Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Anderson Cooper Shocked that Miley Cyrus' Twerking Shockingly Shocks People

Something offensive happened at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, and the world was shocked by the audacity of the performance.  Well, not really. In fact, the only people who were shocked at Miley's hand gestures and the "twerking" of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke are people who, according to Anderson Cooper, "probably shouldn't be watching the VMAs anymore." Truly, it was over-the-top. But what hasn't been at the VMAs?

In all honesty, I was quite ... put off? disappointed? concerned? disgusted? ... at the performance. It was really just too much, and rather sad for a young woman to exhibit such incredibly poor taste and behavior. That wasn't entertainment on the level of Madonna or even Gaga. That was quite simply a young girl trying to garner attention and show she's "the stuff," and instead just embarrassing herself.  People either were truly shocked and offended by Miley's behavior - I won't call it a performance - or they just felt bad for how poorly she portrayed herself.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

E.L James - Getting Rich Writing Fan Fiction and E-Books

In 2009 Erika Mitchell - aka E.L. James, author of popular "mommy porn" Fifty Shades of Grey - had never published a book or even written any fiction at all.  Now, she's near the top of Forbes list of top- earning celebrities, pulling in an astonishing $95 million this year.  Not bad for someone who began writing "fan fiction" after reading the Twilight Series, and then parlayed that into her own erotic novels which she initially self-published as e-books.  While the self-publishing route was long considered the last chance for narcissistic writers who weren't good enough to earn a publishing contract, it's now considered a more respectable avenue of publishing which bypasses the outdated restrictions the industry places on writers.  E-publishing and on-demand print publishing doesn't require huge investment from publishing companies, so there is virtually no risk and all profit. And for writers who find success independently first, the royalties are far superior to the traditional route.  So, how did E.L. James go from unpublished to multimillionaire in a very short time? Well, the story has been well documented numerous times, and it offers a blueprint for many aspiring writers.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Great Food Truck Race - Jersey Girl Goes Home

It will be remembered as the gooey duck episode.

On the night that "gooey duck" - or geoduck as it's formally known - entered the culinary lexicon of the nation, the Jersey girls of the Boardwalk Breakfast Empire lost their way and then lost the competition. The team from New Jersey that was competing to bring a food truck back to the Jersey Shore after losing their restaurant to Hurricane Sandy simply couldn't compete in the town of Portland, Oregon, despite offering some creative and impressive dishes on the second leg of the Food Network's Great Food Truck Race.

It was a mighty impressive win for the Hawaiian boys, cooking food on their truck Aloha Plate.  Despite not winning the token prize - and $500 added to their till -  the young cooks from Hawaii still racked up more than $2000 in sales, which nearly doubled the next closest competitors - the girls from Bowled and Beautiful who also won the contest prize. Tonight's episode and the weekend in Portland was a fairly entertaining and evenly balanced episode. The girls from Frankenfoota managed to hang around again, despite racking up a $60 parking ticket. I am still put off by their food - and their tough girl attitudes - and I won't be surprised when they lose out next week. Just nothing special about their truck.

The big surprise of the night was the poor performance from the Philly boys on truck Philly's finest Sambonis. Having won, walking away last week, the Sambonis had a very weak weekend, and they were in the bottom three with two other trucks that couldn't hold a propane flame to the top trucks. One huge difference between the Sambonis and the hot dog girls can be summed up in two words - french fries. I was completely put off by the Frankenfoota girls purchasing bags of Ore-Ida french fries, and I was quite pleased to see the Sambonis peeling potatoes and offering fresh cut fries. Quality counts, girls.

Overall, an enjoyable episode.  However, it wasn't a complete loss for the team from Jersey, as Tyler and the trucks of the Great Food Truck Race decided to donate the profits from the weekend to Sea Bright Rising, the charity started by the Jersey team to benefit those families struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy.  For some final thoughts from the Jersey Girl, check out Food Network's site.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Is Tim Tebow "Not Smart Enough" to Play in the NFL?

Despite claims of greatness from supporters like his own brother, Tim Tebow is certainly not making an impact on the pre-season roster of the New England Patriots. In the latest pre-season game against the Detroit Lions, Tebow didn't play a down. Thus, the question remains: is this finally the end of Tim Tebow's NFL career?

For those in the know in the NFL, the asking of questions may be the key to Tim Tebow's inability to successfully lead from the pocket.  Apparently, Tim Tebow was an incessant questioner of everyone on the field - practice or game day - from the minute he entered training day. And while asking questions and wanting to learn is often an admirable quality, Tebow's habit more likely indicates that he simply doesn't understand what's going on and lacks the confidence to call plays. Recent reports on Tebow's habit of questioning leaked out of Patriots' practices after reporters learned Tim Tebow was asking Tom Brady too many questions. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels - who made the shocking decision to draft Tebow during McDaniel's ill-fated attempt to be the head coach of the Denver Broncos - explained "I'm not sure exactly the volume of questions that he asks per day, but I'm sure Tom probably puts a strict limit on that."

