of speaking with a guy whose work has entertained me for years. My parents bought his comedy albums and they were staples in our household in 1965 and 1966. I loved "I Spy" and his sit coms as well.

What I've like about Cosby is how he has used his family experiences as common denominator that bridges race and age.

Now I've been blessed with speaking with a number of people whom I hold in great esteem – Vincent Price, Lillian Gish are two at the top of the list – and generally I don't get nervous. But I did last week.

Cosby is appearing at Symphony hall in Springfield for two shows on Oct. 16

The reasons for the nerves was in part due to the preparations were at the last minute. I was interviewing him at 8 a.m. – traditionally not the best time for most entertainers – and when i asked the publciist how much time I would have she replied, "You'll know when he wants to stop."

Usually reporters are told that we have 10 or 15 minutes to get some quotes for a story. So I didn't know exactly what I would get.

The other reason is that Cosby has a reputation for not suffering fools lightly and I didn't want to fall into that category.

I called his home in Shelburne Mass. at the appointed time. The first line was busy. When the second line was picked up it was Cosby. I told him who I was and he said, "Well, hang on. Let me get rid of this other guy."

When he came back after a few seconds, we began to talk. And we did so for 45 minutes. I was pretty astonished he gave me that much time.

At one point I though the interview was coming to a close and I thanked him. he said, "Wait a minute I'm not done with you yet!" It seemed to please him that I live in Springfield and that I attended UMass ( I got my BA in 1976 when he got his PhD.)

Below are two chunks of the material. One appeared in the weeklies I edit and the other will be in our monthly. I've still have more which will appear eventually in this blog.

Since 1963 Bill Cosby has been making people laugh and the iconic comedian told Reminder Publications that he has no intention of stopping anytime soon.

The most famous resident of Western Massachusetts will be appearing for two shows at Springfield’s Symphony Hall on Oct. 16. Although known more in recent years as a social commentator and author, Cosby is dedicated to comedy.

His appearances here are part of a lengthy touring schedule that brings him from California to Massachusetts to Florida and Canada.

“I’ve been doing this [comedy] since 1963. That when I made the commitment,” he said in an early morning telephone interview from his home in Shelburne. “It’s important that this mind think things and I write them down and I can’t help it.

“My wife says I’m being beamed,” he added with a chuckle.

The man whose show business career has included Grammy-winning comedy albums, many successful television series and movies as well as being a highly influential stand-up comedian, said his path toward being a comic came out of education.

He explained that he was “born again” when attending college – not renewing his Christian faith, but rather “in terms of accepting education, of wanting it.”

While at Temple University, he said he became serious about writing and read extensively. He also began listening to comedy albums and studied comedians such as Jonathan Winters, Elaine May and Mike Nichols, Shelly Berman and Don Adams.

It was while listening to the Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner album “The 2,000 Year Old Man” that Cosby said he realized, “you don’t have to have a joke.”

The story and the delivery were more important. He began to write and enjoyed it.

He said that while in his freshman remedial English class, the professor assigned the student to write about a first time experience. The class was full of members of the football team and Cosby said, “The football players wrote about their first touchdown, but I got beamed.”

He wrote about the first time he pulled out a tooth as a child.

“There were no computers – just a number two pencil and a legal pad,” he said. “I had so much fun and I just wrote and wrote and wrote.”

He found that he didn’t mind revising his work.

“When you’re born again, you don’t mind going over it,” he explained.

In his junior year of college, he said he “began to see things differently,” and thought he could sell what he was writing.

In the early 1960s there were no clubs dedicated to comedy as there are today, and Cosby said he went around the nightclubs of Philadelphia. He explained the clubs would feature a singer and a comedian and he would try to sell his work to the comics, but no one bought any of his stories.

“One fellow read it and said, ‘This is not funny.’ I started to perform for him and he said, ‘It’s still not funny,’” Cosby recalled.

The manager of the Gilded Cage nightclub finally gave Cosby the chance to perform for 15 minutes.

“There were seven people in the room and they were spread out three, two and two,” Cosby said.

The manager didn’t care for his act, although the audience laughed and Cosby lost hope momentarily. “That night I took those pages and I threw them down the sewer, but when I woke up I was right back at them,” he said.

Cosby said his career started taking off, though, with appearances in clubs in New York City. In 1963 he made his first comedy album, “Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow, Right!” and was booked onto “The Tonight Show.”

He said his career was like a slide one could do on a kitchen floor wet with soap and water.

“There was no long suffering,” he said.

After all these years of performing, Cosby said, “I still have those thoughts. I’m still being beamed. I still have things to say.”

Cosby said that his material today provides a “night of comfort.”

“I put a chair on the stage, I sit and talk and tell a story,” he said, resulting in the audience and himself “feeling comfortable.”


