Sunday, January 31, 2021

Must-See Movies for Young Men

In the madness that was the Game-Stop rodeo this week, I texted a meme claiming to reveal the true identities of the traders who scammed Wall Street to my college-age son and several buddies. It was a pic of Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy from the poster for Trading Places. And, one of the more pop culture astute friends expressed ignorance of the image, saying "I know I should recognize this, but I don't." That quickly led to a discussion of movies these young men need to see as much for the entertainment as for the allusions. And I mentioned that I used to have a list of films which during the course of teaching high school, I would occasionally draw from, telling the male students these are movies that if they if they haven't seen them, "they are not yet men."

So, now I'm pondering exactly what I mean by that.

Many of the films were classic dramas centered on conflicts of battle and epic journeys and characters learning values like loyalty through the buddy relationships. Some leading titles are Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, The Great Escape, Cool Hand Luke, and The Magnificent Seven. As I pondered what is was about these films and the characters in them that defined some vague essence of manhood, I recalled a scene from a completely different but equally special film at least for Gen Xers, Say Anything with Jon Cusack. At the record store with his two female friends, Lloyd Dobbler hears an important distinction: "Don't be a guy. Be a man." And when we hear that, especially in our more enlightened age of confronting the toxic masculinity and cheesy embarrassing machismo that often masquerades as manhood, we just know what she means. Don't be a guy or a dude or a bro when you can be a man.

It basically comes down to character, which is an equally ambiguous term to define, though we all seem to know it when we see it. I think of that platitude about integrity - it's doing the right thing even when no one is looking. Trust and loyalty are important elements as well, as well as a disciplined sense of self worth and a quiet but secure confidence in identity and beliefs regardless of the situation. Of course, these are all equally vacuous in really defining what it means to be a man. Interestingly, after texting with "the boys" as I call them, I turned on the TV and ran across the pivotal scene in a great film that is ubiquitous on cable; I'm talking about the night of Andy Dufresne's escape in The Shawshank Redemption. Yeah, I know. It's immediately recognizable, and we just nod. Andy Dufresne and Red. These are men.

Thinking about Shawshank led me to some other buddy films which are pivotal in my thoughts about manhood. Stand By Me comes to mind. The pathos in that film is practically palpable. And I just watched another entry in the buddy genre on Netflix now, a French film from 2011 called The Intouchables, based on the true story of a quadriplegic and his caretaker. It was a heartwarming and also pensive story about what it means to be alive and what it means to be a friend and what it means to be a man. Another film that popped into my head which is certainly a buddy story, but with a different tone is The Sandlot. I mean, come on, "you're killing me, Smalls."

So many great stories about male characters learning what it means to be a man.

What are yours?

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Gifted, Talented, & Advanced

"Every child is gifted in their own way."

That was the tagline years ago in a commercial for some cram school or tutoring center, and I've never liked it. Beyond the grammatical error and the manipulation of the consumer, the idea of everyone being gifted is a flawed and somewhat disingenuous idea.  

Of course, that poses an important question: Is there something special about a term like gifted? I truly believe there is. And there is something special, unique, unusual, and "extra-ordinary" about truly gifted individuals.

Advanced academic learning, acceleration, honors classes, enrichment activities -- these are all important in educating children, but they are not necessarily synonymous with or to be used as a substitute for the concept of giftedness. In many (or most) states giftedness or GT or T&G are legally defined exceptionalities that hold equal significance and are as relevant as exceptionalities protected under the American Disability Act and the Rehabilitation Act. In that regard, all schools should have staff and resources under a gifted title, as opposed to just "advanced academic services," which is what my district shortsightedly tried to call it a few years ago.

And this is not to say I believe the term is always accurately, appropriately, and equitably applied. White and affluent students are disproportionately identified compared to other demographics. And, truly the benchmarks of the 95th percentile lead to IDs for simply bright and hardworking students with resources. That doesn't mean gifted. Metrics are tough because in many ways it's a "know-it-when-you-see-it" sort of quality. My school has a large number of incredibly smart and high achieving students. However, some of them achieve through a lot of hard work and access to vast resources. And that should be honored, but it's not always gifted. If someone masters a standard or a class or a skill after diligent practice, that's wonderful. But if someone masters it almost immediately, is that not truly exceptional?