Curiosity is certainly a good thing ... in many situations.  But, the real reason Tim Tebow is not playing quarterback in the NFL may be that he's simply not smart enough to handle it. Stories from his playing days in Denver revealed that Tebow had a habit of hearing the play calls, and then repeatedly following up with OC Mike McCoy to make sure he was on the right page and understood the plan. This proved to be a frustrating habit that revealed doubts about Tebow's ability to understand pro offenses and play calling in the NFL.  In the story from ESPN, stories of doubts about Tebow's mental ability to handle surfaced, as even some in his own camp admitted he was probably done as an NFL quarterback.

More troubling for potential employers is that Tebow struggled badly with the mental side of the game, according to a league source. At age 7, he was diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability that affects how he reads and processes information, such as a playbook or game plan. Tebow won a Heisman Trophy and two BCS titles and graduated from Florida with a 3.7 GPA. But he scored a below-average (for QBs) 22 on his Wonderlic test. As a kinesthetic learner, Tebow absorbs information better through using flash cards and hands-on repetitive experience than the traditional method of memorizing diagrams, notes and Polaroids from a playbook. That doesn't mean Tebow isn't smart or that he couldn't develop into a brilliant, quick-thinking quarterback. It just hasn't happened yet.

When the Broncos defense was on the field, offensive coaches would often tell Tebow the first series of plays they wanted to run when the team got the ball back. Tebow would nod, and they'd separate. And then, invariably, a short while later he'd ask for the information again. Sometimes this ritual would repeat right up until Tebow had to duck into the huddle and call the play. As a result, despite starting only 11 games in 2011, Tebow was flagged for delay of game an NFL-high seven times. Worse still was the fact that, according to scouts, Tebow almost never audibled because he struggled to quickly and properly read defenses. And of all the deadly sins Tebow committed against quarterbacking, this was the worst: lacking the self-awareness to recognize and fix these shortcomings.

Despite all the excuses from his supporters, the reality is that if Tim Tebow could effectively lead an NFL offense, he would be.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tesla, Texas, and Elon Musk

If you don't yet know who Elon Musk is, you will soon.

Elon Musk is one of the great innovative minds and entrepreneurs of the past couple decades, and he has quietly gone about changing the world without bothering to ask anyone if he could. From the founding of PayPal to the pursuit of commercial space travel to the first significant and viable electric car of the twenty-first century, Elon Musk is changing the way we think about what's possible. Elon Musk is a man who conceives an idea, and then singlehandedly pursues it to fruition. And he is determined not to fail - so much so that he personally guarantees the resale value of all Tesla cars.  That, in a business sense, is crazy. Yet if anyone can break through on the sale of electric cars, it's a billionaire like Elon Musk.  This guy is an intellectual and technological rock star.

Of course,  some people - or even entire states and industries - aren't so impressed. Or rather they may be impressed, but are too frightened to admit it.  Apparently, the state of Texas has banned the sale of Teslas. This isn't too surprising, considering the state's dependence on oil revenue. However, it has as much to do with car dealerships as it does with the car's energy source. Apparently, Elon Musk's approach to car sales - similar to the way Apple sells computers - is a threat to car dealers who fear a breaking of the franchise rules that give them control of auto sales. The reality is that Elon Musk has built a better franchise system, and he seeks to expose the flaws of the current automotive sales system.

Good luck to him. And good fortune for us.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Great Food Truck Race Returns Tonight in Season 4

For Food Network fans coming down off the disappointing end to the Next Food Network Star reality show competition, there is hope for a more entertaining fix to fill that Sunday evening void. Season 4 of the Great Food Truck Race, hosted by celebrity chef Taylor Florence premieres tonight. The Great Food Truck Race is entertaining and enjoyable precisely because it's real world and real time with no reliance on the subjectivity of judges - which leads to the uneven choices of people like Rodney "Pie Style" Henry. Instead, the chefs and businesspeople manning the food trucks will win or lose based on their ability to successfully market - and actually sell - their culinary products.

If you have never watched the Great Food Truck Race, but you are a fan of culinary shows, then the GFTR is definitely worth your time. The premise is simple - eight food truck teams will compete in various cities across the country to sell their food, and the team that makes the least money in each city, loses and has to head home. In one season, aspiring owners were given a fully outfitted truck and were competing for the right to keep it. In other seasons, it has been established food truck businesses who were competing for cash prizes of up to $50,000 - which would enable them to upgrade and expand the business.

Like any good reality competition, there are unique challenges to each stage which give advantages and challenges beyond the normal practice of selling food off a truck. However, creating and successfully marketing quick, quality food is still at the heart of every episode. Certainly, there have been some disappointing food trucks in the past - and I do believe that on the Food Network with a high end chef like Tyler Florence, the contestants should be people who produce quality food off a truck. Food that is prepared quickly doesn't have to be fast food.

