Sunday, December 30, 2012

Farewell 2012

I know there's one more day but its time to say no to 2012. I will remember this year as a particularly good one for many reasons. One reason (perhaps a bit trivial) is that I'll think of it as a year of toys. Here's what toys entered our orbit:

The tablet on which I write this post.
A Roku player
A new laptop
The gadgets on our new minivan
A Wii

We're pretty blessed if we can count these good things. Perhaps 2013 will be a year in which we take some toys out of our lives.

Or maybe its time to repurpose the find I've used top buy toys. Perhaps it should now be for adventures or experiences. Maybe 2013 is a good year to stay a bucket list. It's not morbid. If I start planning now I've got time to do it with and a lot of great people top accompany me.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Another TINSTAAFL Moment

Ruth Marcus warns her readers that her op-ed on inflation indexing would be boring. Perhaps it's a sign of economic nerdiness that I found her piece quite compelling.

As a nation we're stumbling over bills to what we thought had been free lunches. (My cryptic title is an abbreviation for There is no such thing as a free lunch, a cornerstone of economic thought.) According to Marcus, our federal government has generously but imprecisely calculated price level changes. This practice has allowed Social Security recipients to essentially get raises from year to year in their benefits. In other words, Social Security benefits rose in real not just nominal terms. Meanwhile, taxpayers received a break because when tax brackets change from year to year in overstated amounts, individuals' tax bills are rising at a rate slower than their income might be. The economic jargon for this, I guess, would be that the methods for calculating changes in tax rates was going in reverse of bracket creep.

Okay, let me pull out of economic nerdvana. There's an interesting point in what Marcus shows regarding chain-weighted CPI adjustments. For years recipients of Social Security and taxpayers for federal income tax have been getting a small bargain: getting more than the benefits were designed to deliver or paying less than the code intended, respectively. Fractions of a percent, when compounded and when of billions of dollars, add up over time. And those dollars contribute to our deficit. Fixing this imprecision will pinch millions of Americans.

Marcus is illustrating an interesting phenomenon that is symbolic of much else in our political and economic life. As citizens and taxpayers we are accustomed to getting more from government than we put in. It's true with Social Security benefits where we draw far more than we contribute. It's true of income taxes where we squeeze every last deduction out of our returns. It's true of our real estate taxes (at least in Southeastern Pennsylvania), where we pay a bill based on millage of our appraised property value, and our appraised property value is sometimes less than 20% of what the real estate market determines our houses are worth. It's true of our public services, where we expect exceptional services for minimal prices.

And so our fiscal cliff approaches, and no deal is in sight. No wonder. Perhaps 2013 is the year we start realizing what the lunch costs.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Returning to normal times

Liturgically it's still Christmas. The calendar says it's December 26th. My heart cannot listen to Christmas carols anymore. Therefore, Christmas is over and we can return to normal life.

Though the news is a bit stale, I feel compelled to comment on the National Rifle Association's press conference from last week, the one in which they mentioned the idea of thwarting acts of terror in schools with armed guards.

What an awful idea. It would make schools feel like police states rather than safe harbors for adolescents and children. It would increase the chances of an accidental firearms discharge. It would do little to thwart an armed-to-the-teeth intruder set on doing massive harm. And, economically, it makes almost no sense. Schools have hard enough time fighting for funds as it is. Taxpayers aren't willing to support the salary and training necessary for well-trained armed security at our schools.

Stepping away from my reactions as a teacher, I can't help but think the NRA squandered a chance to advance 2nd Amendment freedoms. There are 300 million firearms in the country, nearly one for every citizen. We stand a better chance making tragedies like last Friday's less common if we elevate the expectations and standards for gun ownership. The operation of a firearm requires sophisticated training: not just in the use of the weapon but in understanding when it should be used. Why can't the NRA back some sort of extensive training for the purpose of gun ownership licensure? Shouldn't the standards for owning and operating a firearm be commensurate with the level of training we expect from truck drivers or heavy equipment operators or airline pilots? Wouldn't professionalizing firearm ownership lend credibility to those who want to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.

And wouldn't such a system of licensing make the NRA look like legitimate problem solvers rather than zealous adherents to a gun-rights orthodoxy.

Of course licensing isn't something anyone could afford in terms of time or money. So be it.

The NRA's reaction is ordinary in the context of our political times, however. Politicians of all stripes seem to adhere to orthodoxies that trump any pragmatic consideration of a middle ground on important debates. Ross Douthat commented on this sad, dysfunctional trend last week in The New York Times. Ways to minimize tragedies, either spectacularly awful ones like those in Connecticut or suffocatingly boring ones like managing our nation's resources, will elude us as long as the politicians we elect adhere to polarizing fundamentals.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Tragedies like those which befell Newtown defy understanding and simple explanation. The heart aches. 

Ross Douthat of the New York Times wrote a stirring piece today regarding the tragedy. 

I'm humbled by what took place there. Humbled because it seems Newtown's schools took all the right steps and its adults tried to shield and protect. All those protocols, efforts, wisdom couldn't prevent 27 from being murdered. 