Bill Cosby has made hit television series. He has appeared in popular movies. His comedy albums are legendary. He has written both humorous and serious best-selling books. He has advocated for education and personal responsibility.

And now Cosby will enter a unique group that recognizes his contributions to American humor. On Oct. 26 he will be receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor presented by The Kennedy Center.

Cosby spoke about the award with Reminder Publications as part of an interview prior to his two comedy concerts on Oct. 16 in Springfield’s Symphony Hall.

The Twain Prize has been awarded for the past 11 years – Cosby will the twelfth recipient – and, according to the Kennedy Center Web site, “recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain. As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly.”

Although this description certainly fits Cosby’s many accomplishments, the entertainer said that he had turned down the award three times.

He explained he had heard about the first award presentation for Richard Pryor in 1998 and that some of young comedian who had been asked to perform in Pryor’s honor had used profanity and the “n word” in their routines. Ironically Pryor had long stopped using the “n word” in his performances.

“There were many people there who were from the civil rights movement,” Cosby said. “It was disgraceful and embarrassing. When they came to me I told them no.”

Cosby is a 1998 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and said, “I was a friend of Teddy’s. I met Bobby and I was a friend of Ethel’s.”

Cosby only consented to the award once he sat with the producer of the show who assured him he could approve the guests.

“As you know,” he recalled talking the Kennedy Center officials,” I want [my award] to represent who I am and the style, that would be jazz.”

Acclaimed saxophonist Jimmy Heath will be among the guests as will be jazz great Wynton Marsalis.

Cosby said he wanted specific people to appear, such as Len Chandler, the folk singer and civil rights advocate who introduced Cosby as a young comic to Bob Dylan, when he was beginning his career.

Not only does the Twain prize’s connection to the Kennedy family have meaning for Cosby, but Twain and his works do as well.

“Our mother read Mark Twain to us,” Cosby said. For him and his brother James – who died at age six – Twain’s works were a regular part of their childhood.

He said that Twain’s importance rests in part in his style.

“You could finish fifth grade and the only thing keeping you from reading Twain’s essay is the subject matter.”

He called the recognition “wonderful.”

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

First, take a look at what I wrote in my current newspaper column:

So just what were school officials in Longmeadow and Hampden fearful the president would tell students during his education speech last week?

Urging young people to be responsible and stay in school is a time-honored and a tad clich d standard theme for American politicians. Obama didn't say anything radically different than many other elected officials.

Could it be because Barack Obama is the most feared president since Franklin Roosevelt that local school officials decided it was safer not to potentially anger any parents?

If President Bush had made a speech with the same message would his words have been banned?

For me this was disgraceful.

Just like Roosevelt, Obama has inspired great admiration and great hatred and fear and in just the few months in which he has served as president.

There are people who want to believe that Obama isn't a citizen still. There are those who cling to the notion he advocates "death panels." There are those who think he is a Muslim dedicated to the destruction of the United States.

Oh yes and he's a black man. There are still a lot of white people who don't like the idea of a man of color guiding America.

While I don't see the president as a saint as many Depression era Americans viewed Roosevelt I certainly don't understand all of the blind hate he has inspired, except that his election has challenged the status quo of some of the nation's citizens.

The school kids were indeed taught a lesson that day, but I doubt it was a positive one.

These statements earned me a nasty e-mail; and a nastier anonymous phone call. Par for the course around here.

Now here is what I received from the Superintendent of Longmeadow Schools:

Dear Editor:
We would like to take this opportunity to explain to the general public the Longmeadow Public School’s decision to tape President Barack Obama’s national education address on Tuesday, Sept. 8 for future viewing, after review by the principals and their staff to determine the appropriate venue and logistical arrangements for sharing the speech with students. The stated purpose of the message to speak to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school is, of course, one that we support and value.

Evidently there are a number of folks who felt that the decision to delay airing the speech was incorrect and that we could have surmounted all obstacles to make that happen. While we recognize that the District could have done a better job communicating with parents regarding the reasons for the delay, the local media presented neither accurate nor complete information about Longmeadow’s decision.

These are the facts:

Most area districts left the decision of whether to air the speech up to principals or teachers. As a result, a large number of those schools did not air the speech or showed the speech to only a segment of the student population. In addition, one-third of all districts in the state, as confirmed by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, taped the speech for later viewing, as we did.

The decision to postpone the airing of the speech was not a policy decision by the School Committee, but an operational decision by the administration. The reasons for that decision involved much more than a reaction to concerns about the message and were guided by a desire to provide the very best educational setting for our students to receive the message. Here are the multiple logistical challenges that faced our schools:

1. The late communication about this speech from Secretary of Education Duncan allowed less than 2 days for our schools to make all of the necessary preparations and to communicate with parents about opt-out provisions for their children.

2. Commissioner Chester, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, sent a message midday on the Friday before Labor Day weekend that noted the challenges of the timing of the speech and suggested that the speech be aired if it worked with school schedules and if arrangements could be made to allow students to view the speech. He added that schools should “respect the requests of any parents who ask that their child not participate.”