Regardless, the GFTR is an entertaining hour of culinary competition, and tonight's premiere should give us "a good taste" for what's to come.

Bring it on, Tyler.


And the first episode did not disappoint. Once again, the show features food truck novices and wannabe owners who are competing to keep their very own food truck and $50,000. While all the contestants have culinary and restaurant experience, they each have unique stories and seem like they will be successful entrepreneurs. Clearly, the opening bios created some favorites and some biases, and my early choices pretty much turned out as the winners.  Not surprisingly, the Philly's Finest Sambonis, selling the classic Philly Cheese Steak were the first leg winners. A cheesesteak is not a tough sell, and I would have a hard time walking past their truck.  I like their ideas and attitudes, and they will be tough competitors.  The women running The Bowled and the Beautiful came in second, and their menu offerings and business savvy have served them well so far. I also enjoyed TikkaTikaa Taco and the men from Hawaii. Not only do they have great stories - like the Hawaiian guy who saved a swimmer and was rewarded by being sent to culinary school - but their menus are unique and inviting. I expect them to go far - though Aloha Plate made some bad location decisions that could cost them if they don't get into a rhythm. The Slide Show - culinary people selling gourmet sliders - are also competitive, and they have the added story of losing a business to unfortunate circumstances.

The rest making up the bottom will struggle to knock off the top four, and it was tough to see the Irish family lose over a simple mistake - not knowing how to operate their propane valve. That is so sad, but hard to feel too sorry for them. If you want to have a food truck business, operating the hardware has to be second nature. And it was amazing that they only lost by $66 when they spent day two selling a pretty weak salad offering because they couldn't cook anything. And that doesn't really bode well for the hot dog girls. The Frankenfoota truck does sort of turn me off anyway. There's nothing special about their food, they aren't serving high quality sausages, and they come off a bit crass and unsophisticated to me. I'm not impressed with the low class trash talking they started the show with. And they can't truly compete with some of the other culinary talent out there.

Overall, a fine looking cast and show, and I can't wait for them to tackle Portland. It should be a great town for food trucks.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Suburban Hip Hop Parenting

In the YouTube era, Andy Warhol's "fifteen minutes of fame" is within the reach of anyone - even the suburban moms and dads who grew up on MTV, but are now about as cool as Crocs with socks. "The Dad Life" video is the viral video by Church on the Move that embraces that suburban shtick to great effect.

Not to be outdone, several other versions of suburban cool have also made the rounds on the web.

Of course, cool is in the mind of the beholder.

"Jobs" - Bio-pic on Steve Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher Premiers Soon

Steve Jobs life and his impact on contemporary society is truly legendary. Now, in a promising new feature film, Steve's story is coming to theaters.

As Jobs and Apple's early marketing said, "Think Different." Some interesting thoughts from the man himself:

Of course, not everyone is thrilled about the movie, arguing that Jobs' life and accomplishments were so much more interesting than the movie makes them out to be. Specifically, we are shown the awed reverence for Jobs, without an understanding of how he got that to happen. Certainly, the life of Steve Jobs was a great opportunity for a truly compelling picture. And I am disappointed to learn the movie starts with the release of the iPod, and never progresses beyond 2006. Thus, the stratospheric rise of the company on the success of the iPhone and iPad are not part of the story. Nor, obviously, is Steve's passing.  And, that's a shame.

Despite those shortcomings, Apple fans will probably still enjoy the story. And for other great films about the rise of Jobs and the tech industry, it's worth checking out films like:

Pirates of Silicon Valley

The Social Network

Computer Chess

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Caine Monroy's Cardboard Arcade Changes Lives

A great, heartwarming story from NBC news about a young boy's entrepreneurial dream. Caine Monroy let his imagination lead the way to great success when he created a "cardboard arcade." After some news coverage, the arcade has inspired other cardboard dreams for students worldwide.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Restaurant Impossible Changes Lives

This evening I saw an inspiring renovation of both a restaurant as well as lives on Robert Irvine's Food Network Show, Restaurant Impossible. What struck me about the show was Robert's people skills in convincing individuals to change their behavior. Notably in the show about Frankie's by the Tracks, Robert was dealing with two dual-owners - and former friends - who could barely talk to each other about the running of the restaurant. The wife of one owner was caught in the middle and devastated by the conflict. Ultimately, Robert facilitated a transformation that resulted from him asking one owner to seek a "shared vision" rather than asking his partner to "trust me [because I have] a vision for the restaurant." That simple business concept of a shared vision and collaboration was fulfilling and hopefully made a difference in the business. On his show, Robert is never just fixing a business; he is changing people's lives.

Colbert Gets Daft Punk'd

Daft Punk has emerged onto the music scene with the catchy blend of 70s funk and 90s techno, and with that the hit Get Lucky was born. This instantly made them one of the most sought after acts on the talk-show circuit. Yet, there was bound to be controversy for the notoriously reclusive artists. When they failed to reach agreement to appear on Comedy Central's show, it was bound to get interesting.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Monday, August 12, 2013

ADD/ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment

What is ADD? What is ADHD? Does my child have it? How do we treat it?