Education had to refine its practices regarding such events of terror in the wake of the Columbine tragedy, and perhaps schools will once again go through the processes of making sure this doesn't happen again. But we cannot make any guarantees. We, educators, can make outcomes more or less likely, but we can never guarantee an outcome. Accepting our inability to control every situation requires humility and grace. Sadly, we'll move on from the Newtown tragedy unnerved by the reality that there is little more that school, or any other school, could do to prevent those murders. 

So, we pray to a gracious and loving God. We pray that God keeps our children safe in school (and everywhere else they go), and keeps us safe in our places of business and in our homes. We pray that God helps us see others as humans worthy of God's love as well as ours. We treat others with kindness and compassion. Praying and treating others compassionately is within our control, and is what we can do in a world in which tragedy sometimes comes from circumstances we cannot try to control. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

An early Christmas present

Just like my wife gets excited over an edition of Us whose cover promises all sorts of stories, The Economist sometimes puts out an issue filled with gems. The cover promises stories about technology and Abraham Lincoln. Then I stumbled on a great analysis of excessive college costs. And, best of all, a brilliant cartoon about the wars between Amazon, Apple, Google, etc. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Redeeming Story

I found this nugget at the end of a cranky Op-Ed from George Will. I'll paraphrase Will: if one has been been dismayed by the pessimism, cynicism, narcissism, and negativism of the news and those it covers, this story goes a long way toward redeeming the world.

A Marketable Skill

So my wife suggested this morning that my family exchange names for homemade gifts this holiday season. I promptly vetoed the suggestion, mostly out of selfish concern that I had nothing adequate as a homemade item. My cousin and uncle are excellent carpenters. My brother is an adept outdoorsman. My wife, sister, and mother can all bake very well. I brew beer, but not nearly as well as my sister's husband.

The products of my talents and knowledge don't have much of a market. I'm great with directions, but Mapquest et al. has made anachronistic any set of maps and directions I could create. I could give one heck of a historical tour of a variety of attractions, but that doesn't have the appeal of a table or turkey call.

There are times when I feel somewhat inadequate about my practical skills. I'm at best a proficient painter. But I can't work with electricity, plumbing, or wood. I don't have much that I can do which would make money on the side or save us from the cost of hiring contractors. I'm skilled at teaching kids. I'm skilled at explaining the way our country or economy works. I'm skilled at interpreting the past. I'm skilled at elevating students' ability to write. Those skills earn me a nice living doing a job I love, but they don't lend themselves to bragging rights.

In an earlier conversation this weekend, my wife complimented me on being an outstanding student. It's a sign of nerdiness, but it's probably right. In one way, it seems out of date given that I haven't been a full-time student for more than fourteen years, and I haven't been a part-time one since 2007. I did harness those skills and talents for my National Board Certification, which I worked for last year and learned that I had earned last weekend. And I do harness those skills to learn the material for courses at which I am a novice at teaching. Perhaps it's time I gave thought to how I can do more with that skill set.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Today's Exercise in TINSTAAFL (There is no such thing as a free lunch)

This is just kind of disgusting to read, even though I am a sports fan: Story on hidden costs of cable television. Might cable and broadcast TV as we know it be entering their twilight years?

Friday, November 9, 2012

A small wish list

I'm happy for those who were rooting for the president's victory this week and I wish the president well in his new term. My mourning period was short for the Republicans. In fact, I can't help but think that this defeat will help reorient the Republicans. Political parties exist for one reason - to get their members into office. The Republicans will want to win in 2014 and in 2016. This defeat will help them dispense with some foolish strategy and focus more on a positive winning message around which more Americans can gather.

In the meantime, I have a modest political wishlist:

For the Republicans: Please move on from social issues. Right or wrong, stances on those touchy topics that are most personal are best left for individuals to sort out. Trust people to do the right thing.

For the Republicans: It's time to give up the fight on the Affordable Care Act. I'm heartened to see John Boehner throw up the white flag on it. The party can prove a vital role as an opposition watchdog by looking for ways to minimize waste and incentivize good medical practices as the new law comes into effect. A massive change like what that legislation brings about deserves the watchful eye a competitive party can offer.

For the Republicans: Mend fences with the Latino community. Fast. The anti-immigrant thread of the Republican Party has struck me as foolhardy at best and unkind at worst. At times, the sentiment has seemed tinged with racism. And if it seems that way to an Anglo like me, it must often feel loaded with racism to the Hispanic community. Other immigrant groups also voted blue this election. Patching fences with the Latino community will have carry-over effects on other minority groups. Besides, it's just a decent, tolerant thing to do.

For Congress: Let's get a VAT in place. It's time.

For the president: Be bold. That doesn't mean reckless. I could easily support some seemingly liberal ideas to address issues of inequality and government involvement. I hope the president uses his eighteen months of political momentum to bring about some substantive changes in ways that will help the future. Here's an odd one, authorize post offices to become small-time banks, thus knocking payday loan stores out of business. Let's get serious about high-speed rail if we're going to do it. Let's wire the whole country with fiber optic cable. Let's make wi-fi a public good in urban areas. Let's go to Mars. I can support increased government spending and increased government intervention if it's in the interests of helping our future. That would be far bigger than just appeasing and rewarding factions within the big tent Democratic Party.