3. The President's speech was intended to be part of a larger classroom activity that involved writing and discussion. None of our schools has the capability to air the speech in every classroom at the same time. It would need to be viewed in larger group settings that would not support such learning activities.

4. Our teachers had not received the suggested classroom activities, which were proposed for grades pre-k – 6 and grades 7 – 12, and had not had an opportunity to thoughtfully integrate the speech into their curriculum - by grade level and subject area.

5. Most of our schools are not equipped for instant, live viewing of broadcasts in large group settings. When we made arrangements for viewing the Presidential Inauguration, we had almost 2 months to accommodate our technology and logistical needs.

6. This event occurred during the noon lunch time. Had the Longmeadow schools aired the speech live on Tuesday at noon, only a small percentage of our students would have been able to view it, and most of the viewing would not have occurred in the context of an instructional lesson.

7. Since many parents requested that their children not view the live broadcast, we would have had to make arrangements for those students to be identified and separated from their peers into another location, supervised by adults and engaged in an alternate activity.
After learning of these many obstacles, the administration concluded that reviewing the speech would allow our principals and teachers to determine the best settings for using the message in the classroom to integrate with curriculum - by grade level and subject area and would allow us to plan the most appropriate and respectful venue for those lessons.

Also, our teachers would have an opportunity to modify the recommended lesson plans as appropriate by age and for alignment with curriculum. In addition, we would be able to manage the technology requirements for viewing. Thus, the speech was taped, thanks to assistance from LCTV, for later viewing.

This approach ensured that more students would be able to view and participate in guided discussion about the speech than would have occurred at noon on September 8th.

Our principals met with the Superintendent on September 9, to determine the process by which they would collaborate with their teachers to integrate the viewing of the speech with curriculum - by grade level and subject area. Each principal consulted with their staff and then contacted parents of the students in their school to notify them of the plans for viewing and discussing the speech. The first such activity took place at the high school.

On Friday, September 11th, the Longmeadow High School Social Studies department arranged for their students to view the President’s speech in the auditorium during their regular social studies block. Throughout the entire school day, students were engaged in discussions that were facilitated by our teachers and that involved reflection about both the content of the speech and the politics which surrounded it. Students who did not want to participate were able to engage in an alternative assignment. The Superintendent of Schools attended one of the class sessions in the auditorium and was highly impressed with the level of sophistication of both the student’s questions and their comments about the speech. As they discussed the value of the President’s message, some students praised the relevance of the message about persistence, practice, and learning from mistakes. One freshman stood up and said how inspiring President Obama’s message was for her. She briefly shared her personal history and her plans to become the first member of her family to become a high school graduate. Everyone in the auditorium applauded.

We are convinced that taking the time to plan viewing of the speech in a thoughtful instructional setting guided by our professional educators was a better and more respectful decision than to air the speech to a small random segment of the student population during lunch in a non-instructional environment.

We hope this clarifies for the Longmeadow community the decision that was made by the Longmeadow Public Schools to delay viewing of the President’s speech in order to provide thoughtful, relevant discussion in an academic setting.

E. Jahn Hart Mary Vogel
Superintendent Chairperson, School Committee

Now, I was glad to get this letter as it does explain what took place. What I'm concerned about, though, is the lack of communication about what the school district was planning to do. It cast a negative tone on the actions.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I was at my favorite watering hole the other evening and in a quieter corner, several of the televisions were on to the live broadcast of the 2009 inductions to the Basketball Hall of Fame. One young woman at the bar looked up and expressed her thrill that she was seeing Springfield on national television. The shot that inspired the exclamation was a beautifully composed one outside of Symphony Hall.

I, too, was impressed. Although I'm not a sports fan, I've always liked basketball and perhaps some of this interest comes from the fact I worked at the Hall of Fame from my junior year in high school through college and into the first year of marriage.

I couldn't wonder what my boss, Lee Williams, would have said about the prominence the Hall now enjoys. You see without Williams I doubt we would have a Hall of Fame today.

Williams, a basketball coach at Colby in Maine, came to the Hall of Fame to actually build it. The foundation had been dug on the campus of Springield College and sat there literally for years. Williams actually bullied and pleaded for the funding to get the structure open in 1967.

He was not a historian. He was not a curator. He did, though, what no one before him was able to do – get the place open.

His wife managed the souvenir stand and Williams seemed to being charge of raising funds and attention.

Working there was somewhat surreal. Hours of tedium and then something would happen. Someone would sneak in. Someone would try to steal something. or someone like Dave Cowans of the Celtics would show up with a couple of nephews and money in hand to buy admission tokens. I told him to put his money away. I liked the fact he was willing to pay.

Red Auerbach on the hand – what a jerk.

