Saturday, July 30, 2016

Election 2016 is about "Normal" vs. "Abnormal"

I'll just keep saying it and hoping that a few Republicans, or like me independents who aren't thrilled by Hillary Clinton, realize and accept that the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States would represent a collossal disaster of political ignorance and misguided voting. It's not just about policies - though The Donald's are certainly ripe for criticism. This is about integrity, dignity, and respect. And Donald Trump is just an incredibly crass, immature, ignorant, unsophisticated, vindictive, bigoted, horrible, awful person.

The recent national conventions of both the Democratic and Republican parties offered glaringly disparate portraits of their nominees and their visions for America. It wasn't just about liberal vs conservative or Democrat vs Republican; it was, as political writer Ezra Klein so adroitly explains, about a normal person/platform and an abnormal one.

Please don't vote for that .... uh, .... person.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Wine Views - "Drinking the Old Stuff"

It's a great time to be a wine drinker, especially in the High Country with all the wine and jazz fests. While I enjoy beer, wine, and bourbon, I am developing in the direction of being a Wine Enthusiast, though I still consider myself a novice. A recent wine tasting with a friend led to my current immersion in Rex Pickett's classic wine novel Sideways, as well as the Judgment of Paris, which is known to film goers through the movie Bottleshock. So, I've got wine on the mind this week, and it was a nice bit of education to run across Wine Ink columnist Kelly Hayes' piece in the Summit Daily about drinking older vintages - not something novices like me usually engage in. But it has me intrigued, and I admit I was a bit "jelly" of my friend's new wine fridge where he has selections he drinks and selections he ages. 

The point is that for many of us, the opportunity to taste the wines from the historic vintages of the past is one that should be savored. Old wines — similar to old people — have achieved texture, character and beauty that is a result of having been afforded time to mature. Not all old wines, of course. But there are special wines sourced from grapes born in vintages in which the sun and the seasons smiled softly upon them and were crafted by winemakers whose deft hands gently persuaded them to perfection. These are wines that have been nurtured by owners who kept them in pristine condition for decades — never too warm, nor too cold. Just right, as they awaited the moment when the twisting of the cork and the rush of air through the bottle’s neck would announce that it was time for the wine to be drunk. My greatest old wine experience came from a bottle of Syrah from the Northern Rhone. Hermitage, to be precise. And it was not all that old. But the 1990 Hermitage Cuvee Cathelin, Domaine Jean-Louis Chave was one of those wines that demonstrated why having the patience to cellar and keep a wine for some time — in this case two decades — can be so rewarding. This was a wine from an outstanding vintage in a place that is as regarded as a mecca for lovers of Syrah.
I don't know if I'll ever be in the position to "set a wine aside for a couple decades," but I appreciated Kelly Hayes contributing to my wine education.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Michael Moore says Trump will Win

"President Trump ..."

Wow, is that really a possibility? It absolutely is if you believe progressive documentary filmmaker Michael Moore's line of thinking. Moore has been a pretty astute social and political commentator over the years, though his also a rather biased and occasionally conspiratorial thinker. That said, Moore is trying to prepare Democrats, liberals, progressives, and all non-Hillary Haters of the inevitbale - Donald Trump will win the Presidency of the United States simply because there are enough of his supporters who regularly vote to outpace the large numbers of women, Millennials, and minorities who would oppose Trump but are often disenfranchised. It's a pretty intriguing prediction. Moore's issues/arguments include:

  • Midwest math
  • Angry White Man
  • Hillary Problem
  • Sanders voters
  • Jesse Ventura Effect

As an unaffiliated independent who scrutinizes and supports candidates from both major parties, I have been baffled by the popularity and staying power of Donald Tump. Knowing government as I do, I don't believe or support the "myth of the outsider" or non-politician who is going to ride in on a white horse and "fix Washington." But, strangely, a lot of educated white voters do. The same thing goes for the idea that we need a businessman to run the government. That's pretty much nonsense, but a lot of people believe it as well. So, it appears that the most unqualified man to run for President has a strong chance of beating out a woman whose life has been devoted to public service and who is, undoubtedly, one of the most qualified people to ever run for office. The sad reality for the "Never-Trump" crowd is that there are too many negatives around Hillary Clinton, and I am just beginning to understand how deep the Republican animosity toward her is.

So, Michael Moore may just have a point. Get ready.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Bill Clinton Makes Strong Case for Hillary

Oh, Bill.

Just like he did at the 2012 Democratic National Convention for Barack Obama, former president Bill Clinton worked his rhetorical magic in making the case that Hillary is a "change maker" who is the "real" choice in this election. He is undoubtedly, as one CNN panelist noted, "one the great speakers and storytellers of our time." The narrative approach began so poetically with "In the fall of 1971, I met a girl." It was, as speechwriter and consultant Paul Begala noted, a line that could have come out of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Bill just has the Mark Twain-esque knack for taking his listeners on a journey at the end of which we have learned a little more "about the meaning of life." It was a masterful speech.

The most compelling part of Bill's "little talk" with the American people was not only the narrative but the beautiful way he framed Hillary's life as one founded upon and driven by a record of public service. Rather than being an old member of the Establishment, Hillary is actually the one who has always been focused, like Van Jones said, on "moving the country forward." The folksy rambling way that Bill peppered his speeches with stories and examples of how she changed laws and made the world a better places - all the while that he was simply trying to "get her to marry me" - marked this presentation and convention as a markedly different world than that of the RNC in Cleveland and the world of Donald Trump.

There is simply no way to deny that Hillary has lived an incredibly signifcant life of service to those who need help, especially children and the poor. While critics may take exception to her motives and insinuate deep character issues around her focus, the facts on the ground remain that she has lived a life of public service. It was, in fact, something that Newt Gingrich noted, "If it were true, I'd be tempted to vote for her." Well, in all reality, Newt knows that her accomplishments - especially in terms of legislation and governance - are not in question. He doesn't have to like her, and he doesn't have to give her credit. But he can't deny her achievements. And, that image of Hillary working for a better world is tough to counter by an RNC that must promote the dark vision and division of a man like Donald Trump. Hillary is in good shape if American voters compare the portraits of her world and vision, and the Gotham-like despair of Trump's message. And, no one could ever frame that better than Bill. Hillary has a strong ally in "the man from Hope."

