Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Celebration of "X"

The party is on!

Today is an especially meaningful day in my world as my father, the XMan, would have turned 70: 12-12-17. My mom is having a get-together to celebrate his life and our connection to him at his favorite restaurant, Mallorca, in downtown Cleveland.

Holiday. Celebrate. It's a celebration, and that's what certainly would have happened had he been here.

Ten years ago, the family also celebrated his birthday at Mallorca, and I came in from California without him knowing. I have an incredible memory with how excited and happy he was to see me along with our family and friends.

It's been a long haul, to say the least, with recovering and dealing with his passing in Feb. 2011. Anyone can read numerous posts on this blog and see the raw pain and mourning that transpired. Gut-wrenching. If anyone feels the need to go there, various posts on this blog will take you to that pain.

But I don't feel the need to go there today. I count my lucky stars that I have found my soulmate, Dina, and that my girls are growing into kind and caring individuals. I got a killer house and am into my education career more than ever nowadays. I am counting my blessings and would love to celebrate my dad and life with some tasty Mallorca paella.
What does it mean to be human? Well, death is certainly a part of life, and it's foolish to pretend that doesn't exist. Anyone who met the XMan quickly understood what a unique individual he was. Eccentric. Hilarious. Kind. Glorious. Polish. Mustachioed. Emotional. Hell, I'd love him even if he weren't my father.

But he was, and always will be, my dad. I guess I just thank the cosmos that I got to spend 37 years of my life with him. Gratitude. Maybe the best way to think about today, and all days, is that I was lucky to have him in my life in the flesh and now in spirit.

Friday, December 1, 2017

What do you wanna be when you grow up?

"What do you wanna be when you grow up?"

Now, on the surface, there is no harm to that question. We ask our children that question as early as kindergarten, and they say the darndest things! "Veterinarian." "Doctor." "Pro Athlete." "Nurse." "Rapper." "President."

For me, for many years of my life, I answered this: "Talk show host."

Looking back on that answer, the earliest I could have possibly said that was age 14. So that was 30 years ago, and I think that answer and question had some sort of weird impact on my development.

Where in the world did that answer come from? Well, obviously, it was connected to Mr. David Letterman. I liked Letterman. My parents liked Letterman. We taped his shows on a VCR. ... I guess I wanted to be funny like him when I grew up.

But looking past my affinity to Mr. Letterman, did being a talk-show host make sense? What does it mean to be a talk-show host, and what does that entail? I am not certain. Is talk-show host even an occupation?

I guess so, kind of. You got Jimmy Kimmel. Stephen Colbert. Jimmy Fallon. Talk show hosts are vaguely out there, but if they are out there, I see only about seven in a world of 7 billion. OMG, mathematically, is it really an occupation?

It turns out that the messages we send our young, impressionable children could very well affect them when they are older. Ask any Catholic!

At the time, I thought I must follow my epic hero's journey to become Mr. David Letterman. But today, I must laugh at how silly and myopic that plan was. It's true that I didn't really take any steps toward becoming David Letterman, but I would still hear this comment: "Sure. But you never know."

Yes, you do! It might have been innocuous to say "talk show host," but I outgrew that idea by the time I got to college.

Maybe the question I'm bringing up is about dreams. Is there a problem with having unreachable dreams? But then I'm thinking, if you're going to have a dream why would you cap it out with David Letterman? Why not fly? Why not hit cleanup for the Cleveland Indians? Why not win the Indy 500? Why not be the new singer to Guns 'N' Roses?

As I have become a middle-aged guy, I do believe that it is OK to keep unreachable dreams alive. And for now, I no longer want to be David Letterman. I want to be Donnie Iris:

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A word is worth a thousand pictures

I find it curious that when I looked up "kill your television" on Wikipedia that the site redirected me to "screen-free week." That will occur April 30-May 6, 2008, if you'd like to participate.

Oh, man, life is such a journey! I feel happy just to get out of a Snooze Button Generation (tm) staff meeting about our "collective" stance on personal technology. Those staff meetings can take forever. Jeez!

After a lengthy and roundabout conversation about planning our "action plan" at our team headquarters, the Snooze Button Generation (tm) staff and its subsidiaries are releasing this statement:

"Be careful with how you use personal technology. It turns out that personal technology most likely makes your life worse. Yes, we all get wrapped up in it. True. We're not talking about a total ban. But, like, our staff just took a week off, and all we are saying is that we had the best week of our lives!"