As the school year returns, and children arrive in classrooms, hopefully ready to learn, the issue of attention-deficit disorder will come front and center for many teachers, students, and families.  School  is often the place where a child's inability to focus and "pay attention" becomes most apparent and can most seriously impact the child's life. Of course, ADD/ADHD does not only affect young people - adults can also struggle with attention deficit issues, which can negatively impact their jobs and their lives. Regardless of age and circumstance, the challenges of ADD/ADHD must be addressed in order for individuals to lead productive lives and enjoy an improved quality of life. That said, since attention-deficit conditions were first diagnosed in the 1970s, there have been many questions about ADD/ADHD. Parents, teachers, and children may wonder what it is, how it's diagnosed, and what treatment options are available.

Among the general population, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and mis-information about the existence, prominence, diagnosis, and treatment of ADD/ADHD. Generally speaking, ADHD (also commonly known as ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder) affects 3 to 5% of children and adults in the United States today. When faced with challenges that may indicate an ADD/ADHD diagnosis, many people will struggle with the over-whelming amount of information out there.  Obviously, the first stop for many people seeking more information on attention-deficit challenges is the internet.  And, people will obviously also turn to friends and family. Yet with so much information - and differences of opinion - on the diagnosis and treatment of ADD/ADHD, those seeking help can quickly become overwhelmed.

Thus, it can be helpful to have a comprehensive site, such as ADD Referral providing extensive information for a variety of perspectives about attention deficit disorder.  A legitimate treatment guide for ADD/ADHD should provide ample information on the basics of attention-deficit issues, as well as access to information which can help people localize their search. And in this day and age, especially with a variety of opinions and options regarding attention-deficit disorders, an effective treatment guide would offer information on both standard and alternative approaches to treating ADD/ADHD. Ultimately, the decision to pursue a diagnosis and treatment plan for attention deficit is a very personal issue for which there is no quick and easy answer. Thus, access to information is imperative for people seeking help.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Damaris Philips Wins the Next Food Network Star

Well ... that's it.

Southern chef Damaris Philips, known for her awkward shimmy and her negative and insecure attitude, was voted the Next Food Network Star. Damaris will be given her own show - in a weak Sunday morning time slot - and the country will have another overweight Southern woman cooking and promoting unhealthy food. It almost seems a bit contrived - the victory of Damaris in the aftermath of the Paula Deen meltdown. That said, thank goodness voters had enough taste not to award a FoodNetwork show to a crass and unsophisticated pie maker like Rodney Henry.

All I can offer is a very limp and ho-hum thanks to The Food Network for the blandest, weakest, most  annoying and simultaneously disappointing season of #NextFoodStar ever. Those are ten or so Sunday evenings of my life that I can never get back, and they weren't impressive programming by any stretch. The sad reality is that the cast of amateurs presented as Food Network Star "finalists" were simply underwhelming. As many people have noted on endless FoodNetwork forums, the only finalist who seemed to have comfort in front of the camera and a point of view that could be immediately marketed was Nikki Dinki. Yet, she was inexplicably eliminated a few weeks ago for not knowing what a pilaf is.Truly the only interesting part of the show this week was the revelation that Nikki Dinki is six months pregnant. So, congratulations to Nikki.

In reviewing the season on tonight's episode, I was all the more baffled by how all of these people became "finalists." And my doubts about the final three - Damaris, Russell, and Rodney - were constantly reinforced. How did they make it to end with all the miserable performances throughout. It was tough to find any favorable footage of Rodney, other than his "Pie Style, Jack!" schtick. And I've learned a lot about who the Food Network thinks is watching if Rodney is who they believe to be entertaining or watchable or "a star." As I've noted before, America tuned in to this sort of low-class personality before on The Jersey Shore, but I used to believe that was because people were laughing at Snookie, not cheering for her. Now I'm not so sure. Either way, Rodney had no business on this show or the network, and Demaris will ultimately "star" in a forgettable show that should remain in the un-watched weekend morning hours. Meanwhile, the network should consider giving Jeff "The Sandwich King" Mauro a little more prime time.

Meanwhile, let's all wait for Nikki Dinki's show Meat on the Side to hopefully premiere on The Cooking Channel, or perhaps The Travel Channel, or even CNN.  And, though there's not much reason to watch The Food Network these days if you don't want to watch endless re-runs on of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives, there is some hope for entertaining commentary and reasonably good cooking next Sunday with the premiere of Tyler Florence's Great Food Truck RaceHopefully, Tyler's show will wash away the bad taste in our mouths from the weak dish served up by Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelstein, Bobby Flay, Giada DeLaurentis, and Alton Brown in this season's Next Food Network Star.