For the president: Less drones.

For the president: Get in the face of China's leadership about human rights.

For the president: More cheer, more lightheartedness, more optimism. These four years featured a guerrilla political war. The opposition has been cowed. It was a good year for Democrats. At times the president has shown a thin skin in the eyes of withering opposition fire. He's got a great opportunity to rise above it and strut presidentially. I hope he can do so. It's time to channel FDR not Truman.

- - -

Though I don't agree with his political outlook on most issues, I admire the man who has earned the job as our president the next four years. I wish him well. The country benefits from a strong, confident president. I hope he can be that, at least until the "lame duck" phase kicks in 18 months from now.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Nasty, scathing, but in many ways dead-on op-ed piece penned by Michael Smerconish in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. I agree with many (or maybe even most) of the points he makes. It's a negative political climate, and it has been since 1992, though the nastiness has had its most dramatic crescendos when out-of-office Republicans were criticizing in-office Democrats. Smerconish's take is congruent with The Economist's analysis that this election will leave deep scars. It will.

But, still, it looks like I'll be pulling the lever for Romney Tuesday. Smerconish's very good arguments notwithstanding, a perhaps unfair opposition to him doesn't earn my vote. Though my opinion of the president as a person remains high: I think he's a good man. Though he has occasionally shown flashes of being thin-skinned (as even The Washington Post conceded in its endorsement) I largely respect the man for the grace under pressure he has exuded. Still, I cannot vote for someone out of sympathy.

I feel like a failure, though, in that I still can't articulate a positive reason for voting the way I am Tuesday. My vote will be cast more as a reaction against the policies and direction the president would take in a second term than anything else. My hunch is that most Americans will go to the polls Tuesday with similar motivations, voting against one of our candidates rather than for a candidate. I envy the citizens who feel positive reasons to vote for their candidate.

Therefore I hold out hope that, in 2016, a man or woman comes forth from one of the parties that sells me on their vision for the future in addition to their character as a human being. I want to vote for someone in 2016 rather than vote against someone's philosophy.

Friday, November 2, 2012


So I'm about to spend the morning working on school work. Grading. Preparing. Trying to stay motivated after a week of idleness.

But on such a morning, it's impossible to not get a bit rueful about the cost of this involuntary vacation: I'll be working a day longer this summer than I would otherwise have to.

I don't expect much sympathy. Many who aren't teachers scorn the schedule we maintain. Such individuals look at our eight- to eleven-week vacation in the summer as a luxury or something undeserved. Long ago I came to the realization that though there is a lot of time off as a teacher, it comes with the cost of rigidity. There's not much choice in what days I choose to not work. Vacations in the cooler months are simply not an option.

Okay, let me get to my point. I'm frustrated that I'll likely have to work a week or more longer than I otherwise would due to this one-week outage. I'm not begrudging the decision to close the schools for a whole week (I think that was outside the hands of my administrators). What aggravates me is the lack of options we have as a school system to make up these days.

We'll return Monday, but then be out Tuesday for election day. Then we teach two more days until students are dismissed early Friday. We teach a week. Then we're off a whole week for Thanksgiving (teachers report three of those days): students enjoy the whole week to make time for two days of conferences. At the end of January we'll have a long (five-day) weekend, though teachers work all those days students get three days off.

We could more successfully recover from this week-long interruption if we could more flexibly use those days. Does the district really need to block out three whole days a year for conferences? Or could we make do with four half-days for conferences? Must we really shut down the whole school system because a general election is taking place Tuesday? Is the community really unable to switch out teacher work days for student days if the announcement is make ten weeks in advance? Must teachers report for work any day they work? Can we not tolerate some work-from-home system on days when students aren't in session?

Schools have become increasingly reactive, so afraid of something wrong that might occur that we handcuff ourselves, preventing the flexibility that would help us better weather this week-long interruption. The cost of this week away from work will be longer penetration into the summer, both for students and teachers. Isn't it a shame we can't mitigate that cost with some creative scheduling?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Canceled Week

The last time I had a week like this, it was 1994 and I was a high school senior celebrating his birthday marooned at home during a snow storm. This time I was a dad and a teacher marooned in the aftermath of a storm that rendered so many people without power. But, like that week 18 years ago, everything in my life seemed to be canceled. 

  • Work: canceled all week
  • Band practice: canceled
  • Choir practice: canceled
  • Kid's choir practice: canceled

So what have I to show from my week that wasn't? Not much. 

  • I think I was a really good father in this past week, one who spent a lot time with his kids. 
  • I did a masterful job keeping kids out of the way of working adults when, on Wednesday, our house became something of a wi-fi remote office. 
  • I gained some perspective on the stresses associated with my job, and chuckled at the humility I gained from creating lessons that were scuttled as a result of continued delays. 