I won't sugarcoat Williams. He was not always the nicest guy to work for. He had a huge ego. Our summer shift was 10 hours long and through some loophole, he was able to avoid paying us minimum wage. Hey a job was a job in those days as it is in these days. Once I was promoted to manager, I did make enough dough to help put myself through UMass.

And I learned how to get free Cokes from the soda machine.

The one day in all of those years I called in sick – which meant he had to go in on a Saturday and open up the place – he said to my wife, "I feel for for Mike, but I feel sorrier of the Hall of Fame!"

Still when I was on WREB – a station Mrs. Williams listened to religiously – I did an interview with him when he was leaving the Hall and retiring. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me and to be interviewed.

I wonder if anyone in the current Hall of Fame staff knows who Williams was. I sort of doubt it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

In case you missed the speech on healthcare reform here are excerpts sent to me by the White House Press Office:

I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.

Our collective failure to meet this challenge – year after year, decade after decade – has led us to a breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can’t get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can’t afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or expensive to cover.


During that time, we have seen Washington at its best and its worst.

We have seen many in this chamber work tirelessly for the better part of this year to offer thoughtful ideas about how to achieve reform. Of the five committees asked to develop bills, four have completed their work, and the Senate Finance Committee announced today that it will move forward next week. That has never happened before. Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses; hospitals, seniors’ groups and even drug companies – many of whom opposed reform in the past. And there is agreement in this chamber on about eighty percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been.

But what we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.

Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

The plan I’m announcing tonight would meet three basic goals:

It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don’t. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. It’s a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge – not just government and insurance companies, but employers and individuals. And it’s a plan that incorporates ideas from Senators and Congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans – and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.


Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan:

First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies – because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.

That’s what Americans who have health insurance can expect from this plan – more security and stability.

Now, if you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who don’t currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage. We will do this by creating a new insurance exchange – a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers. As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It’s how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it’s time to give every American the same opportunity that we’ve given ourselves.


This is the plan I’m proposing. It’s a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight – Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed – the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town hall meetings, in emails, and in letters.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Here is a transcript of the questions and answers between Obama and the school kids after his speech:

THE PRESIDENT: Wow. I'm trying to remember back to my first day of high school. I can't remember that far back. But it is great to see all of you here. I'm really proud of my Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who is just doing a great job trying to create an environment where all of you can learn. And I know it's a little intimidating with all these cameras around and all this --

SECRETARY DUNCAN: Don't pay any attention to them.

THE PRESIDENT: -- so just pretend that they're not there.

Here's the main reason I wanted to come by. As Arne pointed out, when I was growing up, my dad wasn’t in the house. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich. My mother had to work really hard, so sometimes my grandparents had to fill in. And my wife, Michelle, who all of you have seen -- the First Lady -- her dad worked in a -- as a -- basically in a blue-collar job, an hourly worker. Her mom worked as a secretary. And they lived in a tiny -- they didn’t even live in a house, they lived upstairs above her aunt's house. And so neither of us really had a whole lot when we were growing up, but the one thing that we had was parents who insisted on getting a good education.

And I want you all to know that despite the good home training I was getting, that when I was in 9th and 10th grade, I was still kind of a goof-off and I didn’t study as hard as I could have. I was a lot more concerned about basketball. I made some mistakes when I was in high school, wasn’t as focused as I should have been. But the fact that my parents -- that my mother and my grandparents had emphasized education allowed me to make up for some of those mistakes and still get into a good college. And when I got to college, I was then able to really bear down and focus on education.

Michelle, she was a good student the whole time. She was sort of a goody-two-shoes. (Laughter.) And she just did well in high school, and then she went to college and then she went to law school, and she just was always really organized and together.

But the point is, is that both of us were able to succeed not because of who our parents were, not because we came from a lot of wealth or because we had a lot of connections, but it was mainly just because we ended up getting into good schools and we worked hard and we did well.

All of you are in that same position. And as I look out at this class, I say to myself, you guys remind me of me and Michelle. And you're in the same position that we were. We were no different. You have the same opportunities that we had. The key is for you to seize those opportunities.

And the reason I wanted to come by to talk to students -- and then we're going to talk to students all across the country -- Arne is working really hard to make sure that your schools are well equipped; we're trying to get more money in the budget for things like computers, and we want to make sure that we're getting the very best teachers and that they're getting all the training they need -- we're doing everything we can as adults to give you a good learning situation. But ultimately, we can't force you to learn. Not even your parents can force you to learn. Ultimately, you've got to want to learn. You've got to realize that education is your ticket. And that education is not going to happen just because you show up, although showing up helps, so I want to make sure everybody --

SECRETARY DUNCAN: We're glad you're here.

THE PRESIDENT: We're glad you're here. You've got to be hungry to want to learn more -- whatever the subject is. And if you have that hunger and that drive and that passion, you're going to do well. And if you don't, you know, you're just going to do okay, you'll be mediocre. And I don't think that's what any of you want for your lives.