A great example of the distinction I'm getting at can be found by digging into the problematic claims by commercial intellectual Malcolm Gladwell in the book The Outliers about the the ten-thousand hours to mastery myth. While Gladwell's loose reading and interpretation of data has has been exposed as inaccurate by numerous researchers, many still believe it. And that can complicate discussions of giftedness. One of the best books on the counter-argument is David Epstein's The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Achievement. In reality, some people master skills and knowledge with hard work and access, and others simply do it naturally in far less time. Bill Gates is described in Gladwell's book as having great access to resources which led to his success. It's true. But he is also truly gifted. A real genius. The same can be said for someone like Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes. To be an NFL quarterback, you have to work pretty hard and be pretty great. However, there are some who are just beyond any sort of norms. And some are far beyond simply being the sum of access and hard work.

Some people are just gifted.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Facts, Truth, & Pierre the Frenchman

In the pandemic and quarantine, many of us returned to comfort media like favorite old movies and television shows. We've all had our binges and marathons that have been nostalgic and even healing at times. Mine has been Northern Exposure, the quirky 90s fish-out-of-water comedy-drama set in Cicely, Alaska. When I was just finishing college and beginning to step out into adulthood, the show's off-beat philosophical slant on a traditional storytelling formula just grabbed me, entertaining me while also making me think.

I loved all the characters, but the town's deejay, Chris of KBHR's "Chris in the Morning," captured my attention for his literary ways and existential explorations. To that point, I even envisioned myself working as a teacher in quaint small town where I would have an evening or weekend radio show on which I too would share quips, quotes, and reflections from Walt Whitman or Nietzsche or even Proust.  It was really in the third season that the show, not to mention Chris' on air reflections, really hit its stride with two episodes winning Emmy awards for writing.  

The sixth episode entitled "The Body in Question" was the one that I still recall moving me toward honest reflection and a belief in the enlightening potential of even silly little television comedy-dramas. That one told the apocryphal story of Pierre, a nineteenth century Frenchman frozen in block of ice along the river and discovered by Chris, of course. As the town becomes fascinated by his story, as recounted in diary found nearby, people react in a variety of ways, most notably Maurice who wants to create a museum and tourist attraction. 

But it's the two town intellectuals, Chris and Dr. Fleischmann, who become the center of discussion after it's "discovered" that Napoleon was in Alaska with Pierre at the time of the Battle of Waterloo -- at least according to the diary. If true, Chris posits, it would propose a deep existential crisis, especially after Joel asserts this "truth" must be revealed to the world. In a fascinatingly smart exchange, Chris suggests a difference between "truth" and facts, arguing that "facts remain the same, but truth twists and turns." That one really threw my twenty-one-year-old spirit for an intellectual loop. But it was the ending that stayed with me, beautifully filmed as the Tellakutans row upstream in a their canoes with the defrosted Pierre as the episode closes out on a Chris voice-over reading of Proust:

"When from a long distant past nothing persists, after the people are dead, after things are broken and scattered, still alone, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long, long time like souls, ready to remind us, waiting, hoping for their moment amid the ruins of all the rest, and bear unfaltering in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence the vast structure of recollection."

Sunday, January 24, 2021

"Deal me in" - the graceful friendship of Aaron & Musial

In Henry Aaron's first All-Star game in the early 1950s, the future home run king met a baseball player known to many simply as "The Man." It was very early in the desegregation of America's past time, and it was also very early in the Civil Rights era. As the story goes, a group of African-American baseball players, all of whom who'd spent most of their careers limited to the Negro leagues, were sitting at a table playing cards. Stan Musial, the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman, just went over to them, sat down, and said, "deal me in."   

Deal me in.

Those words simply erased any racial or social barriers and said more about civil rights than hundreds of white politicians could ever hope to convey. And they meant the world to a young Hank Aaron; those words, that tacit olive branch, were also the beginning of a lifelong friendship between two of the greatest sportsmen to ever play. Sportswriter and columnist Ben Hochman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recounted that story today in his column on the passing of Aaron this weekend at the age of eighty-six. Aaron notes that those words were Musial's way of saying "I’ve looked beyond racism and everything."