You know, I've always said:  Bill Clinton is a schmuck. But he's our schmuck. And for whatever reason, America can't help but love him. Last night's speech was the perfect example of why.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

25 Years after Generation X, a Scholarly View of the Early Coupland Canon

It's hard to believe it's been twenty-five years since I first picked up a low-key, oddly shaped novel about "people our age" called Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture. Douglas Coupland's first novel would go on to name a demographic and tag him as the "voice of a generation," though he would quickly eschew and dismiss that title. A newly-graduated friend working a "McJob" in our college town told me of this new book about three twenty-somethings living in the desert of Palm Springs, telling stories and seeking to make some sense of their lives in the ennui of the early 90s just before the emergence of Kurt Cobain and the rise of grunge. While the great irony of Generation X is that many Xers never actually read the book - which had been originally contracted to a be a 90s update of the non-fiction Yuppie Handbook - the impact of the work and the term cannot be denied. I became an early fan of Coupland's work, and in 2001 I made his first few novels the subject of my Master's thesis, representing some of the first scholarship focused on the Coupland canon. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the birth of Generation X, I've updated and published my critical view of Coupland's 90s era novels - McJob: Life and Culture in Douglas Coupland's Early Novels.

The novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was, no doubt, a pivotal work and watershed moment for literature and popular culture at the end of the twentieth century. It established an impressive literary voice that brought a fresh look at our media-saturated, consumer- and pop culture-driven world. And, it of course named a generation. Granted, most members of Generation X have never heard of, much less read, the novel, and it was the media and critics who have attached meaning to the term. That said, the novel and term remain a permanent part of the American canon and the American lexicon, and that is no small achievement. Along with Generation X, Douglas Coupland’s early novels deftly captured the zeitgeist of coming of age in the twilight of the twentieth century when the American Dream was suspect, and the world could change in an instant. The prominent issues of consumerism, the workplace, jobs, and popular culture are intrinsically linked within the novels of Douglas Coupland and the demographic of Generation X. As a result, the lasting impact of Douglas Coupland’s fiction cannot be denied.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Brasserie Ten Ten, Bikes, & a Beautiful Boulder Day

RE-PRINT: Views on Village - August, 2012

As summer winds down and I prepared to return to school, my wife and I planned one farewell to summer outing with the kids, and it turned out to be a beautiful Boulder day.  We began with the Sunday brunch at Brasserie Ten Ten, and were not disappointed by some of the finest breakfasts in all of Colorado.  This was our second visit to Brasserie Ten Ten, and we started off with their morning cinnamon rolls and coffee.  The roll is perfect French pastry - nice, light, and flaky with plenty of flavor and not drowning in gooey sauce.  It was more like a cinnamon croissant, and we quickly put in a second order.  The coffee was rich and aromatic, and this time I bypassed the adult beverages.  Though the Brasserie Ten Ten Red-Eye won my heart last time - it's a half glass of Stella Artios with the signature Bloody Mary mix.  Not to be missed if you fancy a morning cocktail.  The Hideaway salad is a novel idea for brunch with a Ceasar, potatoes, bacon, sourdough, and a fried egg.  Beautiful presentation and quite refreshing.  Additionally, the Pomme Frites which are tempura fried Granny Smith apples with caramel sauce are sinfully good.  Perhaps one of the best desserts for brunch I've had.  Check out the menu for more great breakfast treats.  Brasserie Ten Ten is top notch in terms of presentation, service, and taste.  We'll be back for more.

We followed brunch with a day at the Valmont Bike Park, an all-terrain park for mountain biking of all levels and ages.  Having enjoyed a lot of biking in Summit County this summer, we were looking for some new local trails, and a friend recommended Valmont.  It did not disappoint, as there were trails that were fun for my seven-year-old daughter, and trails for the whole family as well.  That's not to say they don't have hard-core challenges as well.  The Valmont Bike Park is well mapped and laid out, and it is accessible for so many ages and skill levels.  My son and I had good fun on the Corkscrew - though on first glance, I almost bailed.  Ultimately, even my wife - who is not a hardcore biker - was trying out some challenging trails like the Corkscrew.  Valmont has some X-treme courses as well, and it's great fun to watch the flips and dips of the most adventurous bikers.  While we are big fans of the Highline Canal Trail and easy rides through Cherry Creek State Park, the Valmont Bike Park in Boulder was a fun discovery, and we plan to return.

Overall, a great day in Boulder, and a fond farewell to summer.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Chateau Ste. Michelle - Great Chardonnay for under $15

RE-PRINT from "Views on the Villge" - August 2012 

Apparently, the big news in the wine world for the early 2000s was the ABC movement - "Anything But Chardonnay." That said, I came late to the chardonnay party anyway, so I'm not too worried about my newfound interest in white wines. At some point in my adult years, I began to broaden my horizons in terms of adult beverages, and I've found myself often preferring a glass of wine to a couple beers. And it was generally red wine that I enjoyed - anything from a pinot noir to a syrrah to a cabernet. However, about a year ago, a neighbor brought me a bottle of chardonnay that has won my heart and actually turned into sort of a chardonnay fascination.

The wine on which I've had a crush for about a year now is the 2008-09 chardonnay from Chateau Ste. Michelle, one of the oldest and most well known of wineries from the Columbia Valley in Washington.  Chateau Ste. Michelle's chardonnay is an enjoyable wine in the $12-$15 dollar range. A fresh, light wine, perfect by itself or with a meal, it has some nice citrus flavors - maybe pear and apple in my opinion. I'm no expert, nor even really a novice. Yet the thing that really intrigued me was the hints of oak in the finish. That oak-y, smokey flavor was what I always enjoyed in a good cabernet, or a nice whiskey for that matter, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it in a white wine.

