Sunday, August 30, 2015

Grammar Battle - Whom Are We Kidding?

In spoken English, I admit, I will still tell people I was "laying" around the house, and it takes a vigilant colleague to correct me.  In fact, it's become a bit of a joke, made all the more amusing because I am generally the grammar guru of the department.  I never make the mistake in written discourse, and I am the go-to-guy for questions on grammar instruction and assessment materials.  Yet, I still have a few mental blocks on grammar issues, which is surprising after growing up with a writer for a mother who never mis-spoke.

In The Chronicle a couple professors comment on and trace the development our our modern lexicon with all its confusion and misuse.  Katherine Blanchard asks Who Do We Think We Are, reflecting on her frustration with all the mistakes in written English that have been exacerbated by the dominance of social media.  Lucy Ferris adds to the discussion, wondering Who Says Tomato? which links to the fascinating visual graphics/map put together by NC State student Joshua Katz drawing on the recent Cambridge survey of English dialects.

Plenty of discussion to be had in the world of grammar and dialect.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mike Royko on Guns & Kennesaw, Georgia

During his tenure at the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune, Mike Royko was one of America's most astute writers of op-ed social commentary and criticism. Royko was prolific to say the least, putting out five columns a week for decades. And his keen insight, as well as brilliant acerbic wit, took journalism to a new level. A generally progressive voice, Royko skewered anyone who deserved it, and some of his columns remain as pertinent today as when they were written decades ago. One of my favorites is his satirical attack on the pro-gun lobby via his reporting of a new law in Kennesaw, Georgia which actually "required" all households to own firearms. Royko's response to the law is brilliant.

If We’re Gonna Have Guns, Let’s Get ‘em
Out in the Open – Or Else!

By Mike Royko, Chicago Sun Times, 1980s

            I kinda’ like the gun law that was just passed by the good ol’ boys down in a Georgia town called Kennesaw. In case you missed it, the law requires every household in Kennesaw to have a gun and ammunition.
            Darvin Purdy, the mayor, says that he and the City Council want the 7,000 residents of Kennesaw to be armed so that they can defend themselves against criminals and any other aggressors.
            Although the new law doesn’t go far enough, I’m all for it.
            That might surprise those who have noted that in the past I’ve been in favor of strict handgun controls. But my views on this subject have changed. It’s become obvious to me that we aren’t going to have effective gun laws in this country. By effective, I mean a nationwide ban on all private handgun ownership, and strict regulation of rifles, shotguns, and other larger weapons. And without a national ban on handguns, the existing laws won’t work.
            So if we are going to continue to have guns, the only sensible approach is to require everyone to have them, as the Kennesaw City Council has recognized.
            But even Kennesaw’s new law doesn’t go far enough in providing citizens with protection against killers, thieves, fiends, communists invaders, and suspicious-looking characters.
            My approach goes this way. All present gun-control laws should be abolished. People should be able to buy guns as easily as they buy ball-point pens, and they should be able to carry them wherever they go – in their pockets, shoved into their belts, in purses, up sleeves, concealed or unconcealed.
            In other words, if we’re going to have guns, let’s really have them. Let’s get guns out in the open where they can do some good. As it is now, most people keep their guns in their homes because in most places there are laws against carrying loaded guns in public.
            The fact is that you’re more likely to be the victim of a crime when you are away from home. Except for husbands murdering wives, wives murdering husbands, parents brutalizing children and friends murdering friends, few violent crimes occur in homes. So if guns are going to be useful in preventing crimes as the National Rifle Association (NRA) wants them to be, the gun must come out of the home. A few hypothetical examples:
            We are always reading about crime on public transportation systems in big cities. Muggers grabbing purses or gold chains. Degenerates whispering lewd romantic overtures to defenseless ladies. Idle teenagers leaping about, shouting and throwing French fries at helpless travelers. In almost every case, the victims and bystanders feel powerless to defend themselves.
            Ah, but if everyone on the bus were packing a gun, it would be different. Somebody snatches a purse. A cry: “That man snatched my purse!” Suddenly 30 or 40 guns are whipped out of pockets, purses, holsters, shopping bags, and briefcases, and everyone begins blazing away.
            Or you’re on an airplane, going on vacation, and suddenly a wild-eyed man stands up and shouts: “Take me to Cuba!” In an instant, 100 passengers draw guns, begin firing, and the skyjacker goes to meet his maker.
            Or let’s say it’s late and you’re walking on a dark street and you see someone coming in your direction. You can’t be certain if that person is a potential threat. But you never know, do you? So, just to be on the safe side, you take out your pistol and casually twirl it a few times. That, you can be sure, will let the other person know you aren’t someone to be trifled with.
            Beyond discouraging criminals, the constant presence of guns on everyone’s person would do much to increase civility and courtesy. Motorists would be less likely to cut each other off in traffic, or blow their horns needlessly, if they knew that the other person had a gun on the seat next to him – and might use it.
            Charges of police brutality would be sharply reduced because the police would be afraid to stop cars or approach people, knowing that everyone was armed.
            People who rudely talk in movie theaters would heed the warning to “Shhh!” for fear that they might get a bullet in the back of the head.
            Oh, there might be a few regrettable incidents. A few innocent bystanders would be winged. An occasional hothead might shoot someone without provocation.
            But that’s the price of preserving our liberty. After all, thousands of innocent people die of gun wounds every year as things stand, and the NRA says that’s well worth the price of gun ownership.
            As a wise man once said: “You’ve got to break a few thousand eggs to make an omelet, right?”