So that's the main message that I wanted to send is, take advantage of the opportunity. If you are hungry for learning, you will find teachers that want to help you. You will -- your parents will be there for you. The community will be there. You will be able to finance college. You will be able to get a good job. You will be able to have a successful career. But you've got to want it. And that's the main message that we wanted to send.

So, with that, we've got about 20 minutes just to go back and forth. And I know, like I said, it's a little intimidating having these folks around. But it's not every day that you get a chance to talk to the President. (Laughter.) I'm not going to call on anybody. Just whoever has a question or a comment, a suggestion, an idea about what you think would make school better, things that you think make it tough for some kids, even if it's not you, but things that you've heard that you think we should know. Questions about Bo, my dog, that's okay, too. (Laughter.) Whatever comes to mind.

So who wants to start off? I know -- there you go. That's what I'm talking about. We got a mic, so everybody can hear you. Introduce yourself.

STUDENT: How has your life changed?

THE PRESIDENT: What's your name?


THE PRESIDENT: Jimmy. How has my life changed?

SECRETARY DUNCAN: That's a good question.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, when you announce that you're running for President -- first of all, I was a U.S. senator before I was President, so people already sort of knew me but just in Illinois, in my home state, in Chicago. And when you announce that you're running for President, suddenly a lot more people know you. And then slowly you get Secret Service. And then when you win the nomination you get more Secret Service. And then when you become President, then everything just shuts down. And so one of the biggest changes in my life is that I can't just do things normally like I used to be able to do them. And that's hard sometimes. I mean, I can't just get in my car, go to the store, pick up some -- whatever it is that I feel like picking up. I can't go take a walk without shutting down a whole bunch of roads and really inconveniencing a lot of people. (Laughter.)

And so in terms of my own personal life, I think the biggest change is that I'm inside what's called the bubble. I can't just do things on the spur of the moment. And that's actually the toughest thing about being President, because you want to just be able to interact with people normally, right? And these days either people are waving and really happy to see me, or they're booing me, saying -- (laughter) -- you know. But nobody just kind of interacts with you in a normal way.

The good thing about being President is I've got this really nice home office called the Oval Office -- (laughter) -- and it means that I don't have a commute. Basically I walk downstairs, I'm in my office, I'm working, and then I can leave to get home in time to have dinner with my family. So I'm spending a lot more time with my kids now, and my wife now, and having dinner with them every night. That's a lot better than it was before when I was traveling a lot and commuting back and forth between D.C. and Chicago. So that's really good.

Now, obviously the other way my life has changed is just I have so much more responsibility. But that part of the job I really enjoy. I mean, I really like meeting smart people who are passionate about their work; trying to figure out how do we get the schools better, how do we provide health care for people who don't have it -- the policy work of thinking through how can we make changes in the country that will give people more opportunity, better jobs, better education. That stuff is what I spend most of my day doing and that's really interesting. I really enjoy it.

All right, who else? Right here.

STUDENT: Hi, my name is Brandon. I was wondering, you said that your father wasn't really in your life. That's kind of like me -- my parents were divorced. But how do you think your life would have been different if he would have been there for you? Like, if -- how would your education have been and would you still be President?

THE PRESIDENT: It's an interesting question. You know, you never know exactly how your life would turn out if there was a change in circumstances as big as your dad being around. I think that -- I actually wrote a book about this, called "Dreams For My Father," where I tried to figure out what was he like, who was he. He was a very, very smart man, but he was sort of arrogant and kind of overbearing, and he had his own problems and his own issues. So my mother always used to say that if he had been around, I probably would have been having a lot of arguments with him all the time.

I think that I was lucky, though, that my mother always -- she never spoke badly about him, which I think since I was a boy, knowing that even if your dad wasn't around, that you still were hearing good things about him I think probably improved my own self-confidence.

When I look back on my life, I think that -- Michelle's dad was around, and Arne I think knew him. Just a great guy. Wonderful, wonderful man. And he actually had multiple sclerosis, so he had to walk with canes, but went to every basketball game that my brother-in-law played in, was there for every dance recital Michelle was in, was just a great family man. And when I look at her dad, I say to myself, boy, that would be nice to have somebody like that that you could count on who was always there for you.

On the other hand, I think that not having a dad in some ways forced me to grow up faster. It meant that I made more mistakes because I didn't have somebody to tell me, here's how you do this or here's how you do that. But on the other hand, I had to, I think, raise myself a little bit more. I had to be more supportive of my mother because I knew how hard she was working. And so, in some ways, maybe it made me stronger over time, just like it may be making you stronger over time.

Let's get a young lady in here. Go ahead.