It's funny: when it's all said and done I will not have seen my students in ten days. This has been a wonderful departure from the norm. The bill, in the form of days tacked on at the end of the year is going to be ugly when it comes. I may as well enjoy this calm interruption while I can. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

2012 in Pennsylvania

This week's The Economist profiles Pennsylvania and how its landscape is shaping for the 2012 election. This report comes after I picked up evidence to suggest that the presidential election is pretty much wrapped up in the Keystone State and it seems increasingly unlikely that Pennsylvania will be a toss up state on November 6. Perhaps that means we will be spared a deluge of political advertisements. That magazine's take that Republicans are guilty of some early distractions is pretty much spot on. The governor and the party he leads overplayed its hand after victory in 2010, and in the backlash against them the Obama campaign was able to make very powerful inroads.

Pennsylvania is also politically crippled by the tortured way we draw political districts, and I would like to see the state used as an example motivating reform that would depoliticize the drawing of Congressional district boundaries. I live in a district the Republicans conceded to the Democrats. I don't care for the politics of the individual who currently represents me in Congress, but I couldn't tell you the name of her Republican challenger. Meanwhile, six miles to the east is one of the most competitive, compelling districts in the whole country.

When I look at election day on November 6 and think of casting my ballot, I am somewhat saddened at how my vote probably won't mean much. I'll cast ballots in a presidential election for a state destined to be blue. for a U.S. Senate race that never really seemed to start, and for a Representative for a Congressional district preordained to be Democratic. My vote doesn't seem to mean much. Those particular votes were rendered meaningless before the calendar even turned over to 2012. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A brief lament

I'm not doubting that Governor Romney's 47-percent gaffe will close the door on his hopes for victory. The event, however, encapsulates all that has frustrated me with his campaign and the entire election. For several cycles our big elections have become contests of sound bytes. In this particular election, it's about watching for the other guys' sound bites to become gaffes.

So, the only way to spool up the support of one's bait is to mock and ridicule the bloc that votes for the other guy. Looked at in this light, Romney's comments of 2012 don't seem that different from President Obama's in 2008 (you know, the whole cling to one's guns thing). To win the nomination one must throw enough red meat at the base, and that wins the nomination. But now one has said or insinuated enough to turn off a good half or more of the nation. It makes me think of how prescient the most recent column from The Economist is: "This is dangerous stuff. For all the country’s woes, American civility lives on outside politics. But trust and generosity cannot forever survive a widespread sense that they are being abused. Long after it ends, this election risks leaving scars."

Perhaps it's foolish to wish this, but I wish Romney had apologized for speaking poorly and then offer a pivot. Why is it that 47% of the nation relies on transfer payments from the government? If unemployment is 8.2%, and if another 20% are retired, I think a proportion of around 30 or 35% receiving transfer payments would be normal. Why does another tenth or eighth of the population need or receive these benefits? Is it because we don't do enough to incentivize looking for new work? Is it because we tolerate wages and benefits too low for the working poor to earn an adequate income? Is the large percentage a statement of capitalism cruelly grinding down the working poor or a story of government's awesome power to tax and spend inefficiently redistributing resources?

President Obama and his campaign certainly could have posed questions like this too, with his own answers.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A dad who happens to be a teacher

So, I return to work this week. Wednesday and Thursday we teachers report to start our year. The kids come through the doors about a week later. So, it's into the breech once more.

This will be my 15th year teaching. Not a single student on my roster has been born before I graduated high school. My first class that I taught would now be 27 or 28 years old.

I encountered a colleague who said that she enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom in the summer. I told her that I enjoyed being a stay-at-home dad for eleven of the weeks, but that it got a little old for week twelve. I stand by that comment: I take great pride in my work as a teacher, and it's somewhat tough to be away from that calling from which I take such pride. So, I'll be a little glad to go back to work with 16- and 17-year-olds next week.

But I have had the distinct privilege of being a stay-at-home dad since June 12. It's rewarding. I feel like I better know my children than I did at the summer's start. The three of us have become pretty good at anticipating one another's moves. Today I saw my daughter swim for the first time. A few weeks ago I saw my son swim the length of the pool's deep end by himself. I have taken several long trips with my kids, refereed minor spats on a daily basis, watched Star Wars with them for the first time, and have played the first strategy game with them. I've fed them daily.

It's grueling, though. And I admire the parents who make a year-round commitment to staying at home with their children. Growing up is an uneven process, filled with peaks and valleys. At times those valleys are painful or sad to watch. There is also a great deal of stamina required when one spends their whole day, day after day, with people who are waist high and who are reflections of yourself and others whom you love.

I see how my children, especially my son, are missing the way in which schooling enriches them. It makes it a bit easier to tell them it's time to head back. But it also heartens me that I do for others' children what my children's teachers do for them: challenge, inspire, and elevate them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Anxiety and Church

So I found out the company through which I have my life insurance, Thrivent, is contemplating a decision to begin allowing non-Lutherans membership into its business. Some initial reactions . . . 

  • Really, they only sold to Lutherans? I thought it was just a marketing push rather than a policy. 
  • Seems like a good move for a whole host of reasons business-wise and . . . 
  • spiritually. 
I'm not being the least bit sarcastic. I'm glad that Thrivent will likely do this. I'm unnerved though at the reasons prompting this change. Simply put, I think the company sees a shrinking base of Christians who identify themselves as Lutheran. One blurb in their publication that caught my eye claimed that most Americans believe in God, but the number of those who identify with any particular faith community falls far short of that.