Monday, August 24, 2015

Standardized Testing Criticized in Poll - And, Zuckerberg Fails to "Fix Schools"

Edu-reformers who want to standardized test their way to "better schools" have been dealt a few blows with recent news out of Gallup polls and the great state of New Jersey. As opt-numbers shot through the roof last spring, and tens of thousands of kids refused to take the PARCC and Smarter-Balanced CCSS tests, many pro-testing reformers went on the immediate offensive, arguing that standardized tests are an integral part of any plan to "fix schools" and improve achievement because we "have to know how kids are doing." Well, there are plenty of problems with that mindset - too many to list - but it's worth addressing the current status of "test-based accountability" among parents. In a recent Gallup poll, an "overwhelming majority of Americans" oppose school accountability based on standardized tests. The Washington Post is reporting how significantly Americans are souring on the excessive use of standardized tests in public schools.

A majority of respondents — 64 percent — said too much emphasis has been placed on testing, and a majority also said the best way to measure the success of a school is not through tests but by whether students are engaged and feel hopeful about the future. Many Americans also said they think students should be judged by multiple measures, including student work, written teacher observations and grades. And they overwhelmingly think teacher quality is the best way to improve education, followed by high academic standards and effective principals. When it comes to the role of the federal government in public schools, a majority of respondents said Washington should play no role in holding schools accountable, paying for schools or deciding the amount of testing. Seven out of 10 respondents said they wanted state and local districts to have those responsibilities. Regarding academic standards, more than six out of 10 said the expectations for what students should learn is important to school improvement. But a majority — 54 percent — is opposed to the Common Core State Standards, the K-12 academic benchmarks adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia that have been under fire by critics on the left and right.

And, in another blow to the billionaires and corporate education reformers, the news can now report that we are five years from Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's big foray into education philanthropy, and New Jersey schools have virtually nothing impressive to show for the $100 million that Marky Mark pledged to "fix Jersey schools" and turn Jersey schools into a "national model for public education." In a fascinating bit of investigative reporting, journalist Dale Rusakoff has released a new book,  The Prize, which recounts the story of the naive efforts of Zucky, Newark mayor Cory Booker, and populist tough guy Governor Chris Christie. The story is just one more example of how corporate education reformers are too removed from the realities of education and the struggles faced by our lowest achieving students. Granted, these kids and their schools need more funding, no doubt. But the reality is that this money needs to provide food and social services and intervention programs and community support, and even then it will do little to alleviate the damaging effects that poverty have on these kids. Rusakoff has recounted much of the story in a great piece for the New Yorker.

In Newark, the solutions may be closer than either side acknowledges. They begin with getting public-education revenue to the children who need it most, so that district teachers can provide the same level of support that SPARK does. And charter schools, given their rapid expansion, need to serve all students equally. Anderson understood this, but she, Cerf, Booker, and the venture philanthropists—despite millions of dollars spent on community engagement—have yet to hold tough, open conversations with the people of Newark about exactly how much money the district has, where it is going, and what students aren’t getting as a result. Nor have they acknowledged how much of the philanthropy went to consultants who came from the inner circle of the education-reform movement.

Shavar Jeffries believes that the Newark backlash could have been avoided. Too often, he said, “education reform . . . comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades. It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than in co√∂peration with people.” Some reformers have told him that unions and machine politicians will always dominate turnout in school-board elections and thus control the public schools. He disagrees: “This is a democracy. A majority of people support these ideas. You have to build coalitions and educate and advocate.” As he put it to me at the outset of the reform initiative, “This remains the United States. At some time, you have to persuade people.” 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Eddie Jackson is the Next Food Network Star

Jay Ducotes, you had us from hello. Alas, it was not meant to be.