STUDENT: Hi. I'm Lilly. And if you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Dinner with anyone dead or alive? Well, you know, dead or alive, that's a pretty big list. (Laughter.) You know, I think that it might be Gandhi, who is a real hero of mine. Now, it would probably be a really small meal because -- (laughter) -- he didn't eat a lot. But he's somebody who I find a lot of inspiration in. He inspired Dr. King, so if it hadn't been for the non-violent movement in India, you might not have seen the same non-violent movement for civil rights here in the United States. He inspired César Chávez, and he -- and what was interesting was that he ended up doing so much and changing the world just by the power of his ethics, by his ability to change how people saw each other and saw themselves -- and help people who thought they had no power realize that they had power, and then help people who had a lot of power realize that if all they're doing is oppressing people, then that's not a really good exercise of power.

So I'm always interested in people who are able to bring about change, not through violence, not through money, but through the force of their personality and their ethical and moral stances. And that's somebody that I'd love to sit down and talk to.

STUDENT: Hi, my name is Alexis. And I was just wondering what were your main goals before you graduated college, what you wanted to achieve in life?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, as I said, when I was your age, I've got to say that I was a little bit of a goof-off, so my main goal was to get on the varsity basketball team, to have fun. And when I was younger, my aspirations were to be an architect, maybe to be a judge. And then I went through this phase where I was kind of rebelling -- this was part of not having a dad around. I think I sort of was trying to work through my issues. But by the time I got to college, A, I realized I was never going to be a pro basketball player. Arne never realized that. (Laughter.) He still doesn’t.


THE PRESIDENT: We played this weekend. But so I realized I wasn’t going to be a world-class athlete. I realized that I was good with writing. I was good in sort of analyzing how the world worked, whether it was politics or economic or -- that those were my strengths. I was pretty good at math, but wasn’t great at it. And the problem was the four years in high school that I let my math skills kind of go, it's hard to catch up with math once you’ve -- which is why, by the way, we need more scientists, we need more engineers, and if you're good at math stay with it and really focus on it. That's something that I regret, is having let some of that go, because I was good at when I was young.

So I think I figured out at that point that I wanted to be in some sort of job where I was helping people, that -- I was never that interested in just being rich. That wasn’t my -- that wasn’t really my goal. My goal was more to do something that I thought was meaningful. And so in college I became interested in public policy and urban policy. And I started doing some stuff off campus around different issues, which is something -- and doing community service type of work.

And I don't know what the opportunities here are at Wakefield, but one of the things that is a really great learning opportunity is to -- if there's a community service program here, or if you want to do it through your church or your synagogue or your mosque or some other community group, you can really learn a lot about the world not just in the classroom, but also outside of the classroom.

Now, you've got to focus on doing what -- your top priority has to be your classroom work. But I found in college that some of the work I did in the community actually opened my eyes and gave me a sense of how I might be able to help people. And that was really important.

STUDENT: Why did you decide to come to Wakefield instead of, like, Yorktown or Washington?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, Wakefield has a wonderful reputation; this is a good school. I think when I look around the room, I really like the fact that it's a diverse school, that there are just people from all different walks of life here. I think that's part of the strength of America. And this is basically what America increasingly looks like, people from all different walks of life, different backgrounds, different religions, different ethnic backgrounds. And so we thought that this would be a good representative sample of students. And your questions have proven me right.

STUDENT: Hi, I'm Sam. And I was just wondering how you motivate yourself to do all the work that goes along with your job.

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. You know, some of it -- I'm just going to be honest with you -- some of it is just you don't want to fail. Right? A lot of people are counting on me. And so even when I'm really tired or things aren't going exactly the way I thought they would be going, or there's just a lot of problems that are landing on my desk, I think about all the struggles that a lot of people are going through around the country and I say to myself, it's such an honor to be in this job; I can't afford to get tired; I just want to make sure that I'm doing the best that I can do for those folks.

And one of the things that we started doing as soon as I came in -- we get thousands of letters -- I think it's 40,000 letters a day -- letters or e-mails -- a day from people all across the country, on all different subjects. And one of the things we started doing was trying to get 10 letters every day, sort of a sample of letters that I read personally. So at the end of my day, along with my big briefing book of things I have to read to prepare for the next day -- education policy, or health care, or what's happening in Afghanistan -- I have these 10 letters from ordinary folks.

And you read these letters and some of them are really inspiring. People talk about how they're the first in their family to go to college, and they're having to work full-time but they're sure that they are going to get a better job and a better career, and so they're sticking with it even though that it's hard.

Some of the stories are really depressing. You hear about people who are sick but don't have health care, and suddenly they get a bill for $100,000, and there's no way they can pay for it, and they're about to lose their house.

And you're just reminded that the country is full of really good people who sometimes are going through a hard time. They just need a break. They need a little bit of help. Maybe the way things are set up right now isn't always fair for people, and that motivates you, because you say, well, I can't make everything perfect, I can't prevent somebody from getting sick, but maybe I can make sure that they've got insurance so that when they do get sick, they're going to get some help.