These two men maintained a genuine bond the rest of their lives, and nearly every story about them acknowledges that as great as athletes Musial and Aaron were, they were equally good men of character and integrity. "I've always had him in my heart," Aaron said of Musial.

May we all aspire to live, and to play, with the grace and the class of Stan Musial and Henry Aaron.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Maybe that Degree in Art History isn't such a bad idea

On January 20, 2021, a graduate of the University of Delaware who was a history and political science major with a minor in English became the forty-sixth President of the United States. That background would make Thomas Jefferson and our Founding Fathers proud, for they believed deeply in the power and significance of a classical liberal arts education. In fact, the study of the liberal arts was the focus and goal of early higher education among those great men in order to create well-educated leaders who were deep thinkers. House Minority leader   McConnell, a political science major in college, would most certainly agree.

In recent economic downturns, as the Liberal Arts programs in higher education have continued to lose funding, the nation has begun to take a new direction in higher education, and it's a turn that will be to the detriment to our national identity. Sadly, colleges are cutting majors mostly in liberal arts to focus primarily on the study of STEM and the focus of basic utilitarian job training. But we go to college for more than just job skills - we go to study to become fully actualized and educated human beings. And those liberal arts can be more useful than many suspect. Here's a short list of the college majors of some well known people.

Carley Fiorina - former CEO of Hewlett-Packard studied medieval history & philosophy
John Mackey - the founder and CEO of Whole Foods majored in philosophy & religion
Andrea Jung - the leader of companies like Neiman Marcus and Avon focused on English Literature
Sue Wojcicki - the early CEO of YouTube eschewed comp-sci in favor of history & literature
Steve Ells - the founder of Chipotle was an art history major
Steve Jobs - Apple - the study of the humanities is credited for the unique brilliance of Apple

"It's morning again in America"

"It's morning again."

Officially known in advertising circles as "Prouder, Stronger, Better," the key commercial for Ronald Reagan's 1984 presidential re-election campaign was a masterpiece of messaging. 

It's morning again in America. Today more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history. With interest rates at about half the record highs of 1980, nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes, more than at any time in the past four years. This afternoon 6,500 young men and women will be married, and with inflation at less than half of what it was just four years ago, they can look forward with confidence to the future. It's morning again in America, and under the leadership of President Reagan, our country is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?

The message of renewal and rebirth and hope and optimism is an integral part of the American identity, the American consciousness, the American Dream. And each day as we wake up, it's important to remember that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Our National Identity & the Tyranny of the Majority

Majority rule -- it seems to make sense, right? We use it all the time in our daily lives, deciding what movie to see or what to have for dinner. Yet, just because an idea is popular or widespread, that doesn't mean it's correct or appropriate or ethical or righteous. In essence, sometimes a bunch of people might just be a bunch of jerks. Or worse, the bunch might be a few jerks and a whole lot of mindless or weak followers. Yet, the nature of our government can complicate issues when the will of the majority takes precedence. That point is part of my earliest recollections of beginning to part ways with political parties and to disagree with people whose ideology and value system I thought I shared. 

Supporting the rights of the individual against the tyranny of the majority is also the essence of American conservatism as explored and explained in George Will's brilliant and erudite work The Conservative Sensibility.

American conservatism is about conserving the vision and spirit and commitment of the founding of America. In explaining this idea, Will introduces two moments and court cases about the will of the majority and the violation of the individual rights. One is the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which sought to overturn the Missouri Compromise and extend slavery into the territories under the idea of "popular sovereignty." Basically, the will of the majority to extend the scourge of slavery was declared by Stephen Douglas to be the foundation of American politics. To quote Will, "Lincoln disagreed." 

The second issue was the case of Minersville vs Gobitis, which was the second court case regarding "forced flag salutes." This one is definitely worth learning about it if you haven't before, for it centers on the suspension and expulsion of two elementary school children who were Jehovah's Witnesses and who refuse to "salute the flag," (which was actually a thing in the 1930s) because it violated their faith -- basically it was idolatry, or worship of an object or symbol. Now, you would think Republicans and religious conservatives would be on the side of the children, but they weren't. And I think a lot about that these days as I view rather shaky and inconsistent application of that religious liberty argument from too many Republicans. 