So, I'm on a chardonnay kick right now and not ashamed to admit it. If you're looking for a fresh new taste in white wines, and you haven't tried Chateau Ste. Michelle, consider it for your next purchase.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Best Ice Cream in Denver

So, it's about 95 degrees and sunny today in Denver, and that means we're going to need a nice way to cool down. At some point we're all going to want something cold, and Denver has no shortage of ice cream destinations. 

One of the best kept secrets of the West is that Denver is the type of place where you can enjoy ice cream year-round, with warm sunny days even in January.  And, there are plenty of fantastic ice cream parlors in the area.  If you're not going to head to King Soopers for some Ben and Jerry's or Haagen Daz, then you may just want to visit some of Denver's best ice cream spots.  For my money, there is no better place for ice cream than Little Man Ice Cream in the Highland's neighborhood.  Located on 16th Street in the Denver Highlands, just off Zuni and right next door to Highland's hotspot Linger, Little Man Ice Cream does not disappoint.  This fact is validated by the line that runs down the block on a regular basis.  Though, don't be put off by the line - it moves really fast and is completely worth the wait.

Little Man Ice Cream is located in an eclectic spot - a walk-up shop shaped like a giant milk container - and its flavors are great fun as well.  We always go for the hot fudge sundae - though recently we had it with the salted caramel ice cream rather than the traditional vanilla.  Whoa, Nelly.  It was all that. The whipped cream is fresh and light, the ice cream is rich and delicious, and the crushed nuts make it all perfect.  The richness of the ice cream is what makes Little Man Ice Cream better than the rest.  I know many people swear by Bonnie Brae - and it's not bad.  However, Bonnie Brae is almost cliche at this point.  It's actually better in myth than in practice.  When you really taste the ice cream, it seems more store-bought than parlor fresh.  Sweet Action on Broadway is also fabulous - especially when it comes to eclectic flavors.  The Stranahan's Whiskey Brickle is simply downright ridiculous.

But, when all is said and done, the best ice cream in Denver is found at Little Man Ice Cream in the Highlands.  Check it out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

As Teen Boys Head Back to School, Read "Carter Finally Gets It"

As summer wanes, and the school year approaches, there will be many anxious moments about a uniquely challenging but lovably genuine species of human - the adolescent boy. Teen boys are a wholly mess of emotions and energy, and it's sometime amazing that the human race survived knowing that all adult males had to be teen boys at some point. And as parents and teachers of teens, we are often left wondering just how those brains function - or more importantly if they function. How many times have adults asked teens, "What were you thinking?" when the reality is simply that they weren't thinking. They are mystifying, even to themselves, and we are constantly looking for someone to explain why they act that way. While doctors and psychologists and parents have a lot of insight into teen boys, no one does it quite so well as brilliant storyteller by the name of Brent Crawford.

That's why each year I highly recommend that teen boys and teen girls and teachers and parents read Crawford's hysterical look inside the mind of the adolescent male - Carter Finally Gets It.   Crawford's story, told in first person from the admittedly ADHD-challenged mind of Will Carter who is struggling to find himself and keep it all together during the crazy and intense phase of life known as Freshman Year.

Join Will Carter for his freshman year, when he’ll search for sex, love, and acceptance anywhere he can find it.  In the process, he’ll almost kill a trombone player, face off with his greatest nemesis, get caught up in a messy love triangle, suffer a lot of blood loss, narrowly escape death, run from the cops (not once, but twice), meet his match in the form of a curvy drill teamer, and surprise everyone, including himself.

I first read this book years ago when it was published, and I couldn't believe how honest and candid and accurate it was, knowing this world from my own adolescence and from twenty years in public education. Since then I have recommended it to so many people, especially high school students. The girls need to read it, so they can understand these bizarre peers of theirs who are so desperately trying to keep it all together and still look cool to the girls they worship but are also terrified of. And the boys need to read it so they understand themselves. And, of course, parents and teachers need to read it so they have a clue about what's going on in those cool detached demeanors occupying space in their homes and classrooms.

Crawford's book is timeless and should be required reading for any parent of a teenage boy. Start the year off right and read Brent Crawford's Carter Finally Gets It.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Charles Hill, Henry James, & David Brooks - "A Man on Whom Nothing is Lost"

For many years I've enjoyed the thoughtful and erudite columns of the New York Times' David Brooks. The weekly ponderings of a liberal newspaper's favorite conservative have a way of opening my mind to that which I hadn't considered before. Brooks certainly has his detractors, and its worsened in recent years as few conservatives will claim him and more liberals have become disgruntled that he's not as progressive as they thought - though he really is. And, of course, the critics love to slam him for his pretentious Ivy League elitism. But I still think he's doing some of the best pop culture scholarship around today.

One of my favorite columns by Brooks contains one of my favorite phrases in American literature. It is a phrase from Henry James that I use to guide my students. It's about being "a person on whom nothing is lost." There could be no more lofty goal for aspiring students, and David Brooks used it aptly in describing a Yale professor and career diplomat who had many inspiring life lessons for students in the infamous "Grand Strategy" class. It's a column worth reading and a idea worth pursuing. Brooks describes how Hill was a cosmopolitan man, a renaissance man, who brought an authoritative wisdom to the young intellectuals around him. Here is my favorite part:

Hill was famous for his ability to turn note-taking into an art form. He aspired to be, in Henry James's words, a man ''on whom nothing was lost.'' He observed everything and quietly kept a record.

Of Course Melanie Trump Plagiarized Part of Her Speech

Plagiarism is taking someone else's words and passing them off as your own without giving credit. There is no doubt that two paragraphs of Melanie Trump's GOP Convention speech were remarkably similar to a speech given by Michelle Obama in 2008. Speaking as an English teacher who is professionally attuned to issues of language choice, I will argue that Melanie Trump - or her speechwriter - plagiarized those two pargraphs.