I can't make everybody in an inner-city school suddenly not have problems with drugs on the street corner, or maybe parents who aren't really parenting well, but I can at least make sure that if they do show up at school that they've got a teacher who is well trained. So that really, really motivates you a lot. That's what gets you up in the morning.

SECRETARY DUNCAN: Last one. Last question.

THE PRESIDENT: Who's got the mic? Well, he already had the mic, so we'll give two last questions. These two right here. Go ahead.

STUDENT: Hi, Mr. President, my name is Jessie. When I grow up, I would like to have your job.


STUDENT: Is there any advice you can give me, or career paths that I -- things I need to know?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me give you some very practical tips. (Laughter.) First of all, I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook -- (laughter) -- because in the YouTube age, whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life. And when you're young, you make mistakes and you do some stupid stuff. And I've been hearing a lot about young people who -- you know, they're posting stuff on Facebook, and then suddenly they go apply for a job and somebody has done a search and -- so that's some practical political advice for you right there. (Laughter.) That's number one.

Number two, look, obviously, doing well in school is hugely important, especially if you don't come from some political family where they've got you all hooked up. If you're going to succeed it's because people are going to think that -- they have confidence that you can do the job. So really excelling in education is important.

Number three, find something that you're passionate about and do that well. There are a lot of people who decide to go into politics just because they want to be important or they like the idea of having their name up in lights or what have you. The truth is, is that I think the people who are the best elected officials are the people who they found something they're good at; they get really -- whether it's they're a really good lawyer, they're a really good teacher, they're a good business person -- they've built a career and learned something about how to organize people and how to motivate people. And then they go into politics because they think that they can take those skills to do some more good -- as opposed to just wanting to get elected just for the sake of getting elected.

And we have a lot -- I'll be honest with you, I mean, there are a lot of politicians like that who, all they're thinking about is just, how do I get reelected, and so they never actually get anything done.

But that's not just true in politics; that's true in life. I think even if you didn't want to be President, if you wanted to be a successful -- successful in business, most of the most successful businesspeople I know are people who, they were passionate about some idea about a product or a service, and they really got into that. And then the money was a byproduct -- the money came because you really did something good, as opposed to you just thinking about how do I make money.

You talk to somebody like a Bill Gates. That guy was just fascinated with computers, and that's everything he was thinking about. Now, he got so good at it that he then ended up being a very good businessman, as well. But his focus was on how do I create something that actually helps people or is useful to them. And I think you should have that same attitude, whatever it is that you decide to do.

All right. Okay, last question.

STUDENT: Hi, my name is Sean. And my question is, currently 36 countries have universal health coverage, including Iraq and Afghanistan, which have it paid for by the United States. Why can't the United States have universal health coverage?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that's the question I've been asking Congress, because I think we need it. I think we can do it. And I'm going to be making a speech tomorrow night talking about my plan to make sure that everybody has access to affordable health care.

Part of what happened is that back in the 1940s and '50s a lot of -- most of the wealthy countries around the world decided to set up health care systems that covered everybody. The United States -- for a number of different reasons -- organized their health care around employer-based health insurance. So what happened was, is that you basically got your health insurance through your job. And you can see some problems with that. Number one is if you lose your job, then you don't have health insurance. The other thing is some employers may not want to do right by their employees by giving them health insurance, and then they're kind of out of luck.

And so what happened was, is that the majority of Americans still have health insurance through their job and most of them are happy with it, but a lot of people fall through the cracks. If you're self-employed, if you start your own business, if you are working in a job that doesn't offer health insurance, then you're -- you have real problems.

So what we're trying to do is set up a system where people who have health insurance on the job, they can keep it, but if you don't have health insurance for the job, if you're self-employed, if you're unemployed, that you're able to get health insurance through another way. And we can afford to do it and it will actually, I think, over time save us money if we set that up. All right?

Well, listen, guys, these have been terrific questions. I can tell you guys are going to excel in high school. You guys are going to do great. And your teachers are lucky to have you. And just remember that -- my only other piece of advice is stay focused, do well, apply yourself in school -- but also understand you're going to make some mistakes during your teenage years and you can recover from them. Just make sure that if you do make a mistake that you learn from it and you'll be fine.

All right. Thank you guys for taking the time.

SECRETARY DUNCAN: Thanks, guys. Have a great school year. (Applause.)
The following is the text of the speech the president is giving to school children. Apparently school kids in Longmeadow won't hear as some officials fear something – backlash from conservative parents; hidden socialist message; swine flu germs transmitted through video.

Just a few months on office and Obama is the most feared president since FDR. People didn't fear Bush like this and he led this nation into an illegal and unnecessary war and presided over the destruction of the economy (aided by the practices of presidents since Reagan).