Basically, the conservatism linked to the founders would side with the kids. But when "patriotism" comes into play people seem to lose their minds and their values. And that's when the tyranny of the majority conflicts with the rights of the individual.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Recreating Gatsby

 Well, old sport, it's finally happened -- The Great Gatsby, that iconic, ephemeral, poetic work of triumph and tragedy that early on laid legitimate claim to the title of "Great American Novel, has entered the public domain. All bets are off now, as the derivatives and extrapolations begin to bubble up from and seep out of the admiring literary universe. And, yep, that means that a zombie version of Gatsby can't be far off.

Honestly, I am not entirely sure how I feel about this revelation, though I must admit I am a bit of a fan of the slew of spin-offs, re-tellings, and derivatives in the Jane Austen canon, which has become quite a cottage industry of public domain access which has only increased the popularity of Jane's original work. So, in the Gatsby world, there is certainly hope. And I have already procured and cracked open the first entry in the Gatsby public domain sweepstakes, Nick by Michael Farris Smith. It's too soon to comment, but the reviews and blurbs are quite positive.

There is something poetically karmic about the story of James Gatz getting "a second read," so to speak. For the entire novel is basically dripping with the idea of reinvention and recreating the past. "Why, of course you can," Jay tells Nick who had claimed you can't repeat the past. And, so we will beat on, back against the tide to revisit and reimagine the story of an idealistic young man who, at least for a short time, became great.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Traveling Writers & the Search for America

In the early 1990s when Kevin Costner released his groundbreaking epic film Dances with Wolves, I recall seeing a commercial for it, and was so intrigued by the narrator's statement:  "He went in search of America, and ended up finding himself."  I've always loved that idea, and countless books have followed that same line of thinking -- finding the self through the journey. And, of course, we often believe there is something unique in the American ethos, our national identity, that comes from are inherent restlessness and mobility. On The Road captured me in middle school, like it did many a young aspiring vagabond. In college I was intrigued by an adventurous work of non-fiction called Mississippi Solo by Eddy Harris, a black man who canoed the length of our greatest river and recorded his observations about heading into the heart of the country. The allusion-filled idea of a black man taking the river into the deep South, "from where there ain't no black folks to where they still don't like us much," was a heavy sociological current in the narrative. 

Most recently, I have enjoyed another book about a trip in search of America and the quest to understand ourselves. Tom Zoellner's The National Road: Dispatches from a Changing America is an intriguing collection of long form essays about various national locations and our national consciousness through the eyes of a veteran journalist. As I read Zoellner's work, I also picked up and started re-reading John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, about his cross country trip near the end of his life with just his dog and the people he encountered along the way for company. And while I was reading those two, I also started, but haven't finished, another work along these lines I'd only heard of in passing, William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways. The title refers to the color of these non-interstate roads on local maps. Each of these books offers a national perspective through a personal lens, and they remind me of our simple humanity.

These kinds of stories have always captured my imagination, and I'll pick them up whenever I can. The books are about writers traveling, but they are not travel writing. At least not in a traditional sense. And, I do enjoy travel writing quite a bit, reading articles and books about locales specifically for the visiting leisure purpose. But Zoellner, Steinbeck, and Least Heat Moon are onto something else entirely. Like I said, they are writers traveling, but the work is not travel writing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Is McConnell playing Long Game? -- Impeach Fast, Convict Slow

 Now that Donald Trump has been impeached a second time in his role as President, the question moves to the Senate where until January 22, Mitch McConnell is still in charge. To quote the classic Cold War film Hunt for Red October, he is "a politician, which means I'm a cheat and a liar, and when I'm not kissing babies, I'm stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open." And, while the word on the street is that McConnell supports the idea of impeachment and has told Republicans it is the way they purge Trump from the party, he is not inclined to rush the trial and will not call the Senate back until January 19 at the earliest. 

And that is potentially a shrewd move, and it's probably the right one.