Generation X Hits Mid-life

Born in 1970, I am currently forty-three years old with a successful career and two school-age children. I am also the proto-typical example of Generation X. While much of the media coverage of generations centers on the retirement of Baby-Boomers and the rise the Millenials, the members of Generation X have calmly and quietly moved into middle age with little fanfare or enthusiasm.

Story of our lives.

Profiled this week on Salon.com in an insightful piece by Sara Scribner, Generation X is heading into our forties with little of the outrageous angst that should accompany a mid-life crisis. That's about what you would expect for the "Slacker" generation - which is what we were known as before being tagged "Generation X" by the media, following the release of Douglas Coupland's first and insightfully prescient novel of the same name. We are apparently too lazy to bother throwing a fit about getting older. We'll leave that to the indulgent - and rather whiny - generations that precede and follow us.

As it stands, the generation that represented the first of the latch-key kids continues to simply live our lives, on our own, expecting not much from the world around us. Born and raised in the waning days of the Cold War and the rise of the Reagan Era, the members of Gen X learned to simply get by and do things on our own. That was, at least, the subject of an interesting analysis that saw as "The Ignored Generation." Though, for the most part, I think we were pretty much OK with being left alone. And despite that apparent isolation and coming-of-age amidst a world that at times seemed to have outlived its potential for progress, the members of Generation X, for the most, seem to be doing OK

In fact, some people have argued that beyond simply doing OK, Generation X is responsible for "saving the world." While I wouldn't go that far, I would say the kids of the 70s and 80s are certainly doing alright, and are far too busy working and raising kids to bother with something as cliche as a mid-life crisis.

With a Judd Nelson fist pump, I say, "Nice job."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

David Brooks, Neo-Cons, and Moderate Pragmatic Government

Would you rather live in Los Angeles or Mogadishu? And, is that the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties' visions? Is that the divide between President Barack Obama and Senator Rand Paul? OK, clearly these are false dichotomies and a gross exaggeration between the conservative and liberal visions for the United States of America. Yet, a viewing of Fox News and MSNBC often makes the choices seem that stark.

David Brooks - the liberals' favorite conservative - makes it a little easier to understand in his latest NYT column, calling for "The Neo-Con Revival." Brooks argues the neo-conservative movement represented the best thinking from the height of conservative politics, the Reagan Era of the 1980s. Certainly, there is much dissent in the GOP these days, not only about the leftward leanings of the Obama White House, but also the watered down RINOs of their own party who seek to win elections by appealing to where most Americans live - the center.

No one articulated this vision better than classic neo-con Irving Kristol who reminds us:

The kind of conservatism that Irving Kristol embodied was cheerful and at peace with modern America. The political heroes for this kind of conservatism, Kristol wrote, “tend to be T.R., F.D.R. and Ronald Reagan. Such Republican and conservative worthies as Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked.”  These conservatives, Kristol continued, reject the idea that the United States is on the road to serfdom. They “do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable. ... People have always preferred strong government to weak government, though they certainly have no liking for anything that smacks of intrusive government.” Kristol and others argued that the G.O.P. floundered because it never accepted the welfare state. “The idea of a welfare state is in itself perfectly consistent with conservative political philosophy,” he argued. In a capitalist society, people need government aid. “They need such assistance; they demand it; they will get it. The only interesting political question is: How will they get it.”

David Brooks' leanings - which he articulates as classic Burkean conservatism - follows this vein of pragmatic controlled government. It's the same reasonable vision that George Will - before he got old and cranky - promoted in his books like Statecraft as Soul Craft.  And it represented the best in society and government as understood by people like Russell Kirk and Benjamin Disraeli. Alas, the past thirty years of conservative talk-radio/television and the rise of conservative extremism found in the Tea Party have obfuscated any real talk of "governing, not government." That's the problem of people like Rand Paul and his promotion of an Ayn Rand-ian vision of the future.

Practical know Ayn Rand's "novels" for the naive and indulgent libertarian idealism that they represent. They laugh at the "Who is John Galt" bumper stickers, understanding how truly crackpot the story of Galt is. As if industrialists would literally walk away from the pursuit of more. By contrast they understand the average person's acceptance and even desire for stability provided by a moderate safety net. And American's don't panic at "nudges" of paternalism that represent good government, not tyranny. Brooks also reminds us that everyone could use a little structure and guidance. And they often look to the government to provide that.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Why Are the Pittsburgh Pirates Sitting Atop the National League?

Though everyone knows the Chicago Cubs are the perennial lovable losers of Major League Baseball, an equally sad story for the past three decades has been the dismal Pittsburgh Pirates who haven't seen the playoffs since 1992. That was back when a young player name Barry Bonds was on the team. However, fortunes have changed in the past three years with the leadership of people like manager Clint Hurdle and player Andrew McCutchen. Granted, the past two seasons, which have started strong, have ended on the same disappointing meltdown. So, what's different now? What is the secret to the rise and sustainability of the Pirates - who have now passed the ever competitive and consistent St. Louis Cardinals.