My parents impressed on me the values: that you work hard for what you want in life. That your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise. That you treat people with respect. They taught me to show the values and morals in my daily life. That is the lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. [Cheering] Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.
And from Michelle Obama in 2008.
And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them. And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.
The more interesting thing to me is the inconsistency of the Trump campaign's reporting about the writing of the speech. Melanie Trump told Matt Lauer that she only practiced the speech once because she "mostly wrote it" herself, and so she knows it so well. However, info from Trump's people indicated that several speechwriters had worked with her over several weeks on the speech. So which is it? And, if that speech was "several weeks'" worth of work, then someone needs to lose a job because that was really not an impressive bit of rhetoric.

Of course, the justifications and the dismissals are becoming silly at this point. Trump sycophant Chris Christie - who looks more like a dupe every day - told the Today Show that the speech wasn't plagiarized "when 93% of the speech is original." Like that makes sense. Uh, Chris, people aren't taking exception to the parts that weren't copied. But if you note that 93% is original, then you are conceding that 7% wasn't. And those were not just "common words" and ideas. When arranged in the same order and used in the same context, we call that plagiarism.

In reality, I think this is simply a matter of a woman tasked with a "HUGE" speech to give, and she "researched" it by watching previous speeches of prospective First Ladies. It wasn't malicious or intentional - I don't think she really understood the rules in that regard. She watched Michelle's specch and she used some parts that she thought would work well with her message. It won't matter to GOP voters at this point, but similar situations have derailed political careers. I think it's all just a bit sad. And, I am much more worried about the idea of a First Lady with this in her past.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Food Network Star - Ana Goes Home; Tregaye Somehow Stays

OK, let's be clear about last night's Food Network Star:  Tregaye failed one challenge and put in a mediocre performance on the other - yet somehow she was not eliminated. As the show narrowed to the final three (excepting the inevitable return of someone from Star Salvation), Cuban chef Ana Quincoces was sent home despite putting in her consistently talented cooking and her best camera performance yet. Clearly, the judges have concluded they never liked Ana or her point of view, and they are determined to give the show to the loud-and-over-the-top personality of Tregaye. In reality, the only remaining chef who should ever be considered a Food Network Star is Italian Damiano Carrera. The Food Network needs to remember who watches its programming. Damiano has wide appeal for a Food Network audience - the other two finalists do not.

In watching Tregaye's on-camera moments, I was struck again by how obnoxious she can be, and that was nowhere more evident than in that awkward spot she did with her husband. Sadly, in her post-scene comments she complained her Boo "wasn't saying anything," and that simply revealed how pathetically unaware she is of her excessive on-camera Tregaye-ness. She hogs a camera, never stops talking, loses track of time, isn't really cognizant of what she is saying, and turns off many Food Network viewers. She really is the perfect example of a Millennial social media personality who is popular on Vine and YouTube, but never really appropriate for prime-time. In fact, she has already found her niche market - online, live streaming that twenty-somethings can watch on their phone for a few minutes. And if Bobby and Giada are determined  to name her the winner in the naive hope of expanding the Food Network's trusted audience, then an online format is the only place for her. And, final thought: What was with the parfait for dessert? My ten-year-old makes those for herself. That's not a FNS-quality product. So, basically, Tregaye failed one task and only did one of two dishes for the second task, and she got away with that. Weak.

As far as the others are concerned: Jenard Wells is absolutely forgettable - that is when he's not making me uncomfortable. And the spot he did with his wife didn't help with that image. Certainly, Jernard can cook, though his comments about being "hurt" by the judges not liking "his gumbo" which he has been making for years was a bit pathetic. Jernard, that wasn't "your traditional gumbo," as you clearly noted. So you had to wing it in the time allotted, and it didn't work out that well. Get over it, bud. And the "steak sauce" element to the gumbo? How were the judges not completely turned off by his cooking mistakes? Jernard will simply not be a popular and widely known Food Network Star, and there is no real reason to reward him with that status if the Food Network can't use him to grow its programming. On the other hand, Damiano meets that need and goal. The Food Network execs could send him anywhere, anytime, and he would charm an audience and smoothly accomplish the task.

Which, of course, leaves Ana out of the show - unless she can knock out Monterey and Yaku on Star Salvation. While I can see why the judges sent Ana home with a solid performance that was "too little, too late," I don't think she got a fair shake in this competition. She was the only one who was cooking out of her comfort zone, and she did well. I disagree with the judges who didn't like her Cuban twist on St. Patrick's Day - isn't that the point of all these challenges? Bobby Flay regularly spices up traditional foods on his show Beat Bobby Flay. In fact, that's the disappointing part: judges always know which dish is Bobby's because he puts chilis and heat in everything. But that wins him competitions while Ana gets criticized. So, if you develop a signature POV which puts on spin on the expected, that should make you a FNS. But not in Ana's case. As far as her performances are concerned, Ana gets dinged by the judges for not being a clown. In the classic paradoxical thinking of this show, Bobby Flay warned Jernard against "being a caricature of himself," but then eliminated Ana for not being flashy and showy and, let's be honest, obnoxious enough. Some of Tregaye's and Jernard's "antics" that have the judges like Tai Mowry laughing and clapping are really quite crass - and they are not the general fare of the Food Network. Even Damiano has to act like a bit of a buffoon - which causes him to speak too fast - just so he will appear "lively" enough for the judges. That is the one sad part of Jeff Mauro's story. He became a FNS and got himself on a show like The Kitchen - but he's not himself like he is on his sandwich show. He has to clown it up, just to keep the execs happy. Back in the day, Emeril shouting "Bam!" was good fun on the Food Network. Now, everyone feels like they have to set their hair on fire like Guy Fieri.

Perhaps, someday the Food Network Star will return to classy, stylish, sophisticated shows about cooking and food culture. Until then, good cooks like Ana who could have a sweet show about Cuban cooking with her daughter are told they have to "Goof it up or go home." And true foodies who made the Food Network what it is are left disappointed by "stars" like Tregaye and Lenny.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Grammar Lessons - "Whom are we kidding?"

OK, so how much does anyone really need to know about grammar?