By all accounts going into the finale of this year's next Food Network Star competition, all bets were on Louisiana cajun cook Jay Ducotes who was nearly flawless all season, and was, in the words of producer Bob Tuschman, "The only finalist we've ever had who was show ready from the first episode." All the judges found his culinary skills "brilliant," and all agreed that he was absolutely "camera ready" to produce his own show. In fact, his pilot from the Sweet Chick chicken and waffle restaurant in New York was an excellent TV-ready commercial that effectively promoted the locale. As some people noted, "When I'm in New York, I'm going to Sweek Chick." In fact, when the pilots were done, Sweet Chick was the only name I remembered. Bobby said it best in the competition, "I never worry about him in front of the camera. Ever." Clearly, Jay Ducotes was ready to be the next Food Network Star.

But the winner was actually Eddie Jackson.

And, that's OK. In fact, that's great. All three finalists are talented chefs with engaging and charismatic personalities who would all represent the Food Network well. And, that is a great relief after last year's debacle when the FNS viewers voted in the disaster that was Lenny McNab. Thankfully, the Food Network has learned its lesson after the past two seasons, and they realized that turning the decision over to viewers is ... well, there's a reason we have network executives. The masses simply aren't that astute some times. And, former NFL-star-turned-fitness trainer and chef Eddie Jackson is a great choice to helm a show. He is talented and genuine and charismatic. And, most importantly, he is fit. The Food Network could certainly use a strong, healthy, fit athlete in their line-up.  Of course, I hope they actually capitalize on Eddie's health, rather than producing a show on barbeque for him.  I mean, seriously, where did that come from? Eddie's persona all season long was not about BBQ. That was Jay's wheelhouse. Eddie should promote health and wellness through tasty cuisine. I mean, for goodness sakes, his twitter feed is "Fit Chef Eddie." Eddie Jackson is a great choice for the Food Network Star. Let's hope they use him well.

And, Dom? Oh, Dom. It was such a pleasure to see him come back from elimination to make the final three. And, it was great to see him finally find that camera voice. Alas, I don't think network stardom is in Dom's future. That said, Dom is a fabulous chef with a great personality, and someone should bankroll him to open up some new dining establishments in the Big Apple. Dom shouldn't be in a food truck - he should be an executive chef and part owner of a classic new restaurant. While he can't always bring it in front of the camera, Dom could work the room at a classic bistro and have the time of his life. Let's hope that opportunity presents itself.

As far as the disappointment for Jay and his fans? Well, there's no reason that the Food Network Star can't give Jay a show as well. That's something they should have done several years ago when New England chef Michelle Ragussis placed second. The Food Network dropped the ball when they let her go, and the same is true of Nikki Dinki. So, maybe there will be salvation for Jay. But, all in all, it was nice to see a final three of talented chefs, all of whom I would watch on TV. And, let's never let the masses choose the winner again.

Nice job, Bobby, Giada, Susie, and Bob. Great season.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Paleo Headache and Fatigue

I'm not sure if my current gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, alcohol-free, caffeine-free approach to eating is considered a true paleo diet, but it seems like it would fit the mold. After a day, I can tell you I noticed a change. And that change came with a dull headache during most of the evening. Was it caffeine-withdrawal or a serious need of a sugar-fix? Who knows. It turned out to be a pretty exhausting day at work, as the days of registration and check in at a large high school can be ... quite a bit of work. So, on top of a long exhausting day during which I consumed far fewer "quick-energy"-producing calories, I was just tired. Slept well though. That said, I am interested in how I will feel when I start working out. The hope is - eventually - that I see some noticeable change in my energy, strength, weight, fitness, and clarity. I'm expecting that there will be at least a few days of feeling different in a lethargic, detoxing, sort of way. That said, my goal is to re-charge, so that maybe someday, I would be motivated enough to do something like this:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Gluten-, Dairy-, Sugar-, Alcohol-, Caffeine-free

So, I'm still not where I want to be. I began the year 2015 - my forty-fifth - with an intent and plan to "live the life I have imagined" in all aspects from work to health to overall well-being. While I am in a good spot professionally and emotionally, there is still so much more that I want to do, and I simply haven't been living the life I want to live. And, so I am looking to re-charge with greater focus and clarity. Yet, it seems that no matter what I do, I am still living the reasonably successful life without any progress in taking that next step. Health is one area where I look to be in pretty good shape without much to worry about. Yet, I don't always feel great, and I know I have about seven pounds that I could greatly benefit from losing. This summer I was determined to lose that weight and amp up my fitness. So, I watched my diet, cut back on snacks and sugar, increased my workouts, and ... nothing. I haven't gained, but haven't lost. And my 5K time is no better than six months ago.