It's the simple rule of sports - defense wins championships.

As the Pirates visit Colorado, and manager Clint Hurdle returns to his old team, the Denver Post profiles the secret to their success - pitching and fielding. No team achieves success in Major League Baseball without solid and consistent work on the mound ... and in the grass and dirt behind it.  Hurdle remembers having the solid offense in Colorado, especially during the miracle Rocktober run of 2007 to the World Series. However, it's the pitching that makes the difference in the long run. Because losing games 9-7 is a standard problem in Colorado. And not being able to hold teams when the offense falters is another "hurdle."

So, Pittsburgh marches on, winning games one pitch and one groundball out at time.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hungry For a Cookie

You don't have to be hungry to eat a cookie.

Rosie O'Donnell tells an amusing story of when she first met her partner, Kellie Carpenter. Rosie had just baked a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies when Kellie came over to her house. Casually, Rosie asked her if she wanted a cookie, and Kellie said, "No, I'm not hungry."

Rosie was taken aback. Not hungry?

"Who has to be hungry to eat a cookie," Rosie asks in dismay as she recounts the story. "At that point," she goes on, "I was a little suspicious of her."

No one needs to be hungry to enjoy a cookie ... or a pie.

So, wonder too much and then have some pie.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

One Direction's Best Song Ever Parodies Itself

The genre of the "Boy Band" has produced as much memorable satire as it has great music, and the groups of young men responsible for the product have always made themselves targets for the inevitable criticism. The latest group to sit atop the charts and occupy the hearts of teens and tweens - and plenty of other fans as well - is the British band One Direction. After breaking sales records with their first two albums - and generating some great hype with singer Harry Styles dating (and being dissed on the Grammys by) Taylor Swift - One Direction has staked a claim to pop fame and fortune. Despite the groans from music purists, One Direction has filled its niche nicely. It set a new music video record with the release of the song "Best Song Ever." And, they made a great decision to poke some fun at themselves - and their genre - with a clever video about the filming of the One Direction movie.

The classic dual-casting where each band member plays himself and the role of a "Hollywood persona" they are mocking - even as the band literally occupies and profits in the very world they parody - argues these singers are not unaware of how they are perceived. Certainly, critics could mock them for feeling the need to portray themselves as not buying into or being a part of the very culture they inhabit - as in "we would never do that ... we would never wear that." Perhaps they are trying distance themselves from their genre. Perhaps they have an insecurity that needs to claim they are not a classic Boy Band. Perhaps they shouldn't need to unroll a poster of actual concert footage of themselves dressed "normally" with the statement, or plea, "This is us." Obviously, the outfits and the choreography that they eschew are simply varying degrees of the kind of packaged product that Boy Bands have always represented. Clearly, the dancing they do is the very thing they say they wouldn't.  But being able to laugh at yourself ... and then going on doing what you do is, in some way, admirable ... or at least amusing.

As far as songs go, "Best Song Ever" is a classic boy-band-commercial pop song. There is no doubt about that. Of course, there's nothing really wrong with that either, and the young men of One Direction seem perfectly at ease with the roles they are playing.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Free and Public Education

College costs have, undoubtedly, become the albatross around the necks of American parents and students. With education debt passing $1 trillion, it's clear education is becoming the next economic bubble. And, there seems to be little doubt that higher education will soon be priced out of reach for most Americans - or it will be accessed for a price that will never return the value of the investment. Much has been written about the rising costs and the question of whether higher education is worth the cost. Yet, those arguments are countered with claims that nearly every student needs post-secondary education to have any chance at a financially successful and secure life.  Robert Samuels - president of the University Council for the American Federation of Teachers - challenges, criticizes, and exposes the problems with the cost of higher education in his book Why Public Education Should be Free. Samuels makes a compelling argument for fully-funded higher education by looking to success stories like Finland:

According to Pasi Sahlberg's Finnish Lessons, there were five major components to Finland's success: (1) all education became public and free; (2) teachers became well compensated and highly trained; (3) education became interactive and experienced-based; (4) students at an early age received individual attention; and (5) in high school, students were able to choose a vocational track or an academic track. It is my contention that we can apply to higher education in America many of the same educational reforms that were used in elementary and secondary education in Finland.

Of course, funding higher education for all students would seem to be an insurmountable cost. That is until you look at the actual figures. And then the idea becomes more intriguing.

If we multiply the number of students in each segment of public higher education by the average total cost, we discover that the cost of making all public universities free would have been $97-billion in 2009-10, with an annual cost of $33-billion for all community colleges—or a total of $130-billion.
While $130-billion seems like a large figure, we need to remember that in 2010, the federal government spent more than $30-billion on Pell Grants and $104-billion on student loans, and the states spent at least $10-billion on financial aid for universities and colleges and an additional $76-billion for direct support of higher education. Furthermore, looking at various state and federal tax breaks and deductions for tuition, it might be possible to make all public higher education free by just using current resources in a more effective manner.