Technology. Irony. Of course. Chances are, if you somehow are reading this, it is through Facebook, on your phone or on a computer. There is no other way to read this. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but what the Snooze Button Generation (tm) staff has realized is that personal technology in 2017 hurts literacy and, collectively, our lives.

The SBG is not out of touch and would not suggest some type of banning of personal technology, but I wonder how many people are afflicted with the problem of never being able to enjoy a moment without a photo, or a post. I also wonder how many people are tired of seeing "sponsored" posts re-posted by Facebook friends. How did this happen?

We definitely live in a click-bait, headline-only culture. Even CNN can only handle one news story at a time. What has happened to a breadth of knowledge and news? What has happened to well-informed opinions? What has happened to thinking globally and acting locally?

Video killed the radio star. Maybe video killed thought, too. A picture used to be worth a thousand words. But in the image-driven, picture-saturated Facebook world, maybe a well-thought-out word is now worth a thousand pictures.
All I'm saying is that there is a good chance that, collectively, the United States has gotten dumber, far less social and way less empathetic because of the unforeseen impact of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and personal technology. I'm pretty sure that's a correct statement.

As a teacher, when I get freshmen in high school, I have to train them to be readers. I typically get about 10 percent actual readers in my so-called "honors" classes. They jump aboard the reading train because they yearn to be authentically educated and be authentic readers; they get growth mindset. Older people, eh, chances are they ain't reading. I guess that 10 percent figure applies to them, too.

But there is hope! No matter who you are, you can go ahead and get off your damn phone, get a library card and explore. It's never too late.

But beware. To be an actual reader in 2017 is to go against the grain. You could be considered an outcast to your texting-addict friends. You will feel weird at first. You will have phone withdrawal. You'll be a rebel.

Perhaps this mini-rant is to just point out that, y'know, "dot com" is the basis for why we use computers. "Com" means commerce. Are we just participating in commerce when we're on our phones so much?

I like to think that, as Americans, we're better than just being constant consumers. I like to think we're human, too.

The good news is that many of us have given our kids devices or phones at young ages, and we can trust that they won't possibly become addicted to instant gratification, constant images and texting.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Tribe earns fan appreciation blog

"In Tito, we trust."

That's a phrase that's been bouncing around The Land about the Cleveland Indians' expert manager — Terry "Tito" Francona. We Tribe fans love this guy, and we give him major credit for the Tribe's success.

Yes, the Tribe has not won a World Series in my lifetime. The last time that happened was in 1948. It would be nice if they delivered this postseason, but that possibility is three playoff series wins away. I do know this much: I will be cherishing each moment of the postseason, just like this regular season, win or lose.

Man, it's been fun to watch a fundamentally sound, well-managed and dominant team. Thank you, Tribe and Tito!

The Tribe rarely makes mistakes. They have the second highest fielding percentage in the major leagues (the Miami Marlins are slightly higher), but here's why that statistic is doubly awesome. The Tribe's pitchers have the most strikeouts and fewest walks of any team. Incredible statistics. In other words, they're the toughest team to get the ball in play against or get a free pass, and we have an excellent fielding team if you do get it in play.

During Tito's past five years at the helm, the Tribe's Achilles' heel has been hitting. But this year, they are ranked fifth in the major leagues in hitting. Of course, they set an American League record for a 22-game winning streak and have the best record in the American League. Could this be the year to finally win it all?

Strange as it may sound, I don't care as much as you might think. Now that LeBron and the Cavs gave Cleveland the championship it desperately deserved, I'm pretty chill.

My mindset has changed, and I actually think the Tribe and Tito share this mindset: We're going to put a team out there that is hard to beat. We won't beat ourselves. And if you beat us, we will tip our hats to you. We might even carve a baseball that looks like you.
Poetic. The Tribe's season has been so special that I'd have to call it "poetic." We are in the professional sports era of mega-million dollar contracts, analytics and free agency. Tito and the Indians front office understand this extremely well, and we still had the best record in the American League with an opening-day payroll of $124 million (17th highest of 30 teams). The Dodgers won the National League, but nearly doubled the Tribe in payroll with its league-leading $242 million.

Back to Tito, there certainly is no other manager I'd prefer at the helm. He is battle tested, having won two World Series titles with the Red Sox. For God's sakes, if he could break the Red Sox's 86-year-old championship drought, he certainly can help break the Tribe's 69-year-old championship drought.

Of course, anyone worth anything could say enough is enough with pro sports. But the truth is that when pro sports are done correctly, they bring communities together, give fans a water-cooler topic and even span generations. That's what happened with the Tribe this year. Our playoffs start Thursday!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Love and relationships matter most in life

What a month!