Lutheran theology has offered me so much in understanding God's love, not just in an abstract way but also in a way that allows me to make more sense of my professional and personal life. But I do see why the theology would leave some scratching their heads, wondering what is the point of worship or membership in a church. I fear the day will come when my generation will be closing lots of doors and turning off lots of lights on skeleton congregations and empty churches.

Perhaps my anxiety will motivate me to be more profound in how I share faith with others, something I rarely do.

Well Said

David Brooks wrote a very thoughtful column in today's New York Post. His tone seems such a contrast to the noise we are hearing elsewhere in the news media these days.

Monday, August 20, 2012


My pastor made a Facebook post recently decrying the negative political blurbs he kept seeing on Facebook. He's tired of the negativity of the campaign.

He's right.

But I'm not part of the solution.

A few days ago I set out to write a post where I explained why I still voted Republican despite the fact that I'm a) a public employee, b) a public school teacher, c) moderately tolerant on most social issues, d) a believer in global warming's reality, and e) a suburbanite in Pennsylvania.

Had I done so, that post would have been negative. Insulting? No. I think there's much to admire about each of the men running for president, though there's little to admire about the campaigns by which they hope to win. I don't need to resort to invective or name-calling to clarify my position.

But such a post would have been negative because my core reasons for remaining a Republican are mostly rooted in what I don't want Democrats to do when they are in office. Honestly it's hard for me to tell you the positive Republican vision that compels me to vote for them. I don't know what it really is.

And I don't think I'm alone. I think tens of millions of us will pull a lever in November more out of fear than enthusiasm. The candidates are smart and their advisers shrewd. They know that there is much more to gain from highlighting third rails and gaffes than to take the risk of putting forth an optimistic vision that will likely get picked apart. The cable news outlets and other parts of the news media know they'll get eyeballs fixed on them for reporting the outrageous worst-case scenarios of the slipperiest of the slippery slopes.

So I guess my post will wait until I have something novel to contribute. Until then, I'd just be adding on to the sad pile of cynicism that is the election of 2012.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

So, why am I a Republican?

This will be a brief post . . . sorry for the provocative title.

Ruth Marcus writes a wonderful op-ed in today's Washington Post. It's fairly objective, taking Republicans and Democrats, right and left to task for creating an environment in which dialogue on Medicare (and by extension the federal debt) impossible. I invite you to read it here.

So, why the provocative title for this post (which is about to end). A few nights ago a friend (politely) challenged me to explain why I was still a Republican. Let's face it, much of what characterized me demographically and occupationally would point D - I'm a public school teacher (of Social Studies no less), I live in a state that's more blue than red, I seem to defy stereotypes about what Republicans believe on several social issues.

Marcus writes an essay that comes pretty close to articulating the frustration I have concerning the dialogue in this election. The way I look at an issue like Medicare down the road might offer some perspective on why I still keep my registration with the Rs rather than D. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Today is the anniversary of the event I find more difficult to contemplate, the use of an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. The death toll from Fat Man wasn't as high as from Little Boy (Nagasaki's more mountainous terrain diminished the impact of the blast) but many of the circumstances surrounding the bombing seem murkier than Hiroshima. We knew what power the weapon had. The Soviets were three days into their invasion of Japanese held territory in China. And the terms by which we agreed after the Nagasaki bombing were not the unconditional surrender we had been demanding. The Nagasaki bombing is the bombing that makes me question whether either bombing was really necessary.

Monday, August 6, 2012


It's hard for today to pass by without me thinking on the destruction of Hiroshima 67 years ago today. I think I've posted on it before, and my convictions about President Truman's decision to order the dropping of that bomb remain what they were. But as we near seven decades' passing since that event, I wonder about the impact that the complete passing of that generation will have on the human race. On only two occasions were atomic or nuclear weapons used in a combat operation - both by the U.S. to conclude the war in the Pacific. As long as survivors of that blast and their contemporaries remain alive, there is a memory of how horrific that weapon was. When they pass on, is there a chance the human race will forget?

I don't foresee a nuclear holocaust in our future. But I do fear a rogue nation or group destroying a city in an attempt to send a message or to inflict pain on a towering giant. Might my nightmare have a greater chance of coming true when the survivors and their contemporaries are no more?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Disgust at Power

So, I'm still mulling over the NCAA's penalty levied on Penn State. In some ways, my frustration might be misplaced. Is my focus being unnecessarily pulled from the crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky and university leaders, including Joe Paterno? That's fair. At the same time, I see a well-established legal process taking place in which accused and witnesses get their day in court. The justice there isn't always delivered fairly or evenly. And it is legitimate to claim that there is no prison sentence that atones for the crimes Sandusky or the university's leaders committed. Still, there are clearly-defined rights and procedures. There are guidelines by which penalties are meted out. And, normally, there isn't collateral damage when the jury or judge renders a decision.

My faith in our justice system, as imperfect as it is, allows me to move on from what is to be done legally, both in the criminal and civil realm, with the wrongdoers.

So my frustration festers with what has happened to the athletes and the program in a sport, college football, for which my interest has always been secondary.