So, I am making a change.

Starting tomorrow, I am going gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, alcohol-free, and (mostly) caffeine-free. While I am not sure of the impact of any of these products on my overall health, I am eliminating them all to see how I feel and what I notice. Truly, I know I'm not gluten-intolerant or a sufferer of Celiac. But I am curious as to whether there is a noticeable impact of grain, notably gluten, on my health and well-being. Are concerns about Wheat Belly and Grain Brain something to worry about. We all know that we don't need grains, even whole grains. So, we'll see how I feel. For I am really seeking clarity and focus and the simple idea of feeling "better." Dairy is another area where I don't think I have an intolerance, though I did grow up off of dairy because of asthma. Now, as an adult I have learned that dairy has no impact on my breathing. But I wonder if I could do without cheese and half and half. I don't need it, just like I don't need the honey in my coffee. In fact, I don't need the coffee. Or, at least, I shouldn't need the coffee. So let's see what life is like without it.

And, despite the heart-healthy value of a little red wine or a bit of bourbon, none of us needs alcohol at all. So, if I am going for a cleanse of sorts, then getting rid of the evening drink is certainly a good idea. Not that I imbibe a lot. But a few times a week I have a drink that I just don't need. So, we will see how clarity and focus - and sleep - are impacted and even improved by going on the wagon for a while. The caffeine is a bit tougher for this life-long coffee drinker. A couple cups in the morning with the daily paper is a nearly sacred ritual with me. But if the cream and sugar are going, the caffeine can go on break, too.

Looking foward to seeing how I feel.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Generation X Hacks Marriage & Divorce

Generation X - those people born during the 1960s and 1970s - were the children of divorce at rates never before seen, and that reality was instrumental in defining the psychology of the group. Being the latch-key kids coming home to single-parent households, all the while watching after-school TV like Leave It to Beaver and the Brady Bunch, the notion of "the Big D" crafted Gen Xers views on marriage and family. Now adults in their mid-thirties to early fifties, Generation X may be re-defining the stigma and connotation of the Big D, as noted in a great bit of insight from writer Susanna Schrobsdorff who published The Rise of the "Good Divorce" for the View in Time Magazine this week.

After being a primary force in "hacking" the traditional concepts of marriage - with the incredibly quick social change that culminated in the Supreme Court's legalization of marriage rights for same-sex couples - Generation X also seems instrumental in redefining what "divorce" looks like. The idea of co-parenting despite a dissolving marital union gained a new term a couple years ago when Gen Xers Gwyneth Paltrow and husband Chris Martin of Coldplay announced a dissolution of their legal marriage by referring to it as "Conscious Uncoupling." It seemed so bizarrely innocuous, and with the manipulation of language that could certainly be appreciated by Gen X author and coiner of phrases Douglas Coupland, Paltrow had changed the nature of divorce.  The idea gained additional hold with the recent announcement from Hollywood super couple Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck who will co-habit, co-parent, and co-exist while living together but apart on their fabulous Pacific Palisades spread.

While not all Gen Xers have the vast financial resources to make such an arrangement work, the idea of co-parenting and peacefully parenting their children while not being legally married is a social innovation that could only have come from children of the divorce generation. It's well-summed up by another child of divorce, Everclear singer Art Alexis, who sang in Father of Mine - "Now I'm a grown man, with a child of my own, and I swear I'm not gonna let her know, all the pain I have known."

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Dom & Alex Are Not the next Food Network Star

In the competition for the next Food Network Star, the emphasis has to be on "Network." Being able to bring it in the food department is a no-brainer. Of course a Food Network Star has to be a culinary whiz. But this is Food TV, and that means that comfort and ease in front of the camera is a non-negotiable. And, that's why both Dom and Alex have been eliminated from the competition. This week Eddie had a great performance in the collaborative competition, and Jay is just as easy-going as always. Both these men can cook - though Jay is clearly the better chef - and they both have "It" when it comes to camera presence.

The inability to speak comfortably, tell stories, engage an audience, and "teach" an audience something is the primary reason that Chef Dom - Dominick Tessorio - could never be a Food Network Star, despite being the best chef by a wide margin. It's the same reason that some people who are content-area experts make terrible teachers. Teaching - especially in a public forum in front of an audience -is an indescribable skill, or really talent. You can't teach teaching - despite Bill Gates' naive and pretentious belief that such a talent can be quantified and bottled. On the Food Network Star competition, both Eddie and Jay have that certain je ne sais quoi. They can teach, and they could reasonably be expected to step in front of the camera for a Food Network show.