The value of a college degree and the feasibility/necessity of anyone investing in it, including the federal government, is still up for debate.  On an individual basis, each consumer has to ask himself Are College Degrees Worth the Money?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Disappointing Next Food Network Star Pilots - Stacy Loses & the Rest Are Forgettable

I am not voting for any of the pilots in the Food Network's finale of the Next Food Network Star. And, if I could offer any advice, I would recommend no one else votes either. To begin, none of these finalists - Demaris or Rodney or Russell - is remotely close to a "Star." And I would never watch any of their shows. I hope America votes its dissatisfaction with the choices by simply not voting. And, I'm not the only one who is disappointed in the Food Network.

To be sure, the only one who really has a marketable point of view is, truly, Demaris Philips. However, her focus seemed to shift - and really come out of nowhere - in this episode with her sudden emphasis on "teaching men how to cook southern cooking" which she strangely revered to as "the food of love." What? Really? At least she didn't shimmy this time - though watching her flirt (or actually attempt to flirt and simply embarrass herself) was uncomfortable at best. And it reminded me of the first few episodes when I never thought she'd progress. As far as her culinary offerings are considered? In the post-Paula Deen world, do we really need another overweight southern woman cooking unhealthy food and trying to pass it off as acceptable with a wink, a smile, and a "ya'll"? I don't think so. It simply doesn't work for me, and while I'd rather see her win than the men, I was quite unimpressed with her pilot. Just not smooth or watchable.

The only thing Demaris has going for her is that the men, however, were worse.  Russell did not impress, simply because it appears his only true talent and innovation - despite his seven culinary sins - is bacon, bourbon ice cream. Didn't we see this before? Does he have any range as a chef? Certainly, he has more talent and knowledge than someone like Rodney, but his inability to move past the word "awesome" is somewhat pathetic.  And, finally, Rodney and his "pie style," which he inexplicably keeps claiming is "sweeping the nation" continued to be a mess.  He is simply uncouth, unsophisticated, untalented, and unwatchable. Seriously. This show revealed one thing to me, and it's that I severely over-estimated the taste and judgment of people like Bob Tushmann and Susie Fogelstein because where they claimed to see "charm" or "entertainment," many of us simply see a rather annoying and crass individual who thinks he can ride the words "brother" and "fricken'" and "pie style" for an entire episode. Since when did low class, unsophisticated, and abrasive come to mean "charm"?

It really doesn't matter who wins next week because Demaris, Russell, and Rodney are definitely not Food Network Stars. Here's hoping for a much better round of finalists next season. Instead of this season's cast of amateurs, I would have liked to see the Food Network focus on giving some past runners-up a second chance. I still think the network missed a great opportunity when they didn't give Michelle from last season her own show called Michelle's "My New England." That was a cook who had class and talent and would have been worth watching.

So, if I have to vote, I am voting for Michelle Ragussis.

For more analysis and commentary, here's another critical look at the finalist fiasco.

Way, Way, Back to the Coming-of-Age Comedy-Drama

Even for those who didn't "come-of-age" in the 1980s, that era is considered the Golden Age of the coming-of-age films, whether it's comedy or drama - or more likely both. We largely have John Hughes to thank for that, though people such as Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling have a lot to do with it as well. As a teacher I am both pleased and amazed that, when polled, contemporary teens cite John Hughes films like Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club as the movies that most resonate with them and reflect their lives. Those films are twenty-five years old - and they still matter. They matter and they are still popular because, simply put, they are true.

Having grown up in the 1980s, I was privileged to see most of the great teen films in the theater. And it's worth noting some quality films that preceded Hughes' work. No can argue with the premiere position that Amy Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont High holds in the genre.  I also have to give a nod to the Bill Murray classic Meatballs. And this is not to say there haven't been a smattering of teen films in the post-Hughes era that didn't also serve the genre well. Some of the best post-'80s films that treat adolescence and the loss of innocence honestly - yet in an entertaining manner - are Ten Things I Hate About You and Amy Heckerlings Clueless. 

Recently, there have been several films that accurately capture the ethos/pathos of the classic teen films. One of the best is Easy A, which did justice to the genre by very openly paying homage to John Hughes and the 80's era films.  Some of the references are so very Hughes-esque that to not blatantly refer to the allusions would have almost seemed cheesy. Yet, instead the movie comes off as a great teen film. Notably, the writers of these recent films clearly grew up on Hughes' films and are determined to honor the indelible stamp that Hughes put on the teen film.  Last year's Perks of Being a Wallflower by writer-director Stephen Chbosky was an admirable work. In fact, the novel was so good that I long resisted seeing the film, that is until I realized that Chbosky was directing and that he was a screenwriter before he became a novelist.