There was no way the NCAA could appropriately penalize Penn State. No matter what it did, its penalties were going to be too lenient or too strict. Rather than have a choice to be fair or unfair, the NCAA had the choice between exercising symbolic power or structural power. In other words, it had the choice between leveling a penalty that was going to be short but stunning in its power or to be long-lasting and leveling in its power.

It chose the latter.

Supposedly, the NCAA's crippling sanctions were to show that athletics were to never again trump the well-being of children. It was to be a reminder to the nation's big-time universities and athletic programs to re-prioritize their interests, putting students and integrity before the win-at-all-costs ethos that has become big-time college athletics.

Baloney. Within hours of the NCAA's announcement, Happy Valley was teeming with rival coaches looking to poach players from Penn State's program. From what I understand, three coaches actually contacted the Penn State coach out of courtesy saying that they intended to exercise their exceptional right to recruit Penn State players for transfer to their own programs.

Since the next potential Nittany Lion players with the potential to play on a team unencumbered by sanctions are sitting in 4th grade classrooms, the NCAA has upended the competitive balance of elite college football. Since Penn State isn't the only Big 10 program undergoing sanctions, the entire conference is weak, which gives the SEC time to maintain its hegemony over the world of college sports. And the sanctions' most crippling effects will be felt more like five years from now, when, as a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist pointed out, is when the dearth of scholarships will actually cut into the depth chart, the Nittany Lions' rivals will be able to count on PSU matches as given wins.

In the zero-sum game that is big-time college athletics, Penn State's loss is everyone else's gain. And the cynic in me doesn't believe for a minute that those coaches who benefit aren't cluck-clucking that the "grand experiment" collapsed. Their likely conclusion: Penn State tried to beat the system and then covered up horrible lies to preserve the image that really couldn't wield sufficient power to beat the system.

In other words, I don't think the connection between child welfare and program sanctions will be as clear to the other programs and its leaders as it seems to be right now to the public.

Moreover, I think time will show this to be an exceptional display of power than a meaningful one. This was an anomaly. The NCAA didn't ride to the rescue, investigate, and penalize as would a sheriff breaking up a crime ring. It didn't wield any power that wasn't given to it. Penn State investigated itself. The University's new leadership offered to confess, allocute, and submit to punishment out of regard to the severity of crimes committed. I don't criticize the university's leadership for taking that approach. What happened was that horrible. But how rare is it for a big-time university to yield like this? How likely is it that the next time a university or big-time program falls short of its ethical obligations that they will meekly and humbly submit to the NCAA's justice? I would argue it's even less after what Penn State was shown after it did so.

- - -

So why am I so fixated on this? Well, I'm a teacher. My whole professional life has been within the confines of educational institutions. Penn State, the NCAA, and football are all institutions as well, though certainly much more massive than what I work within. Like those institutions, those in which I work are trusted with the care and uplifting of children.

Also, like those institutions, the schools in which I work can be environments in which bigger-than-life people and too-big-to-be-disciplined programs can thrive. At Penn State it was a coach and a football team. At some universities it's a basketball team and its coach. At some high schools it's a choir director, a band director, a football coach, an extraordinarily influential classroom teacher. There are ample opportunities for people to erect cults of personality and wield power over individuals who are relatively powerless: students, parents in the minority. These opportunities exist within an environment where people place a lot of trust in adults to protect the welfare of youth.

And it is from that perch that I have come to believe in the power of symbols. Suspending the Penn State football program for one year would have been a powerful symbol. It would have provided a year in which fans, students, players, faculty, and coaches reassessed the meaning of that program in relation to the other meaningful elements of life. When something seems so big that others cannot live without it, that is precisely the time for an institution to experiment with life without it.

Sometimes a pause offers the occasion for solemnity, thought, and penance far more than does a beating or lashing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


So I've searched for commentator who seems to have best articulated the unease I feel about the sanctions levied by the NCAA on Penn State. Here are the finalists:

Michael Weinreb on Grantland

Bob Ford in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Michael Rosenberg and Stewart Mandel in SI

I remain disturbed and saddened by what happened at Penn State. Now, additionally, I find myself irritated at the NCAA. Penalties were levied and I don't feel any sense of closure or justice: just widening disgust, like an oil slick.

I was never really in to college athletics. I was a peripheral fan. Now, I would rather just see big-time college football and basketball dismantled. I'm out.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


As I had said: suspend the program for the year, leave the statue remain. Sure enough, Penn State's president decided to bring the statue down today.

I don't like discarding history. I don't like putting history out of sight. For good or ill, Paterno is a part of Penn State's history, as was that institution's decision to honor him with a statue while alive (which leaves me uneasy). I would have much rather have seen the statue remain, but with a nearby plaque addressing the infamous scandal that has tarnished his legacy.

I get an uneasy feeling that there might be some facts brought to light that might swing the pendulum back a bit. Granted, it's hard to imagine this publicity getting any worse.

Toppling statues seems like it's the right of a liberated people to do to their deposed tormentors, such as all the acts by which statues of Lenin were toppled after 1989 in the East. Or, it is something that conquering armies do to the likenesses of the leader of their enemy. To me, toppling statues carries with it something triumphant. There's no triumph in any element of what happens with the Penn State / Sandusky scandal. Therefore, let the statue remain, as much a testament to what went wrong as what seemed to have been going right.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Well, there goes my great idea

So, within hours of declaring myself news free comes a tragedy I cannot ignore. What a profoundly sad, hollow, and senseless act!

Is it possible for news outlets to not disclose the name and photograph of the man who allegedly perpetrated this evil? I can't help but think that the allure of being infamous helped propel this man to do his evil deed. Would the knowledge that his evil would be forever anonymous diminish copycats' desires to commit such crimes?

Thursday, July 19, 2012


So, what happened? I mean with me and the news. Suddenly, I can't spool up any interest to follow the presidential election. I can't for some reason find range on the situation in Syria. Nor can I seem to focus long enough on either the fiscal cliff or ongoing healthcare debate.

My goodness, I'm a teacher. Don't I need to follow the news so I can answer kids' questions. Or, deep down inside, do I know that things will pretty much be where I left them when I return to the grind in September.

It's a shame the Phillies aren't any good, and it's a shame I can't start following football else I'll start wishing away my summer. I seem to have a lot of found time on my hands.

But then again, I still read my newspapers each morning. Should I shut that off for a week like I've done in previous summers.

I still keep looking for news on the Penn State scandal. Perhaps I'm just hunting for something, anything, that might mitigate the hideous details brought forth in the Freeh report. Quick opinion check: statue - let it remain; football program - suspend it for a season. Perhaps I'll later be able to articulate why I feel this way. Just not today.

But I'm here on a beautiful night sitting on my porch. All I can hear is the occasional dog bark. Oh, wait, my son is laughing at something. I hear that. An air conditioner nearby is humming. My kids are wonderful, though a bit ornery in that middle-of-the-summer fashion. My wife is beautiful. We're all healthy. All those tempests that our 24/7 cycle covers seem so remote, as if they are in teapots thousands of miles away. I like this.

It's the midpoint of the summer. Perhaps I ought to declare summer 1.0 over and summer 2.0 underway. I like that. Maybe there should be more books and less news. It doesn't seem to matter too much to me anyway.

Okay, that does it. Effective now, at 9:00 pm EDT I am imposing a one-week news blackout on myself. Let's see if everything is where I left it next week at this time.

Odds are, it probably is.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Since I've been gone . . .

I followed the news, somewhat, while gone. Altogether, I was in California for 11 days with my family. The last four we had almost no access to the online world, which in some ways was a blessing. Forced me to step away from the cycle. So, what did I miss . . .

The Supreme Court's Decision: Good. It's decided. Let's move on with Obamacare. It's bad law. A bad solution to a profoundly complex problem. So, why am I glad the Supreme Court assented to it? I'm simply glad the court said yes or no rather than maybe or partially. Further, we can stop fighting 2009's battle. I'd like for Republicans to concede that there should be coverage for all, with a concession from Democrats that the nation do something, something, to meaningfully reduce the costs of that coverage. That's a grand bargain I can live with.

Natalie Munroe was terminated (though a lawsuit is pending): I'm sad but not opposed. A principal for whom I once worked would ask candidates in interviews if it was important for a teacher to be liked. He thought that answer was yes. But I always thought it was crucial for students to think the teacher liked them. Teachers who cannot even fake the sentiment that they like the students have no chance of succeeding in the classroom. That's where Natalie failed. Kids couldn't conclude that she liked them.

Towamencin Township: It's trying to petition the PA Turnpike Commission to change the name of the nearby interchange to Kulpsville. I am steadfastly opposed. That exit, as it stands now, is an extraordinary one: It's number is 31, it's old number was 31; It has only one name ("Lansdale") and one town ("Lansdale") whereas all others have two town names, each different from the name of the interchange. Exit 31 of the Northeast Extension needs to be respected as we respect the National League's decision not to go with the Designated Hitter.

And I think that's all the important stuff. A one week hop off of the vicious cycle that constitutes news these days is therapeutic.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Two Gems from Today's Inquirer

This one* I need to remember for school, an interesting speech for rising seniors in high school.

And then we have a brilliant piece of sports writing. The first lines are so good, paint such a dispiriting picture that one doesn't even need to read the rest of the piece.

*Oh, blast it, doesn't have this link from their non-paywall section of the site. Oh well. It was an interesting advice column written to the high school class of 2013 telling kids that they need to be the adult in the forest of well-wishers and optimists who sometimes fail to frame college choices as realistically as they should be framed. It challenges me to remember how often students benefit from being told no. Adults (teachers and parents) often have to enforce boundaries that help kids grow properly. Do I, as a teacher of upperclassmen, properly set boundaries for the kids to choose a great path to a successful adult life?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cars and Tech

Interesting article in the New York Times today profiling the technology promises in automobiles. It's the second time this week I've seen an article referring to how the pace of change in automobiles is struggling to keep up with the pace of change in media and technology. Makes me wonder when an automaker is just going to collaborate directly with Google or Apple to create an App that does what these automakers have been trying to do.