August 2017 turned out to be quite a dynamic month for me and my wife, Dina Stevens, as we got married, went on a honeymoon and then I went back to teaching the week of Aug. 21. Holy whirlwind!

Shortly after the wedding, my Aunt Chris Warner passed away after battling cancer, and I feel fortunate to have seen her the previous month and have had her in my life for all of my years.

What in the world did I learn through all of this life and death, travel, fanfare and wife adding?

Well, although any wise human being may know the following words, I had them play out in front of my eyes: Love and relationships are what matter most in life.

But here's how things get tricky — not that many people hold that value as No. 1 in their life. I notice that in the United States, the economic system is so brutally difficult that many are forced to put money (or offshoots of money, such as "hard work") as No. 1 on their list. In addition, people may philosophically put "love and relationships" as their No. 1 value, but they do not know how to match their actions with that philosophy.

I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure it's easier to love in places like Italy, France and Spain, where art, poetry, music and literature are valued more than in the United States. Again, I could be wrong, but I associate love with the aforementioned humanities, while I don't necessarily do that with many things American, including Wal-Mart, gas stations, freeways, the violent tweets of "President" Donald Trump and commerce in general.

What I'm attempting to say is that valuing "love and relationships" could be counterculture to the NFL-loving, military-first values of 'Merica. Even though I say it may be totally reasonable to value "love and relationships" more than anything else, I certainly expect to be laughed out of any respectable Exxon-Mobile board meeting. But who am I to judge? It turns out that Americans' value systems are all over the map as to what they care about.

I learned that easily when I did a value exercise with my fellow educators when I got a master's this past year. We did an exercise that had each individual choose three values of 30 that we think are most important in the workplace. I went with honesty, integrity and health. It turns out that hardly any of my 30 colleagues had any of those three, yet alone the same three values. Nobody did.

At first, I was thinking, "These people are crazy!" But then, I realized that our values are unique, special to us and good luck on finding others with the same values. And — segue — that's what I learned this past month.
Jackpot! I have not only found a spouse with similar values, but I have found someone I trust, love and has my back at all times. I found the yin to my yang.

But my wedding was also a defining moment for me because it made me confirm what I value most in life and why every so often I have relationships that are disappointing to me. It's because I typically value my relationships more than the other person. C'est la vie. At least that knowledge helps me understand what often happens to me in my personal and professional life. I'm no longer disappointed when others don't match my level of caring in relationships. I care more than you, and that's who I am.

But not in my marriage. We care equally, mutually, each day and every night. Who knew that it took an Ohio State graduate to find this in, yuk, a Michigan grad?

I'm not sure if I'll live into my 90s to celebrate 50 years of marriage, but I hope I do. And when Dina and I make it that far, I hope that we realize that our honeymoon wasn't just August 2017. But rather, it was all of those years, all the way to 2067.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Marriage tips for bros

In three August days, I will wed the woman I love — Dina (soon to be) Stevens.

Of course, a second marriage is different from a first one. We both have a lot more wisdom now and understand how love and marriage grows. For me, I have a deeper understanding of — and feeling of — my emotions. Thank God for that!

"Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus" may be a cliche by now, but in so many relationships, I have seen that there is major truth to that. One major difference I have seen between men and women is that men do not mind unsolicited advice, while women loathe it. It is a similar phenomenon as how women don't mind asking for directions whatsoever, while men would prefer to be lost for another hour rather than ask.

On the verge of my second and final marriage, I offer the top five updated tips of advice for husbands and potential husbands in 2017. We live in a fast-paced, ever-evolving, image-heavy, perception-driven culture in which the reality of being a husband often isn't discussed. A lot of new brides and grooms are focused much more on their wedding day than their marriage. A lot of expectant parents are more focused on their child's birth as opposed to what it means to take care of an infant.

So, guys, husbands and husbands-to-be, here are my top words of wisdom for your much-needed unsolicited advice:

1. Don't get married!
Yes, that might seem like crazy advice three days before my own wedding. But so many husbands overlook major red flags that are deal breakers. Does she want to change you? Are you just playing the role of husband in her life plan, or does she uniquely love you?

Nowadays, I say meeting a potential mate for people with their stuff together is easier than ever because of ONLINE DATING. But it's also critical to distinguish between what is a legitimate red flag and what is a legitimate "typical'' problem that we all have and can be addressed and understood. Sone online daters profiles are red flags in their own; thank God for that!

2. Keep dating
Huh? What? Keep dating?!? Well, just because brides and grooms transform into husbands and wives, they still must keep dating and keep the romance going (of course to each other!). If not, they will wonder why life slowly becomes miserable.

3. Communication skills
I can't overstate the importance of using one's mouth — and ears — to communicate! You absolutely must listen and understand the other person, and gender.

4. Listen first
Just as Magic Johnson and John Stockton were pass-first point guards, a husband needs to be a listen-first communicator. This advice goes back to the "Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus" insights. Many times, men communicate literally, and women communicate emotionally. Often times, couples are not at all in the same realm when they communicate. The wise husband understands, and knows, when to enter and stay in the wife's communication realm.

5. Venn diagrams
I believe that all human beings are Venn diagrams when compared with other human beings. We match in certain points and maybe not so much in others. In life, perhaps with all relationships and especially in a marriage, we must accentuate what we have in common and build on that. When it comes to similar interests and things you like, hit that up! There is always something all couples can agree upon!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Cleveland vs. Los Angeles

I've always been anti-L.A.

The main reasons why are that I associate L.A. with freeways, a polluted sky, the entertainment industry and my own failed marriage. Now, the good personal news is that I'm getting married to Dina next month, and so I can associate L.A. with freeways, a polluted sky, the entertainment industry and a loving marriage.

But why do I only look at the negatives of L.A.? What is wrong with me? I have been living there for 19 years, yet I still describe myself as "Mr. Cleveland." Is it possible that, gasp, I actually like living in the concrete hellhole known as Los Angeles?

Well, the best way to figure this out is to make a list of my favorite things in L.A. and my favorite things in Cleveland and have them battle it out scientifically to come up with a winner.

My favorite things about L.A.:
1. The incredible Mediterranean climate
2. Diversity
3. Mexican food
4. Sushi
5. Unity against Trump

My favorite things about Cleveland:
1. My family
2. The sports teams
3. The city's manageable size
4. My memories growing up
5. Golf courses

OK. Both lists look fair and logical. Let's now compare the two.

The battle of Cleveland vs. L.A.
1. The climate vs. my family. ... This is a tough fight. But in my heart, I got to give it to my family. Members of my family will say I'm crazy to pick them over the weather, but I must.
WINNER: Cleveland. By the way, here's a picture of the youngest member of our family, Ellie, signing an autograph yesterday after her play: 
2. Diversity vs. the sports teams. ... Another extremely tough one. Anyone who knows me well knows that I watch or listen to every Indians game and am a die-hard Browns and Cavs fan. But diversity is such an important thing to be exposed to. What do I pick here?

3. Mexican food vs. the city's manageable size. Whenever I travel, I undoubtedly have Mexican food upon my return to L.A. But in reality, the ability to navigate Cleveland so easily is huge and wonderful.
WINNER: Cleveland.

4. Sushi vs. my memories growing up. I have so many awesome memories growing up, especially when it comes to time with my dad, the XMan. However, to think that is better than sushi would be like living in the past on some level and totally not healthy. And I don't care what the dietitians say!
WINNER: Los Angeles

5. Unity against Trump vs. golf courses. Finally! A category that is an easy call. While I do love the natural beauty of the courses here, the weather in Cleveland allows us to only play them half of the year. In L.A., it's accepted discourse to understand that Trump is unacceptable as president. In Cleveland, I must stay clear of these talks because "The Land" is predominantly white and sometimes white people actually support Trump.
WINNER: Los Angeles

So there you have it, Los Angeles actually edges out Cleveland. Wait a second. No! It's a freaking tie?!

Due to the 100 percent empirical nature of this study, I must conclude that it is indeed a tie between where I like more between Los Angeles and Cleveland. Oddly, Los Angeles must thank Trump for this because had he not come on the scene, I bet Cleveland would have won. I definitely like Cleveland's golf courses more than the Getty.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dina gets props as Polack gets master's

What the heck did I do this year?

In a whirlwind of a year that forced me to take a lengthy golf hiatus, I remodeled our new home and earned a master's degree in educational leadership and a school leadership credential, all while preparing for Aug. 4 — the wedding of Joe and Dina — and teaching five high-school classes a day.

When I think of all that I have done, I must give the biggest props ever to Dina, who stood by me the entire year, supported my master's quest and loved me daily. "Behind every man, there's a great woman."

Well, that phrase has a lot of connotations, and in 2017, it's probably outdated. However, Dina did act like Barbara Nicklaus this year as she enabled me to go through a rigorous master's program. I know that she sacrificed repeatedly for me, our time together was lessened, and she listened to me talk incessantly about education, corporate America, the prison system and Koch brothers.

Basically, I took 12 classes in two semesters to get my degree. That's a lot of classes! I did this at Cal State University Dominguez Hills. The highlight of the program was creating a teacher support program for my school, and I feel so strongly about it that I hope other schools and districts adopt it. Adding that to the mix, it's safe to say that the workload was intense, and it had been 20 years since my previous master's in journalism.

I did grow in many ways through CSUDH. One excellent thing about it was that I got to meet many inspiring educators, whom I have a lot of respect, especially Toni Issa-Lahera, the director of CSUDH's School Leadership program. Here we are, taking a selfie:
So I analyzed my school, and district, on many levels, and saw areas in which both can improve. But, egads, after hearing repeated horror stories about the Los Angeles Unified School District and the realities of charter schools, I am counting my lucky stars because, comparatively, my school/district is excellent.

Man, it feels nice to breathe now and not have some looming assignment. I can full throttle give more attention to the woman I love and get ready for our wedding. I may not be that well-versed with color schemes, centerpieces and floral arrangements due to my bombastic heterosexuality, but damn it, I will tell you what I think!

The irony is that even though I read a lot through CSUDH, took hours of tests and created a sustainable support program for new teachers, I actually may be learning more post-program than during it. In the past two months, I've read a run of books that I recommend including "Born on Third Base" by Chuck Collins, "The Big Miss" by Hank Haney, "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer, "A World in Disarray" by Richard Haass, "Talent is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin and "What Does it Mean to be Well Educated?" and "The Homework Myth" by Alfie Kohn.

Maybe, then, CSUDH was a success because as John Dewey says via Alfie Kohn: "To be well educated is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends."

I guess that's what's happening to me. As my love for Dina and my daughters grows each day, I — in turn — am growing spiritually, emotionally and professionally.

Bixby Elementary, where Chloe is finishing up fourth grade, has had a push to have parents and students alike embrace the idea of a growth mindset, how abilities develop through dedication and hard work and how a love of learning and resilience are essential to a good life. I couldn't agree with this more, and as I worked so hard this year with the woman I love supporting me, this is the happiest I've been.

Maybe I subscribe to the quote from Joshua Marine that is above Chloe's desk at Bixby. "Challenges are what makes life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful."

Monday, May 1, 2017

Cuba: Mofongo, cigars and ballerinas on bicylces

"To live outside the law, you must be honest."

Bob Dylan sang that line in his 1966 tune “Absolutely Sweet Marie.” For me, that quote never rang more true than when I spent a week in Cuba and Nicaragua this month.

Cuba is a land of contradictions, two currencies, pain, pleasure, surrealism, honesty and outlaws. It’s pretty damn poor with cars still from the 1950s that run on diesel fuel, and the country's had hardly any trade for half a century. It was the perfect place for an adventure for seven guys — seven educators.

Now, here’s the thing about a trip with seven guys. That’s a lot of guys. It could be like “Bachelor Party,” but in reality, we are all in our 40s. So, we kept the parties under control, vaguely attended two dance clubs one night and had a group total of five drinks total at both. I confirmed with a few others, “Uh, yeah, we're not really into dance clubs, at this point. Cuba or no Cuba.”

To get to Cuba, the plan was for half of us to go through Nicaragua and half of us to go through Cancun. A late addition to our crew went directly from the U.S. To do that would have saved us all a whole lot of travel time, but one of my best friends lived in Nicaragua until fifth grade. So I loved the idea of seeing my compadre’s homeland.

Trouble abounded immediately! For unforeseen reasons, the Nicaraguan trip became just two people — me and my friend, Kaytan. It turns out that the uncle of my Nicaraguan friend got us from the Managua airport and packed a week’s of exploration into a day. We saw Granada, the lake of 366 islets, a volcano that was gurgling and met Jimmy Three Fingers. He’s an expat who lost one of his fingers from the mob.

Nicaragua was beautiful, and Uncle Ray, who is the head of the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, was truly a great guy who showed Kaytan and I so much. Props to Uncle Ray and the Reverend Guiterrez (my spiritual advisor) for hooking us up big time. Thank you!

After an extremely long, long day, that was really like three or four days packed into one, it was onto Cuba. Kaytan and I arrived in Havana, where we rendezvoused with two more of our team, including the Reverend, in the airport. Three others were already stationed in Cuba, having traveled through Cancun.

After that extremely long Nicaraguan adventure, it felt excellent to get the seven hombres together. Immediately, we were greeted by a cousin of the Reverend’s who had a cab waiting for us. I quickly learned we all had new names. “The Mexican.” “The Filipino.” “The Nicaraguan.” “The Indian.” I was dubbed “The American,” but I quickly corrected that. I am “The White American.”
I took a bigger step with the Spanish language in that week than I ever had, even though we had fluent Spanish speakers in our group. The reality was that, almost always, English was not a remote possibility. I was forced to speak Spanish, and I actually did (in my limited way).

After a minor day of recovery and eating in a local restaurant that we loved, we invented a poker game dubbed "Mofongo," after a Puerto Rican dish I hoped to run across in Cuba. It turned out we loved the game Mofongo and played it every night as we unwound from our various journeys.

The next day, we took a local's bus to the center of Havana. Extremely crowded, but interesting. That turned out to be the only bus we took, and a key member of our travel group looked like this:
With the '50s cars everywhere, Havana seemed a bit surreal. Moments after we exited the bus, we saw ballerinas riding bicycles who were being filmed.

We found a cafe with Cuban music, had some cigars and spent most of that day exploring the streets of Havana. One random highlight was going into an art gallery, where some of our group members played the guitar, keyboard and bongos and jammed with people in the gallery.

The next day, our group moved from seven to four, as three had other travel plans. We quickly witnessed the "Power of Four." It was so easy to get on the same page with just four, and we could all fit in one cab. After mucking it up in Havana the previous day, we opted to go to the beach in Varadero and hired a driver for the day. This was probably the day that felt the best. It was fun, chill and much-needed.

The next day, we went out to Vinales, where I should not have tried sugar cane. It was so crazily sugary that it basically made me bounce off the walls for a few hours, only to come crashing down and insult various friends. Vinales definitely was highlighted by hanging out in the cigar-leaf hut of Don Alfredo, a 69-year-old guy who has been smoking cigars since 13 and gave us an insider's tour of how Cuban cigars are made.
On our final day, our group downsized to three and through superb airport diplomacy, convinced Avianca Airlines to not have us travel through Nicaragua to get back to the States. Instead, we skipped that leg of the journey, and the airline put us up in Melia Cohiba, the nicest hotel in Havana.

Man, this was an adventure. I do take for granted the booming economy of the United States. I often hear people complain about taxes, but they don't have to give 90 percent of their wages to the government like in Cuba. But if someone does not believe he is oppressed, is he oppressed?

The lack of police presence anywhere also was interesting to me. No matter how I might judge Cuba's past or government, the individuals I ran across were honest and trustworthy, and that's how things must be there. It felt great to get off the grid and live a different life for a week — and to walk away knowing that to live outside the law, you must be honest.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Legit points on American 'culture'

Go to Netflix ASAP, and binge watch "Legit" with Jim Jefferies. The two — and only — seasons of the show will be on Netflix until April 7, so this is time sensitive.

Oh, Lordy, this is just a hilarious show, and I can't think of a show I've liked more since "The Office."

"Legit" starts with Jim Jefferies helping a friend's brother follow his dream — be with a hooker in Las Vegas. The only wrinkle is that the friend is in a wheelchair, and so that adds a funny yet human element. As the show progresses, the characters develop, and it turns out to be absolutely hilarious but with substance, too. The show was embraced by the disabled community and critics as well and is an absolute diamond in the rough. The show is legit!

As I pondered why the show is so good, I came to an odd realization, which I should have figured out years ago. American pop culture ain't hardly anything unless you add a foreign influence.

Jefferies — he's the star of the show, and he's Australian. Even the last show I liked, "The Office," was a spinoff from the original British show.

I happen to be reading "Enter Night: A Biography of Metallica" to have unity with one of my students in our two-person reading club. Metallica, well, there's an American band. Not really. The driving force behind 'Lica is Lars Ulrich, who is Danish.

Then, think of the best bands ever to be heard in America. We got the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin — damn, all British!
Well, let's think of the greatest artistic achievements possible. What randomly comes to my mind are Shakespeare, Picasso, Aristotle, Socrates, Mozart, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brahms, Beethoven. ... Will an American ever crack the list?

Look, I'm not saying America never brought anything to the table in terms of art. We got jazz, of course, the Harlem Renaissance, Elvis, the blues, Motley Crue, Ted Danson and Emo Philips. But let's get real, by my definition of culture, America ain't no cultural center of anything (unless maybe we count my beloved Cleveland as the rock 'n' roll capital of the world!).

How could I not have realized this until now?

I'm certainly not trying to be anti-American, but when you put the constraints of our harsh economic system around us, how often do we get kids who aspire to be artists? My freshmen in high school students believe they're doing the right thing by eschewing art for business internships, but are they really?

In a page-turning frenzy, I just read "Born on Third Base" by Chuck Collins. He examines the United States' economic state today as 1 percent of the country has 99 percent of the wealth. This book was not only an education in the reality of our economic system today, but it made me again realize that art, creativity, dance and innovation are not rewarded in the U.S. Sadly, if you do that stuff, you better get a day job.

And back to "Legit" with Jim Jefferies. Why in the world were there only two seasons of that show? Despite incredible critical acclaim, it was apparently mishandled with Fox and never truly got to its proper audience. Also, it's ratings were stagnant on an odd network called "FXX." Well, you know how it works in America, if it doesn't sell, it ain't worth anything.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Millennial males: In crisis

Millennials have been renamed "The Screen Generation," the Snooze Button Generation (TM) announced today.

In related news, Snooze Button Generation founder/CEO Joe Stevens clarified the names of the past three generations.

The Screen Generation (1986-2004) — often referred to as millennials.

The Snooze Button Generation (TM) (1966-1985) — often referred to as Generation X.

The Television Generation (1946-1965) — often referred to as Baby Boomers.

With the development of The Screen Generation (TM pending), the title "The Snooze Button Generation" makes even more sense. As technology and population increase so rapidly, it is important to have an element of technology in the title of a generation. In retrospect, the Snooze Button Generation title is even more apropos because we are a part of an extremely transient generation when it comes to technology — especially personal technology.

Of course, maybe these names don't mean too much, and many stereotypes abound with entire generations, especially with millennials, AKA the Screen Generation.

Not all millennials are phone-addicted, self-absorbed kids with a gross sense of entitlement. However, elements of that stereotype exist. Shifting industries, developing technology and some hidden truths in the United States have made it tough for millennials — particularly males.
Chew on these statistics: 20.5 million students enrolled in college this past fall. That is up from 15.3 million in college in 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Yowsers, that's a wild increase. I would argue that America is the most formally educated it has ever been, but it is perhaps the least informally educated as it has ever been. Yes, folks are piling up degrees, but how worldly are they? Could they switch occupations easily? Could they hold a conversation with "strangers"?

But here is the statistic that truly supports something I have long thought for the past few years: 11.7 million students in college are female, and only 8.8 are male (57 percent to 43 percent is significant to me!)

I have long thought that younger males are in crisis — just by what I see in my classroom. It's not outrageous behavior, really. It's just a stunted maturity that pales in comparison to girls. Now, some people might say it's always been that way, and I'm just noticing now. But I'm thinking this issue is becoming larger, and it's hardly addressed.

Males — millennial males, really — are in crisis. This is not some sort of sexist, "Make America Great," more power to the white male statement. This is a mere observation.

What does it mean to be male? What does it mean to be masculine?

A girl in one of my classes a few years back made this statement: "Masculinity is fragile."

That is truer now, more than ever. We often see stereotypical images of what "being a man" means. Many of the images of pop culture males — think Kanye, think Trump, think Tom Brady, think McConaughey — are more than slightly ridiculous.

Most of my male students are thoroughly confused. They remain confused when I give them this simple advice: "Be Yourself."

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Travel ban should band us together

I just saw a couple Tom Hanks movies — "Sully" and "Bridge of Spies." Apparently, the actor is cornering the market on American hero rules.

In "Bridge of Spies," when Hanks character is pushed by a CIA agent named Hoffman to break his attorney-client privilege, he brings up the American "rule book."

"My name's Donovan. Irish, both sides. Mother and father. I'm Irish, and you're German. But what makes us both Americans? Just one thing. One. Only one. The rule book. We call it the Constitution, and we agree to the rules. And that's what makes us Americans. That's all that makes us Americans. So don't tell me there's no rule book, and don't nod at me like that you son of a bitch."

Let's do another quote: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the retched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

That second famous quote is from "The New Colossus," the 1883 sonnet written by Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Like most reasonable Americans, I am outraged with the racist, immoral and ignorant travel ban of visitors from Muslim-rich countries by President Donald Trump. Are you kidding me? This is happening? Trump does not know that this does not work because of 1) American ideals and history, 2) Ramifications within the world and 3) Ramifications within the United States.

Here is what Trump and anyone not condemning this stupidity needs to know: There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world (of 7.4 billion people). There are 319 million Americans. By population, perhaps we can make this statement: The Muslim world is more powerful than the United States.

Of the 1.6 billion Muslims, the estimated number of Muslims affiliated with terrorist organizations is 100,000, according to the U.S. government and many statistical computations and groups that study this subject. That mathematically computes to .006625 percent of the Muslim population.

So Trump signed an executive order to immediately ban all visitors from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia for four months until he gets more information. Say what?
Obviously, I have never supported Donald Trump for president for an assortment of reasons. The racist/sexist platforms he espoused while getting elected was the top reason. The second reason was an overall air of ignorance with the actual problems facing our country, and third reason was zero experience in public office. There were at least another dozen reasons, but those were the top three.

Now, I am wondering this: If we do not speak up or protest this ridiculous travel ban, are we complying in an immoral, un-American and criminal act? ... Well, yes, we are.

This travel ban should bring all sides together — Democrat, Republican, ignorant or not ignorant. We all know this is unacceptable. We cannot accept it, and we all can be united in rejecting this goofy and sick "President" Trump.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Celebrating New Year's with Mark Twain

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

I had never heard that Mark Twain quote until I saw the movie "The Big Short," and that quote rings true in my life, the world of education and how most people think. It's exceptionally wise, and as a self-described "43-year-old sophisticated gentleman," I must say that I could not have said it better myself.

We're starting another year — 2017 — which in many ways sounds like the space age to me. I remember when Prince's song "1999" came out in 1982, when 1999 seemed soooo far away. Well, this is the year in which the song "1999" is actually further away from 1999 post-release than it was when it came out.

I see a bombardment of cliche ideas bestowed upon students that doesn't make sense to me. Often times, students are told that if they are driven and find a marketable profession, then they will be on some sort of path of "success." Unfortunately, that thinking is not truth. That thinking helps conformity and fosters hard workers. But does it promote educated, individual thinkers?

Let's repeat the quote: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't true."

My mom often says this quote from George Bernard Shaw: "Youth is wasted on the young."

When I was younger, I would roll my eyes at the quote and think, "Yeah, whatever, mom."

It turns out that I have hit a point in my life, when I also agree with my mom's quote. Students — and I'm talking good, hard-working kids — most likely will get an idea in their heads and follow it. They'll put blinders on and think that they're on the path to "success," and, years later, they'll learn that Mark Twain's quote turned out to be true.

This question then hits: "Are they able to adapt and accept their mistake, or are they stuck on a path they wish they weren't?" That question could be rephrased: "Did they glean enough from their actual, authentic education, or are they stuck in a life as mindless workers?"

It turns out that I've been saying Mark Twain quotes for years but didn't realize they came from him. As an educator, one of my favorites that I often recite is: "Don't let your schooling interfere with your education."

That's a slight rewording of a Twain quote, and I must point out that I have met Mark Twain's clone — Leo Hetzel. It turns out that longtime Long Beach Press-Telegram photographer Leo Hetzel is a dead ringer for Samuel Clemens.
Leo is one of those guys that everybody likes. Leo, I imagine you've had to have gotten these Twain comparisons, but if not, please think Twain on Halloween.

Anyway, I am not a huge fan of Mark Twain's literature, but I am a fan of the personality and provocateur. The quotes on education are freaking brilliant. When he says to not let schooling get in the way of education, I could not agree more.

Admission into a respectable college is so difficult nowadays, and students are so focused on getting A's that they typically disregard genuine understanding in lieu of how to give the teacher what he wants for the grade. To be educated in 2017 means to be a rebel, to stand outside the norm and actually know things and have skills. These rare, rugged individuals sometimes say things before consulting Google.

The literate world, as I know it, is shrinking — at least of what I see in Southern California, which may not exactly be a hotbed of literacy. I rarely see individuals with working-class or middle-class jobs who read books. I equate a passion of reading with a passion for life. And how can people have this passion when they are fighting to make ends meat and asked to work 49 weeks per year?

If you are able to read but not willing, are you a reader? There still is a chance that people have gone their whole lives not tapping into books that speak to them or help them. Maybe they don't realize the wealth of books out there, and if not, at least the New York Times Book Review and Goodreads are good places to start.

Eh, I realize that over the past few years, my personal reading has gone in a direction that has opened me up more and enhanced my existence — big time. I moved from an "able" reader to a "willing" reader to a "voracious" reader. But, shoot, I'm basically just explaining another Twain quote that can't be any more true:

"The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."