The nature of a conservative is to be prudent and cautious, and it's ultimately about moving slowly as opposed to being too rash. The Senate is designed to move slowly; that was the intention of the Founding Fathers, intended to temper the potentially radical intentions of the People's House. 

The most important aspect of conviction will be the ability of the Senate to prevent Donald Trump from ever running for office again. That's the end game. That's how Republicans purge him. They do not need to have the trial while he is still in office, though that is what the Pelosi, Schumer, and the Democrats want. The Democrats are looking for symbolic action of "removing him from office," even if it's just a few days. But that is not necessary, and it's more effective to wait, hold the trial later, convict him, and make a lifetime ban on public office or government service the primary stipulation. 

Holding the trial later will also potentially defuse some of the tension among ardent supporters, and it can provide cover for Republican representatives and senators who, according to Rep Jason Crow of Colorado, fear for their lives if they vote yes. And, granted, Crow is correct that the Republicans are in a way failing the American people because they lack the same conviction and sacrifice that they expect of the soldiers they vote to send to fight and die for the country. As Crow noted, "Some of my Republican colleagues are afraid of the consequences of an impeachment vote. This congress sends our young men & women to war. Not asking my colleagues to storm the beaches of Normandy, only to show a fraction of the courage we ask of our troops. It’s time to lead."

That said, it probably makes sense for Pelosi to speak with McConnell and play the long game to ensure the real prize -- get him out of office and keep him out of it forever.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Rep Lauren Boebert Lacks the Conscience of a Conservative

 After the sad events of last week at the Capitol in DC, and the profoundly disappointing behavior of the newest elected representative from Colorado, I penned the following op-ed which was published today in the Denver Post. 

Ronald Reagan used to say, “I didn’t leave my party. My party left me.”

While he was explaining his shift from midwestern Democrat to western Republican, his sentiment also describes the situation for many these days who find themselves conservative but not Republican. It’s a particularly apt distinction in Colorado where a majority of voters now identify themselves independent and unaffiliated. And it’s particularly pertinent this week after the unsettling words and behavior of the newly elected representative for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, Lauren Boebert of Rifle.

After the riotous mob assault on the nation’s Capitol, Rep. Boebert both supported the attempted insurrection while also trying to distance herself from it. After excitedly praising the radical chaos in D.C. by tweeting “Today is 1776,” she later shifted gears to assert the rioters “were not conservative.” Her mistake is in thinking she is. While Boebert correctly asserts “conservatives do not tear their country down,” she naively fails to realize she is not conservative. The representative is certainly a social media sensation. She’s obviously a small business owner. She’s an elected official. She’s a Republican. But she is most definitely not conservative.

Read the rest online.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Don Lemon is also Hurting America

 A few weeks I published a post about how Tucker Carlson is hurting America. The spirit of the post was disappointment, and the basic idea is that Carlson has not matured at all from earlier in his career when Jon Stewart embarrassed him on the CNN show Crossfire. He is a bright, well-educated, savvy, and influential speaker who could reach a huge audience with an informative news-related show that generates serious discussion and genuine debate. Instead he engages in sound-bite commentary with incredibly short segments that are designed to limit any deep or genuine discussion of issues. And he focuses on maintaining and often enflaming the preconceived beliefs and biases of his audience while he makes an incredibly large amount of money doing it.

However, Carlson is not the only problem voice on television. In addition to the shallow partisan infotainment from other commentary show hosts like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham for Fox News, commentators on CNN and MSNBC participate in the same biased soundbite commentary designed to appeal to Democrats. 

Don Lemon is not helping anyone in America to become more fully informed on important political and social issues, for he offers an incredibly limited show every night that repeats the same mantras, slogans, and touch points again and again ad nauseam. His guests and his regular panels of pundits never get to any real depth on issues, as he is constantly cutting off segments, telling speakers "Hey, I gotta go," as he moves to a commercial and then comes back to another brief undeveloped segment, which is almost always just narrow partisan complaining about Republicans and President Trump. I recall tuning in one night for a special medical guest (I think it was Dr. Sanjay Gupta) to talk about the Covid vaccine and various plans and concerns. Dr. Gupta could have gone on the whole hour and really delved into the issue and informed people. But Lemon "had to go", and cut the doctor off so Don could move on to another redundant rambling session criticizing the Trump administration. 