Judge for yourself:

Hello, everyone — how's everybody doing today? I'm here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we've got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through 12th grade. I'm glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it's your first day in a new school, so it's understandable if you're a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you're in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could've stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn't have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday — at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn't too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I'd fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I'd complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I'm here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I'm here because I want to talk with you about your education and what's expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I've given a lot of speeches about education. And I've talked a lot about responsibility.

I've talked about your teachers' responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I've talked about your parents' responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don't spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I've talked a lot about your government's responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren't working where students aren't getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that's what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer — maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper — but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor — maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine — but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a senator or a Supreme Court justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life — I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You're going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can't drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You'll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You'll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You'll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don't do that — if you quit on school — you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country.
Now I know it's not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that's like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn't always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn't fit in.

So I wasn't always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I'm not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our first lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn't have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don't have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there's not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don't feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren't right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life — what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home — that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That's no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That's what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn't speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I'm thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who's fought brain cancer since he was three. He's endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer — hundreds of extra hours — to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he's headed to college this fall.

And then there's Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she's on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren't any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same. That's why today, I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education — and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you'll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you'll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you'll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you'll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don't feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you're not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won't love every subject you study. You won't click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won't necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That's OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who've had the most failures. J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can't let your failures define you — you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn't mean you're a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one's born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You're not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don't hit every note the first time you sing a song. You've got to practice. It's the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it's good enough to hand in.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don't know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust — a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor — and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you're struggling, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you — don't ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best. It's the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what's your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I'm working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you've got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don't let us down — don't let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


My buddy Bissette and I took an evening for an impromptu boys’ night out to watch the new Tarantino movie. “Inglourious Basterds,” and I have to admit that Tarantino has come back in a big way.

I was not a big fan of “Kill Bill” as I though the film was completely self-indulgent and way too long. “Deathproof” literally made me nod off.

“Basterds” is a rather ingenious film. It has an almost silly comic book/pulp novel exterior with a real story in the core. The film is essentially what comic book writers would have love have done in the 1940s – write a superhero comic in which the hero ends the war by killing Hitler. Why didn’t Superman or Capt. Marvel do that? Of course those fictional characters couldn’t tread on such narrative ground without evoking cries of bad taste as real men and women were risking their lives fighting Hitler.

But over 60 years after the end of the war, perhaps in Tarantino’s eyes it is fair game to produce a wish fulfillment movie the creative team behind Superman in the 1940s would have secretly approved.

The real core of the film is the story of the SS officer played by Christoph Waltz and the Jewish girl he allowed to escape played by Melanie Laurent. These two actors give great, grounded performances that are certainly Oscar worthy.

I’m sure some people will be horrified by the movie’s ending –SPOILER ALERT – that Hitler dies at the hands of a French Jew seeking justice as well as two of the Basterds because some younger people might actually believe that is how the war in Europe ended. My response is: just how ignorant are people today? Unless a movie claims to be a documentary, one should assume everything you see on the screen is fiction, even those movies that carry the tag “inspired on real events” – perhaps especially those films.

Might I add: Puuulleease!

When I saw “District 9” today – a very impressive film that I liked a great deal – I talked a bit with a young man selling the tickets. He made the observation that Tarantino was making movies for older people considering some of the references in “basterds.” The director is 47 years old and while he is younger than me, he is no Gen Xer.

Here are some of the things I caught that might go over the heads of younger audiences:

Brad Pitt’s juts out his jaw at times and I could help but think of heroic actors such as Jack Holt – go ahead Google him. However at times his moustache and hairstyle make him look like Clark Gable.

While the title of the film is a homage to an Italian drive-in movie starring Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson, the gimmick of a terrorist group behind the lines is not unlike “The Dirty Dozen.”

While people easily caught the role played by Mike Myers, I doubt that unless you read the credits you’d realize Rod Taylor, the actor who made dozens of films including “The Birds” and “The Time Machine”, played Winston Churchill.

Max Linder, who is spoken about by the German private as being superior to Chaplin, was one of the earliest stars of cinema and influenced comedian who came after him.

I loved all of the references to film figures. The theater in Paris was playing a mountain climbing film starring Leni Riefenstahl, the German actress turned director who made propaganda movies including “Triumph of the Will.” Most Americans might have heard of her as a controversial, to say the least, director and not know of her acting career.

Emil Jannings was one of the great actors of the 1920s who made films in Europe and in Hollywood. His heavy accent ended his career in Hollywood and he was one of the people in the German film industry who embraced the Nazis instead of fleeing from them.

There is a reference about what Joseph Goebbels was doing to UFA (Uffa) in the film that probably is puzzling to many. The propaganda minister had taken over UFA, the most prominent studio in Germany, in order to produce films to further the Nazi cause and to try to distract the German people from the realities of war.

I’m sure there are more. I’ll catch some more when I see the film again.