Whenever people learn I am an English teacher, their first reaction is a bit reserved and hesitant, and their second reaction is usually a grammar question. One of the most common: when is it "who" and when is it "whom." Sadly, most people use whom incorrectly quite often in an ill-fated attempt to sound educated. They will literally use "whom" all the time because they think it sounds smart. It doesn't, however, to the educated people.

The long answer to who/whom is that "who" is a subject and "whom" is an object. They are both pronouns, so the choice depends on the case of the sentence. Of course, since many people couldn't find the subject or the object of a sentence if it were blinking in neon lights, and because situations of questions and inverted word order confuse them even more, there is a simpler answer.

Use who in any sentence where you could substitute the word "he." Use whom in any sentence where you could substitute the word "him." I should say him/her, but it's easier to match up the "m" in whom/him.

Thus, it works like this:

Whom did she ask to the dance? Because she asked "him."

Who was at the party? Because "he" was at the party.

And for a bit more information and explanation, I must direct you toward and give a big shout out to the website -

Grammarly is an excellent resource for all your grammar questions..

Taylor Mali & The The Impotence of Proofreading

Sometimes that which must be explained by an English teacher can best be done by one who is also a slam poet.  Taylor Mali has clearly articulated - with the right amount of sarcasm and innuendo - the challenges faced by a generation of people overly dependent on a computer's spellcheck.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

EpiPen maker Mylan, Corp is Gouging Consumers, Risking Lives

The worst thing about the American health care industry is how shamefully and heartlessly profit is placed over people. Nowhere is that more clear than the recent news of a massive price hike by the Mylan Corporation of their signature life-saving product, EpiPen. The iconic yellow epinephrine delivery system is known across the country for its ability to immediately stop a severe allergy attack that could lead to a fatal case of anaphylactic shock. We all know people with life-threatening allergies to things like bee stings and peanut butter, and most of us know someone with an EpiPen. They are a hallmark of school nurses offices, and they have saved countless lives. As a person who suffered anaphylaxis as a child before the advent of an EpiPen, I know how precious this product is, having nearly died during the 15-minute drive to the hospital to receive a shot.

For many years, this product was affordable, even for people with weak insurance or high deductibles, and concerned parents could even purchase a couple EpiPens to have at home and school. Just a few years ago, a two-pack cost roughly $100. Now, it is going for more than $600. Now, clearly Mylan is selling more of these than ever before, and they are long past the time of technological research and innovation that goes into creating products, which can result in high prices. Apparently, now Mylan just wants to make as much money as possible, and it is "making a killing" with its popular and necessary product. As consumers make hard decisions about what they can afford - and recall that these EpiPens allegedgy "expire" after a year requiring replacement - there will no doubt be countless people whose lives are put at risk so the execs and shareholders of Mylan can make even more money.

“This is an example where pharmaceutical prices have gotten out of line with what that drug really costs to make,” he added. “In all the arguments that manufacturers make that it’s the cost of innovation and those sorts of things, you could really argue the EpiPen been around long enough that it more than paid for the cost of innovation.”

For even more information, check out this coverage from Slate.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Two Sides of Gen X figure Christian Slater

"Eat your cereal with a fork, and do your homework in the dark." - Hard Harry Hard-On

Nothing quite typified early 90s angst and the Generation X ethos like Christian Slater's character in the cult Gen X film Pump Up the Volume. Slater had come on the scene a few years earlier as J.D. (Jason Dean) in the 80s satire Heathers providing an alternative to the Hughe-esque portrayal of youth via Ferris Bueller and company. Slater's characters resonated just as much with young Gen Xers - who were yet to be identified as anything other than slackers - as Hughes' characters had, getting more deeply into the dark side that had been only hinted at with characters like John Bender in A Breakfast Club. And, Slater's real-life dark side emerged even more quickly than Robert Downey, Jr.'s, and pegged him as the troubled youth that adult society was just beginning to view a bit more suspiciously. The duality that came in characters like Mark/HHH in PUTV perfectly typified a time and an age group, and Slater has survived, back with an amazing bit of nostalgia and staying power, most recently coming up for air in the dark new hit TV show from USA - Mr. Robot. How appropriate that it comes from the USA Network, where we all watched so many edited "R" movies in the late 80s, hoping that an f-word or bit of nudity might slip by the censors. Looking back at Slater's career, pop culture writer and commentator Soraya Roberts has penned a great piece for Bright Wall, Dark Room on "The Two Christians."

“You see, no one wants to hear it, but the terrible secret is that being young is sometimes less fun than being dead.” It could be a Heathers line, but by then J.D. had already blown himself up. Pump up the Volume is a lot less violent than the film that made Christian Slater famous, but is still a darker addition to a genre defined largely by John Hughes’ saccharine take on adolescence. “I like all those John Hughes movies but I always thought they were a little too – well – pink,” director Allan Moyle told The Los Angeles Times in 1990. “They could’ve been tougher.” Where those movies were primarily about what it feels like to be a kid, Pump was more in line with Heathers, emoting primarily through words. Slater stars as Mark Hunter, an innocuous bespectacled high schooler who has just transferred to Arizona from New York. Unable to connect with his fellow students, he plugs in a radio and an anonymous new persona—Happy Harry Hard-on—to get through to them. “I wanted a marriage between two of my favorite outsiders – Lenny Bruce and Holden Caulfield,” Moyle said. Through his rants about society to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” Harry’s pirate radio show becomes an outlet for the students’ collective anger at Hubert Humphrey High. A sort of prototype for the zines and blogs of the ‘90s (and social media now), Harry’s show democratized the marginal voices around him. “Spill your guts out and say shit and fuck a million times if you want to, but you decide,” he says. “Fill the air, steal it. Keep the air alive – TALK HARD!!!!
Here's Triple-H with the ironically inspiring motivational speech about suicide.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Trump, Pride & Prejudice, & Lord of the Flies

Lady Catherine de Bourgh would be appalled. In the presidential campaign of 2016 all manner of decorum and social norms have been tossed aside by the boorish reality TV caricature Donald Trump. And in Jane Austen's seminal novel of Victorian manners, Lady Catherine - the protector of noblesse oblige and the ideals of respectable society - stands against the inappropriate behavior that threatens to destabilize society. Now, many readers of Pride and Prejudice will see Lady Catherine as the nemesis and foil to the heroic Elizabeth who challenges the norms of society and dares to love above her rank. Yet, Austen does not intend to portray Lady Catherine as a villian, even as she provides a necessary antagonist for the strong and independent Bennett daughter. While Austen is, in fact, criticizing her society and social norms, she is also upholding them as well. For, when the social norms of appropriate behavior are compromised, we are left with the crass and careless behavior of young Lydia and the rakish, mysoginistic actions of Wickham. One of the most important roles in Victorian society was the gentlemanly behavior of the landed gentry, and Donald Trump is anything but a gentleman. And that is what disturbs me the most.

In a recent tweet, I noted that if Donald Trump were to win the Presidency, I would not, as many have frivilously claimed, "leave the country," move to Canada or New Zealand, or renounce my citizenship. But if a crass, low-brow, white trash personality like Donald Trump were actual favored by enough Americans to attain the highest office in the land, I might just quit voting and casually retire from politics and news. An old friend and classmate criticized that comment and began to argue about "Killary" and social programs and debt. But my point wasn't about politics and policy - for I would happily support a John Kasich candidacy. I was reacting to Trump's absolutely uncouth, uncultured, unsophisticated, and inappropriate behavior. Regardless, of one's views about Hillary Clinton's politics, ego, and careless email issues, she and many other candidates understand and respect basic adult decency and mature social discourse.  Trump does not, and he does not care, and that should disqualify him for any public office in a civilized society. But, sadly many people have accepted rude, crass behavior as acceptable, and some will even go so far to claim the system needs such as shake-up. But this is not a classy heroine in a Jane Austen novel asserting her rights and belief that marriages should be about love. This is simply disgusting behavior by a man whose inherited wealth is his only asset.

Donald Trump's use of childish, school-yard insults like "Crooked Hillary" and "Lyin Ted Cruz" has no place in adult political discourse. And, that doesn't even come close to addressing the fact that Donald Trump is willingly and even proudly ignorant of the pertinent details of domestic and foreign policy. He is as aloof as the voters who support him. And that reminds me of another classic work, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, in which a group of "civilized" British schoolboys are left to fend for themselves on an island and ultimately decay into a state of anarchy and war. When asked about his choice of protagonists, Golding supposedly said, "When you get right down to it, the adolescent boy is the closest manifestation of pure evil you'll find anywhere on earth." That's a pretty fair assessment of the potential danger in a society that believes Trump is a leader.

Monday, July 11, 2016

With Trump as a Candidate, America is Already in Trouble

Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is only the latest prominent voice to imply - or directly state - that if Donald Trump becomes president, the country is in serious trouble. In an interview with the New York Times, Ginsberg said she "could not imagine" what the country would be like with Trump as President and she doesn't "even want to contemplate that." It was a rare example of a federal justice weighing in with strong political views, and some are criticizing her for crossing such a line. And I don't really have a problem with that - she is still a voter and a citizen.

But I am more interested in the belief that a "President Trump" would represent some catastrophic moment for the country. Critics are implying that Trump would be able to effect changes or set precedents or take actions that would seriously harm the country. And, I've argued against that basic idea simply because of the nature of the government and protections from the separation of powers. That said, I do believe the Trump candidacy is serious problem. But it's not about what he would do - it's about what he's already done and what he represents.

Donald Trump is a crass, disgusting, unsophisticated, ingnorant, hateful, ego-maniacal, bigoted, and mysoginistic tool. His "achievements" are nothing more than his inherited wealth and the subsequent "career" he has created in real estate and reality TV. If Donald Trump has actually appealed to enough people that he is an actual Presidential candidate, then I believe America is already in pretty deep trouble. It's sad and truly baffling that millions of Americans are naive and disgruntled enough to be duped by a demagogue like Trump.

Trump represents and feeds upon some pretty base instincts, and that is a far worse problem.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Food Network Star - Disappointed Erin Campbell Eliminated on Disappointing Season

OK, to be clear: none of the competitors on Season 12 of the Food Network's most popular show, Food Network Star, is ever going to be a Food Network Star. Seriously. Is there a Bobby Flay or Guy Fieri or Tyler Florence or even Jeff Mauro anywhere in this bunch? Not even close. And that's the problem with this show which remains mildly entertaining but long ago lost the ability to live up to its name. Tonight the bubbly, or rather goofy, pastry chef Erin Campbell went home, and she had quite a bit to say about that. Sadly, none of it mattered.

Erin, your promise of chocolate decadence was anything but. When given a chance to shine with a dessert you decided to try and jazz up a chocolate chip cookie. What? Really? And as for your snappy response to Bobby Flay that you literally "sell thousands of these cookies"?  What's that supposed to mean? Twinkies and Chips Ahoy cookies sell millions a year - that doesn't mean they are good. It means that Americans are pretty pedestrian eaters with almost no real taste for good food.

As far as the rest of them, I can't wait for this to be over. The star should probably be Ana because she is clearly the best cook. Granted, she would be impossible to work with for many people, but at least she knows food, knows her point of view, and knows who she is.

Jernard cannot go home fast enough. That guy just kind of weirds me out. Tonight, Bobby told him he took his creepy "love chef" schtick too far - but he's taken it too far every episode. And while he can cook, I cringe every time he starts talking. Amusingly, Bobby Flay wisely warned Jernard against the danger of "becoming a caricature of yourself." That is great insight that I've heard before. But, for the Food Network Stars? Hello! Alton Brown has become nothing but a caricature, and that is such a shame. While Alton was once a mild curmudgeon, he is now a crass, snarky, uncultured, snotty character who appears to revel in insults and sadism. That's a sad fall for the originator of one of the best cooking shows ever, Good Eats.

Tregaye is for some bizarre reason the apparent favorite of judge Bobby Flay, but she is way too over-the-top every minute with her hands flailing about and her endless slangy quips that don't really say anything. Tregaye is the first to admit that often she doesn't even know what words are coming out of her mouth. What was it about the food tonight - it was "slithering" on the plate? Tregaye just sort of babbles on with her social media vibe, and while that can be amusing on Snapchat, it's not really the quality we expect of prime time television. The Food Network already has two loud, crass personalities in Rachael Ray and Anne Burrell. Tregaye may be amusing in a six-second Vine spot, and she could probably do some mildly entertaining YouTube spots or commercials. But Food Netwok Star? Give me a break.

Damiano can certainly cook, and he is no doubt engaging and easy to look at. That quality, of course, qualifies him for being only the latest contestant that Giada is so gauchely crushing on. It's really become quite embarrassing to watch a cultured and classy woman like Giada slip into giddy school girl flirtations with young Italian men on the show. Giada, you are a major personality who has sadly let your relationship issues become tabloid gossip. Try to rise above that when you are actually working in front of the camera.

So, we're left with a show that continues to leak credibility like a Titanic cooking cruise.

Oh, and what's with the apparent sponsorship of the episode by Popeye's Fried Chicken? Eewhhh. That's just ... yuck. And, that's the first time I recall the Food Network promoting a fast food franchise. Perhaps another sign of how far we've fallen. The Food Network used to elevate standards, and now it's just lowering itself to the eating habits of far too many Americans. Oh, the pursuit of the almighty dollar. I expect more from people like Bob Tuschman and Dierdre O'Hearn. Come on, guys. It doesn't just have to be about ad revenue. Does it?

Parenting in the Gen X/Millennial Age

Everybody has something to say about "other people's kids." You know, how kids these days are out of control, and how people need to discipline more and take care of their kids. But, of course, we also live in the era of "helicopter parents," who are over-parenting to the point of driving their kids' teachers and college professors and even bosses nuts. I certainly have strong feelings about how many parents are doing it wrong. Certainly, people probably have issues with my parenting - though my kids really are quite incredible. A couple of new manifesto's about parenting are joining the shelves at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, alongside the thousands of other "How to Parent" books that have pledged to give new parents the tools of the trade. We've learned a lot - and nothing at all - since the early advice of Dr. Spock.

Alison Gopnik of the Wall Street Journal makes an interesting argument "Against Parenting" in a Saturday Essay of the WSJ (adapted from her upcoming book The Gardener and the Carpenter). I was intrigued by Dr. Gopnik's assertion that we are making a mistake if we turn the word parent into a verb. Since we don't "wife" or "child" or "brother," we shouldn't talk about parenting. Because the idea of a "parent" is that it's something we are, not something we do. I could, of course, take a linquistic exception to her claim, for we are really just substituting the world "parenting" for "raising a child." And some people do not do much of that. But I like the idea that the idea of a parent is more an identity than a job. And Gopnik's really interesting idea against parenting is the mis-guided belief of too many parents these days that specific things they do will produce desired results in their kids. If they send the kid to a camp or play Mozart to their womb that their kids will miraculously turn into Ivy League success stories. It simply doesn't work that way.

As individual parents and as a community, our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it is to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows. Our job is not to make a particular kind of child but to provide a protected space of love, safety and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish. It’s not easy to be a parent, especially in the U.S. right now. It takes time and energy and money to provide the support and nurture that children need. We evolved in small-scale societies, where an extended group of caregivers could spontaneously provide resources for the children they loved. In a big, postindustrial world, we treat most human activities as if they were either a kind of production or a kind of consumption—so that raising children is seen as either very badly paid work or a very expensive kind of luxury. But the “parenting” industry isn’t the answer. Instead, we have to find a way to help parents be parents, and to provide the love and care that all children deserve.
Another trustworthy voice in the world of parenting, or raising kids, is Dr. Leonard Sax who just released a new study called The Collapse of Parenting.  Sax, who did some brilliant work in his book Why Gender Matters argues that contemporary parents - which mostly means the Baby Boomers, but is spreading to Generation X - have ceded authority to their kids and are doing psychological and emotional damage by being afraid to parent.

The point of the book is, look, you need to give kids choices in some domains but not in others. I'm seeing a lot of parents who are really confused about in what domain is it appropriate to give kids a choice. For example, is it OK for your 14-year-old to take their cell phone to bed with them? My answer is no. But so many parents think it is their job to be their child's best friend. That's not your job. Your job is to keep your child safe, make sure they get a good night's sleep and give them a grounding and confidence and help them to know who they are as human beings.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Read & Listen to Chimamanda Adichie

In this complicated and confusing day and age, with issues of race and identity peppering our daily lives through politics and entertainment and, yes, certainly tragedy, I can think of no more pertinent voice than that of the beautifully poetic and insightfully wise Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie. I am currently wrapped up in her novel Americana, which tells a complex and intricately woven story of a Nigerian woman living in America. The book was recommended by a good friend who is also a school board member who always asks first, "So, what are you reading?" Adichie's story captivated her, and she had to share the title. Since then, my wife and my teenage son have both devoured the book, and now I am immersed in the story of Ifemelu, a young Black woman who shares the fascinateing revelation that she wasn't ever really aware of being black until she came to America. Here's an overview from a brief review from NPR:

In Americanah, a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, moves to the United States for school, leaving behind her boyfriend, Obinze, and her family. It's a story of relocation, far-flung love and life as an alien, spread across three continents. It's also about the lonely but privileged perspective a stranger gains by entering a new culture. Indeed, it's more powerful than that inAmericanah, because Ifemelu experiences America both as a black woman and as an African woman. In the U.S., those two identities combine for experiences dark and light that Adichie skillfully renders in gray scale.

Adichie's perspective on race and culture is valuable for the third-party view that it offers. But more than that, her stories are simply rich and engaging narratives of humanity. Her voice and vision are so rich in the depth she brings to so many characters who flit in and out of Ifemelu's life. I can't really describe how much her language affects me, but I hope many people read her works and share her impact. I first learned of Adichie several years ago when a colleague introduced us to her powerful and engaging TED Talk about the "Danger of the Single Story." The insight about identity and the problematic way that we view diversity is so important in contemporary society. Reminiscient of Harper Lee's lessons from Atticus about "walking around in someone else's skin," the single story idea must come to be understood by those who live aloof to the narrowness of their worlds.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Breckenridge Getaway

Breckenridge is my family's favorite place in the mountains, and it truly is the perfect mountain town.  While we are not a big ski family, we love the trails and activities in the summer, and even manage to get in some cross country skiing on ocassion. In fact, we love Breck so much we became property owners a few years ago, purchasing a time share at the Grand Lodge on Peak 7. The Grand Lodge is a ski-in/ski-out resort, and just a few days ago we finished off our 4th of July celebration with the unique pleasure of soaking in a hot tub and pool looking up at the gorgeous peaks of Summit County.

Another benefit of our ownership at the Grand Lodge is our enrollment in the Interval International time share system for trading our spot. We've gone to Park City and Beaver Creek and Orlando, and we have a romantic trip planned for Aruba as well. It's a pretty cool system that enables middle class people like me to enjoy vacations at places we could never truly afford at face value.

For a chance to share in the fun and soak up a little Breckenridge atmosphere, it's worth checking out a great deal for a couple nights in Breck. Take a look at the Breckenridge Grand Vacations website, and consider a trip to the quintessential mountain town. And, feel free to tell them Michael sent you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Break Means Break - But, oh, the Summer Slide?

As we pass the mid-summer holiday, and students realize that autumn is beginning to encroach on the freedom of vacation, many teens will begin to cautiously eye that "summer reading" or "math packet" collecting dust in the corner of their rooms. The reason behind the idea of summer homework is the concern about the "Summer Slide," which sounds like a great vacation water spot but is actually the idea that when kids aren't in school, they lose the skills and content from the previous year. It's been used as an argument to end summer vacation, but that is a terrible idea. Granted, there is plenty of evidence that students need to stay mentally active during the summer, and we certainly hope they read a book or two. In reality, students of college-educated middle class homes do not exhibit the slide the way struggling students of financially-lower demographics do. Reading and summer activities are clearly key. That said, I have long been a proponent of the idea the Break Means Break. Especially during fall, winter, and spring breaks, teachers need to lay off the homework and packets and just let kids decompress for a bit. With that in mind, here's a re-post from one of my other blogs:

On Winter Break - or Fall Break and Spring Break for that matter - I do not give my students homework.  That means nothing, zilcho, zip.  It is called "break" for a reason, and I do not feel the overwhelming need to burden the kids with busy work during the holidays.  This puts me in a minority among teachers, but I can't quite figure out why.

We break for winter two weeks before the end of first semester and final exams, and many students claim they spend the entire break studying for final exams.  Now, I don't believe that at all, but I do sympathize with kids who have an extra book to read or a final review packet to complete or pages of calculations or research papers to complete.  There should be enough time during the normal thirty six weeks of school for teachers to accomplish all they need to accomplish.  If not, they are probably erring on the side of forcing too much "content" into their lessons.

The issue of content is a contentious one, as teachers revere their content and can't imagine their students missing out on one fact or name or equation or definition or connection.  But this point of view too easily veers into rote memorization of trivial content or, worse, busy work.  As an English teacher and supporter of core knowledge approaches, I completely support the intention to build within students a vast store of background knowledge which they can and must use to access new information.  But nothing is so serious or monumental that it can't be accomplished during the standard schedule.  There is nothing wrong with students continuing to read and learn during time off school.  But that's a long way from believing that the extra "vacation packet" is going to solve the ills of gaps in student knowledge.

So, this break, take a break.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Detente in Colorado's Liquor Law Battle

Reason has prevailed regarding liquor sales in Colorado, and the state is going to take the slow road to "fixing what wasn't broke" to begin with. The Denver Post reported yesterday that the pro-corporate monoply supermarket chains have ended the planned ballot initiative that would have allowed the sale of full strength beer and wine in grocery stores. The corporate lobby behind this plan to monopolize liquor sales was called "Your Choice Colorado," and it depended on the naivete of Colorado's many new transplants from other states where supermarkets sell booz. For people outside of Colorado, this may seem strange, but the state has a unique culture of requiring independent liquor licenses for stores that goes back to Prohibition.

This fall Colorado was expected to vote on, and likely pass, a measure to allow all grocery stores across the state to sell wine and full-strength. Friday, the campaign announced it was ending petition-gathering to get on the ballot. The news leaked out Thursday evening when The Denver Post obtained a memo hung on a King Soopers breakroom bulletin board instructing store employees to cease efforts to collect signatures and take down campaign signs.
Yet, just because the local Safeway or King Soopers doesn't sell beer and wine that doesn't mean booze is hard to buy. Colorado is home to roughly 1,600 independent liquor stores which are conveniently located near almost every supermarket/retail area in the state. And the independent liquor stores are specialty shops with trained staff who sell one thing and are therefore much more able to assist customers in purchasing beer, wine, and spirits. And, I will admit that when I first moved from Illinois where booze is sold in the supermarket, I was a little surprised and even felt inconvenienced. Yet rather than demanding that an entire state/region change to meet my needs, I came to fully appreciate that value that comes when we Keep Colorado Local.

Colorado, which has been called "Beer's Napa Valley" because of the rise of an incredibly productive craft beer industry, is home to many independent producers of the nectar of Dionysus. With so many liquor stores to choose from, consumers will find that they can always find new and interesting products by simply shopping at different stores. That's not possible when the predominant sellers of a product have one ordering form for hundreds or thousands of stores across vast areas. That limited supply practice is what is called the Walmart-fication of the retail world, and it doesn't compliment an independent artisan craft spirit in a place like Colorado.

Granted, the new bill will eventually expand full liquor sales to supermarket chains, but it does it slowly, and it prevents one large corporate chain from driving one independent store out of business across the street. And that's a great benefit to Colorado.