Now, in the waning days of summer, Hollywood has brought us two films that may just signal the return of the coming-of-age movie.  The Way Way Back and Spectacular Now appear poised to bring back the classic teen film in the spirit of John Hughes. Both of these films have that poignant intimacy with our insecurities that are testament to the great coming--of-age films.  Though I have yet to see The Spectacular Now, I have seen the trailer and it actually aired when I went to see The Way Way Back. The latter is a truly sweet and thoughtful story of angst and loss of innocence in a summer by the shore. The film uses several great motifs and metaphors during the story of Duncan's summer of maturity. And, fans of the movie Meatballs will definitely respond to the role played by Sam Rockwell, better known as the villain from Iron Man 2. Rockwell's portrayal of Owen, the waiting-to-grow-up slacker who manages the water park Water Whizz where Duncan takes a part-time job, is the glue that holds the film together.  The character of Owen is a classic re-casting of Bill Murray's Tripper Harrison, right up to his adolescent pining for the more mature female manager with whom he flirts, but must ultimately grow up to actually connect with.  Rockwell's Owen is every bit as entertaining as Murray's Tripper, with a constant stream of quotable one liners that make him cool and lovable while also exposing his immaturities. Overall, Rockwell and his portrayal of Owen guide the film much as Owen guides Duncan's path to individuality, and, on that path, The Way, Way Back becomes an endearing addition to the time-honored genre.

And, of course, I'm still looking forward to the story of ... The Spectacular Now.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The $4 Million a Year Freelance Teacher

According to an intriguing feature story in today's Wall Street Journal:

[Cram school teacher/tutor] Kim Ki-hoon earns $4 million a year in South Korea, where he is known as a rock-star teacher—a combination of words not typically heard in the rest of the world.

The quest for effective teachers - and appropriate teacher compensation - is at the heart of education reform in the United States. People are just as likely to complain teachers are grossly underpaid as they are to question the "lavish" benefits that teachers receive, especially in terms of pensions. Having taught English in Southeast Asia for many years, I am familiar with the "cram school" - or hagwon - economy in which teachers can earn high salaries in preparing students for high school and college entrance exams.

Of course, that's nothing like the business model Kim Ki-hoon and the hagwon Megastudy have created. Kim has developed a highly respected reputation for creating effective study videos that hundreds of thousands of students access for roughly $4 and hour. He has parlayed that into a publishing industry as well, and he is earning millions of dollars a year - the type of money reserved for rock stars and athletes in the United States. The hagwon industry has received plenty of press in the past, and it's not news that teachers can earn top salaries, though it's primarily an after-effect of Korea's and Southeast Asia's incredibly high stakes standardized testing.

However, the WSJ focus asks whether the "freelance teacher" model common in Asian countries could be adapted to the United States to improve schools. Obviously, the argument is that the better teachers with the better videos earn more money. This "free market" approach to teacher pay is not a surprising focus from the conservative Journal. However, the application of such models in America begs the question of equality in systems and education focus in Asia and the United States. Such a high stakes emphasis on prepping for tests is less significant here.  To be sure, test-prep companies like Kaplan and Barrons make a tidy profit preparing kids for SAT, ACT, etc. However, the teachers for these programs are quite replaceable, not earning rock star reputations like Kim Ki-hoon. And, let's not forget the free access to many videos on sites such as KhanAcademy.com

Of course, there is a part of the "freelance teacher" concept that I believe can and should be cultivated in the United States. If the focus of education is on accumulation of knowledge and mastery of skills, rather than a naive emphasis on seat time, grade levels, and Carnegie units, then much could be made of a private enterprise industry where teachers impart skills in knowledge in the most accessible and effective formats. Specifically, this could be considered an a la carte education system in which students and parents access what they want and need. This could be appealing to many in the homeschooling and unschooling movements. It may not be a bad thing for students to access school on a hourly or unit basis, rather than a year. For example, I know of parents who would willingly homeschool their children in all but a few areas. And there's probably nothing wrong with that.

So, I don't know about a system of hagwon with the best teachers earning millions, but the United States could certainly adapt a more freelance approach to education.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Everything Wrong with Don Lemon's Oversimplification of Race - and Poverty - in America

As if we didn't have enough to worry and argue about with the debates about gun ownership and the George Zimmerman verdict and Lauren Green's embarrassing interview of Reza Aslan, the issue of race and blaming people for their challenges hit front and center on CNN the other day with African-American anchor Don Lemon oversimplifying race and poverty in America. While Don Lemon may have thought he was contributing to a complex issue, he simply ignited an argument that puts people in corners. While it is certainly worth sifting through the complexity, there are some important things to remember about what Don Lemon got wrong about race and poverty. For a brief and concise explanation - with some fluent spoke word philosophizing - check out New York DJ's Jay Smooth's video commentary:

Simply put: starting a discussion or basing an argument on the issue of "sagging pants" or any other superficial issue of appearance is simply absurd. That sort of thinking gets us nowhere, and actually takes us back a few steps ... or decades.

For the sake of argument, here is the clip of "what Don Lemon said," as well as his follow-up discussion after being criticized: