Saturday, December 31, 2011

The annual obituaries

Newspapers' accounts of the famous and infamous lost in 2011 contain a lot of big names. I wonder if we'll look back on this past year as noteworthy in how we lost some fairly notable tyrants such as Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong Il. The Economist has a considerable amount of coverage in its most recent issue lamenting how Mr. Kim was afforded the privilege of dying a free man, labeling him the most despicable tyrant of modern times.

The most famous "good guy" I feel we lost was Harry Morgan who, as Colonel Potter, represented a pleasant father figure for me on television.

I might look back at 2011 as the year that killed two long-time pasttimes for me: television and sports. The introduction of an iPad and Kindle into the home, along with the revelation of Netflix streaming, sees me turning on the television less and less, at least for live entertainment. I might even pull the plug on pay tv in 2012 and decide to go over the air along with Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.

As for sports, the Penn State scandal has the potential of upending the megalomaniacal monstrosity that is big-time college sports. The crimes that occurred at PSU could have happened at one of any dozens of campuses in the country where coaches and programs are above the law and escape close journalistic scrutiny. We have seen the last of coaches in the ilk of JoePa, and in time we are going to see coaches and programs reined in.

College sports never meant much to me, I'm a casual observer. But pro sports took a back seat to more meaningful people and ways to spend time for me. I opened 2011 watching a miserable Eagles' playoff game during a family gathering, watching it to the exclusion of wonderful relatives I don't get to see too often. It dawned on me after that game how empty of an experience it was to watch it rather than talk with my uncle or aunt more. For the first time in more than a decade, I missed more Eagles games than I watched in 2011. It was a struggle to adopt this mindset, but I'm finding there are so many better things to do with a Sunday than watch them. As for the Phillies, I learned that a quick score check around 9:10 or so is enough to tell me whether the end of the game is worth watching, normally not. Time is better spent with my Kindle.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Moment to Be Appreciative

My greatest anxiety a week ago was that my children would find their Christmas underwhelming. Sherry and I deliberately decided not to over-buy, and resisted some last minute impulses successfully. We had clued relatives in on good, safe bets for our two and decided to make the riskier purchases.

My anxiety only heightened Christmas Eve when I saw my son go to bed with a copy of the Lego catalog tucked hopefully beneath his pillow. Yikes! And I knew there wasn't a single Lego set from Santa (I'm not counting the Hero Factory sets which were a complete gamble).

The result: two kids perfectly happy and appreciative with what they did get.

I'm so fortunate to have those two.

Sherry and I have somehow figured out how to do Christmas in a relatively low stress way. We lazily eat a nice breakfast. The kids open a few gifts, play, open a few others. We normally have some extended family come on over - this year my folks and my brother's family - but don't overdo the meal. This year Christmas morning felt like it was only an hour long, and it seemed like our guests were only here for 45 minutes when, in fact, they were here for more like 4 hours!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Film and Teaching

To purposefully interrupt the monotony I started a cinematic adventure with my history students. We're watching The Searchers as a way of better understanding the West in American culture. It got me to thinking of my favorite films to watch with students. Here goes:

1) High Noon - I like using it mostly as an allegory for the foreign policy dilemmas of a superpower like the U.S. It's ironic to use a film meant as an allegory for the Red Scare to explain the Bush Doctrine.

2) 12 Angry Men - I look for any excuse I can find to show this to a group of students. Works great with nearly all types of Social Studies classes.

3) The Searchers - It's deep in ways that students have a hard time seeing, but if kids get it, they really get it.

4) The Best Years of Our Lives - I was shocked at how the last group of students who watched this with me understood that the film's most meaningful character isn't Homer but instead it's Fred.