The same criticism can be leveled at Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, Rachel Maddow, and especially Lawrence O'Donnell. Viewers can tune into FoxNews, CNN, or MSNBC for literally four straight hours every night and hear the same tired show with different hosts night after night and learn next to nothing but have all their biases reinforced. Professor and cultural critic Neil Postman noted how all the information found in an hour-long television news broadcast (in terms of word count and topics covered) could be found on one page of a newspaper. While too many Americans, and especially politicians, are fond of blaming society's division on "the mainstream media," it's not the work of authentic journalists and reporters they are talking about -- it's the commentators, talk show hosts, pundits, and info-tainers that are our problem. Contemporary society has a negative view of the fourth estate, not because of the people in the trenches doing the hard reporting, but because of the media personalities that tarnish the important world of journalism.

There are so many incredible and important stories to be covered every single day, and the "news" networks spend the most coveted air time they have on a group of pop culture media mavens who might at one time have had an interest in journalism but have allowed the bright studio lights to blind them and us to the narrow scope of their "content" and the insidious harm it is causing us. Don Lemon could spotlight so many people, stories, places, issues, foundations, non-profits, citizens, achievements, questions, ... basically news .... every night. But instead, he and his fraternity of talking heads just re-hash the same old biases night after night. And, as the son of an esteemed small town print journalist who spent thirty years as a reporter, feature writer, and editor, I am deeply saddened by what the cable networks have done to that thing we used to call news. 

I'll close with the prophetic criticism from Clare Booth Luce:

 Certainly we must face this fact: if the American press, as a mass medium, has formed the minds of America, the mass has also formed the medium.  There is action, reaction, and interaction going on ceaselessly between the newspaper-buying public and the editors.  What is wrong with the American press is what is in part wrong with American society.

Is this, then, to exonerate the American press for its failures to give the American people more tasteful and more illuminating reading matter?  Can the American press seek to be excused from responsibility for public lack of information as TV and radio often do, on the grounds that, after, “we have to give the people what they want or we will go out of business”?

  --Clare Boothe Luce, “What’s Wrong with the American Press?”

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Henry David Thoreau - America's first Punk Rock Icon

 I can't remember whether Greg Graffin's Punk Manifesto first reminded me of Henry David Thoreau's Resistance to Civil Government (also referred to as Civil Disobedience), or whether it was Thoreau's work that resonated with Graffin's description of the punk ethos. Regardless, ever since I've been teaching, and for as long as I've been teaching Thoreau and the philosophy of transcendentalism, I have always introduced the ideas of Thoreau through the concepts of punk. Basically, I introduce Thoreau to my students as the original punk rocker. Henry David Thoreau is original American Punk.

Certainly the simple idea of self reliance, which Thoreau's good friend Ralph Waldo Emerson described so eloquently in an essay of the same name, is at the heart of America's individualism and is also an integral part of the punk identity. The pursuit of self reliance in theory was put in to practice by Thoreau, notably during his time living at Walden Pond. However, the ideas of self-reliance in the face of a society which seeks to force conformity reach another level in Thoreau's work on civil disobedience. At the heart of the idea is authenticity to the self and the ideals of that self. These ideas, going back to the early nineteenth century, are aptly articulated by Graffin, frontman and founding member of the seminal punk band Bad Religion.

PUNK IS: the personal expression of uniqueness that comes from the experiences of growing up in touch with our human ability to reason and ask questions.

PUNK IS: a movement that serves to refute social attitudes that have been perpetuated through willful ignorance of human nature.

PUNK IS: a process of questioning and commitment to understanding that results in self-progress, and through repetition, flowers into social evolution.

PUNK IS: a belief that this world is what we make of it, truth comes from our understanding of the way things are, not from the blind adherence to prescriptions about the way things should be.

PUNK IS: the constant struggle against fear of social repercussions.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

What now?

 "What'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?

What'll you do now, my darling young one ...?"

-- Bob Dylan (via Edie Brickell)

So, what now? Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, January 6, 2021 was a dark and heavy day for our nation and our community. The unimaginable manifested itself in our nation's capital, our Capitol, the People's House. And now there is uncertainty and a deep hollow feeling, as we ask ourselves: "Is this the end of something, or the beginning of something else." There is much subtext in those words from Van Jones on CNN. The ambiguous nature of what is ending -- the madness or the community and institutions it seeks to disrupt -- cannot be fully known at this point. Is the beginning a return to decency and a rejection of the bitter nastiness in politics, or is it the beginning an even darker and more sinister approach to partisan divides? 

I remain concerned and uncertain, especially after the 100+ votes in the House and the revisionist justifications happening among some media and partisans. 

The buffoons in DC yesterday, even the armed ones and the ones who entered the Capitol building or just marched, are not what most disturbs and unsettles me. They are mostly just a bunch of hooligans who have lost or never had a sense of decency. And I don't mean to dismiss or de-emphasize the very real danger that erupted yesterday and was thankfully contained. And I don't mean to gloss over or dismiss the very real fear that many of our representatives and civil servants felt. But the harm those people did, and the terror they enacted is not our worst danger. The next Timothy McVeigh is. The foreign powers who saw the weakness and vulnerability of our Capitol are. Somewhere out there are people far more sinister, far more dangerous, and far more intent on doing harm. And the President cultivated that. And the Republican leadership has done far too little to counter it.

And I am concerned. And I am worried.

But I am also still hopeful. And I still have faith. And I still believe in our goodness.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

January 6, 2021

My heart is heavy, and my spirit is mourning.

I’m just truly deeply sad.

My unshakeable belief is starting to shiver.

My unwavering faith is starting to quiver.

No man, no one person, no single act, no moment in time is stronger than the republic ...

I’ve always said.

I’ve always believed.

The institutions are solid, the base will hold, the foundation is secure, the nation endures ...

I’ve always trusted.

Not here, not now, not possible. No way.

It’s not supposed to be this way. But is it this way?

I’ve never been one for the exaggerated claims: “end of days, catastrophic shifts, future of the country, life as we know it, pivotal decision, vote of our lifetime, life-changing moment …”

One party, one election, one law, one act -- one “anything” is not the sum of us.

It never has been for me.

I’ve never believed such narrow and extreme warnings.

“Better angels … malice toward none … city upon a hill … e pluribus unum”

They’re not just words, not just platitudes, not just theoreticals, not just ideas.

But they’re not finished. They are a work in progress, always.

And I still trust. And I still believe. And still hope. And I still love.

But I’m worried. And I’m sad.

Truly, deeply, sad.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Athletes, Performance Bonus, & Teacher's Salaries

In the final seconds of the last regular season NFL game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco, with the Seahawks up by three with the ball, it might have been expected that a simple running play or a kneel-down to run out the clock would have been the call. And it was. At least that's what the coaches wanted. However, quarterback Russell Wilson changed the play in the huddle, and called for a pass to receiver David Moore. It was a completely inconsequential play for everyone on the field -- everyone except Moore. For him, it was a $100,000 play.

That was his payoff for catching his 35th pass and reaching a performance bonus in his contract.

Apparently, some people, including a few morning deejays in Denver today, are upset about Wilson's choice. That's just ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with using these pointless plays at the end to help someone complete his contract and earn his money. Why should the team just kneel down? That "run-the-clock-out" standard that the NFL requires teams to finish out the clock with purposeless plays is silly anyway, and there is no reason the team should kneel or run a worthless run play either. And that money is there for players to earn - which David Moore did. He caught the ball. That's his job. And this practice is not that uncommon. It happens every year, and Tom Brady did the same thing for his receiver this week. 

And that brings me to teachers' salaries -- because whenever there is an issue with athletes making large amounts of money, people make absurd comments about how they shouldn't make that much money because their jobs are just entertainment, and teachers by contrast should be making millions. That's nonsense, and to claim so reveals an ignorance of basic economics. The athletes and entertainers receive huge salaries because their jobs generate huge revenue. And they deserve their share of it. Teachers don't generate massive ticket sales, apparel income, and ad revenue. They don't generate huge revenue, so they don't earn huge salaries.

It's that simple. Stop whining and be happy for David Moore.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Can We Talk about Seat Time & Attendance Now?

"Seat time," or the legally required minutes, hours, and days that kids must be in class for it to count as "school" is an entirely arbitrary number, and educators have always known that. And I've long opposed the restrictive idea, especially when politicians and pundits make exaggerated and misinformed claims that what American students really need is more time in school. In reality, some kids can benefit from more time, and many can actually benefit from less. So, now that the pandemic and the last ten months turned education on its ear, perhaps we can revisit the ideas we hold about seat time and attendance requirements.

To that point, education researcher and professor Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute opined in Bloomberg last May that perhaps "Half-time High School May be Just What Students Need." Now that we've been through a semester of it, perhaps it's time to have more serious discussion about school schedules. The practice of remote learning, hybrid schedules, and asynchronous lessons, which schools implemented out of necessity in a health crisis, has revealed that students may not need to be physically present in school buildings for pre-set times of the day if they can access curriculum in learning in other ways. Granted, there are many aspects of schooling that ...

no virtual environment can replace .... [such as] football games, choir concerts, musicals and so much more that’s part of the American high school experience.

However, it's indisputable that many students, especially at the high school level, spend countless hours bored and disengaged while in the physical building. And if they can access the lessons, do the work, receive constructive feedback/assessment, and learn in other ways at different times, then we are doing the kids and society a disservice by mandating specific stretches of time. 

That said, schooling is not all about content, skills, and coursework. We have long attended school in person because we are communal animals, and much learning is enhanced by a community of learners. I know I benefited greatly from discussions with my grad school cohort, especially when tackling works such as Thomas Pynchon's post-modern masterpiece V. In fact, I doubt I'd have truly understood and benefited from reading it without them. Yet there was as much to be learned from the time spent exploring on my own in the graduate library. And, I completed my degree while teaching full time - so clearly being in a classroom five days a week wasn't indispensable.

Overall, I believe kids need to be "in school" regularly. And the pandemic has also exposed significant gaps in learning, as too many kids have fallen off the map, and grades for many have plummeted. The lack of accountability and access for many children has been catastrophic. Truly, for many kids school is the one constant, the one safe place, the one bit of security and stability. Kids need human connection. But the rigidly arbitrary nature of "seat time" and attendance requirements can change. And it should.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Fifty-One, "Palm Springs," & the Year We All Got Stuck

I'm fifty-one today, and as Jerry and the boys once sang, "nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile."

Normally, my birthday would consist of a nice early morning hike, afternoon visits to a few art galleries, and a happy hour out with the family. None of those things were in the cards this year, and that's OK. Instead, it's been a rather chill and pensive time to simply look at the present. And reflect a bit on the past. And have no expectations for the future.

Last year on January 2, the year of living artfully got off to a pretty solid start with all the favored highlights. And the first few months included a few art classes, some good writing, and ideas about the Colorado summer. And then the world turned sideways, and we found ourselves "stuck in a time loop," the opposite of Billy Pilgrim who fifty-years ago "came unstuck in time." I mention those two ideas because I recently finished re-reading Slaughterhouse Five for the first time since I read and barely understood the book over three decades ago. And, I recently watched the Andy Samberg movie Palm Springs, which is a rather astute and entertaining homage to classic existential meditation Groundhog Day. 

Both those movies, and of course Vonnegut's classic novel, aptly comment on the absurdist nature of existence. Truly the film Palm Springs may be "the perfect film for 2020," and it sardonically investigates the notion that time doesn't really exist in the way we believe it does, never really has, and occasionally the world comes unstuck, or we become stuck, and we must deal with the bizarre nature of the moments in which we exist. As "the definitive rom-com for 2020," the absurdist pop culture vehicle is a perfectly silly meditation on how we spend our days, especially when something comes along to disrupt the expectations we had for how things were supposed to go.

As far as how things go, we will keep on living these moments as they come, and hopefully do so with a bit of wisdom and patience and kindness.

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” —Phil Connors, Groundhog Day