The Times article also brought to mind an interesting commentary in one of the leading auto magazines about the falling proportion of young drivers. That article brings up some good points explaining the falling car ownership and licensure: that young Americans are more urban and suffering from a poor economy. I think the article is missing two other subtle but deep changes in the last generation. First, the proliferation of personal entertainment devices. The last generation has experienced a sea change in what one can do on a long car ride, from personal game systems to video players to cell phones and smart phones. For our kids today, a car ride essentially equates to a time to zone out.

More importantly, let us not dismiss the impact of changing laws regarding child safety in cars. Kids can't sit without a special restraint until they are about 8, and they are forbidden from sitting up front until they're at least 12. So by the time they are untethered from safety and legal restraints, they're at that awkward I-don't-want-to-be-in-the-same-area-code-as-mom-and-dad phase of adolescence. I chuckle when I see students picked up at school by parents who pull up to the curb and then power open the side door of the minivan so the student can step on into the back. There was a day when the quest to sit "shotgun" was an all-consuming passion, even when mom or dad was in the driver seat.

Oh, and let's not forget the impact of driver licensing laws that make kids wait until well after their 16th birthday to actually get their license. Then there is also the fact that high school kids are so engrossed with studies and co-curriculars (not a bad thing, mind you) that there isn't time to get the job to earn the money to buy the gas for the car you've not really been that interested in saving.

So for young Americans, why the heck not just wait it out for Google or Apple to figure out how to make a car drive itself?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Some interesting survivors

So, I have two new laptops, it would seem: the excellent HP on which I'm typing right now and the HP I was issued by my school. Both are excellent machines. The keyboards have excellent tactile feedback and feature a number pad. The finish of the machines feel substantial. It takes little time for either to boot. Both have clear and vivid displays.

But wait! I thought laptops were dead, slayed by the tablet. Though I find the tablet really neat (we've had an iPad for more than a year) it doesn't satisfy my interests in creating content or sending e-mail. Perhaps others feel like me. What I speculate to more interesting, however, is the competition the tablet has brought to the laptop market. Manufacturers had to create some compelling products for us. The iPad has probably made the market more desirous of Macbooks, which Apple has kept pricey, so HP, Dell, Samsung, Asus, and the like have had to respond by creating laptops that would woo us away from tablets or the sleek machines Apple tries to sell. As a result, we're benefiting from better machines at better prices.

In addition to the surprising survivor we have in laptops there is radio as well. An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning described NBC Sports attempts to start a sports radio network. They've already engaged ESPN on TV, now they want to do so on radio as well. Fox Sports is also interested in increasing their TV and radio reach. The article quoted an NBC Sports executive in talking of how such great growth potential in sports radio. A WIP executive claimed that because sports contests are getting too expensive to attend in person, people are becoming more passionate about their sports talk outlets.

In addition to that I would add that television itself is getting so expensive it might drive us to radio as well. When I watch TV at home and sit through a commercial, I feel my time is being wasted. When I hear a commercial on radio, I figure that's what I need to sit through. After all, I'm in a car most of the time I'm listening. As I start to look at watching sports as an inefficient use of my time, I'll tune in to WIP's excellent program more and more. WIP can give me satisfaction about sports consumption while I'm on the way to something rather than sitting at home through a contest that may make me happy but will subject me to untold numbers of W.B. Mason and Citizens Bank commercials on the way to that unsure ending. And as Spotify and Pandora take music away, the music stations left become more competitive or switch to formats we find more appealing. The old WYSP has become WIP and is must-listen radio. It's only a matter of time until 1210 AM switches over to 98.1 FM with its new lineup.

Schumpeter once wrote that capitalism is a perennial gale of creative destruction. For the most part he's correct, but even horrific windstorms leave some survivors in their wake. Laptops and radio might just always have a place in the stormy environment that is media.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Goliath vs. Goliath

So, Slate reports that Apple is getting ready to do battle with Google Maps. (Will Apple call their new App the "mApp?" Sorry, couldn't resist). We're entering another round in a war for our future spending that will cost billions of dollars. At least lives won't be lost in this one.

Let me get this straight:

  • Apple is competing with Google Maps.
  • Google is creating a Chrome Store. 
  • Amazon, Apple, and Google now are forming their ecosystems.
  • Facebook is interested in searches. How long can it be until Apple launches a search engine app? 
  • Google+ seems to have potential, and Google has the cash to dump into this thing for years until it's a profitable competitor to Facebook. 
  • Apple has already gotten into antitrust hot water over e-books, and Amazon is grinning from ear to ear. 
  • Amazon is aggressively pushing its MP3 store. As is Google pushing its Play store. 

I don't for a moment think Microsoft is completely out of any of these contests. It's overcoming its own diseconomies of scale and its entrenched mindsets, but it will be joining the party somehow someway.

What will be interesting is to see which one of the four Goliaths loses their edge first. Facebook's humbling IPO might teach it some helpful lessons. But the other three have gone some time without a humbling moment like Facebook's fumble, or Netflix's Quickster disaster last summer.

As consumers and citizens I think we have more than a rooting interest in this squabble. These companies have awesome power and awesome access over information we have given to them. Further, I don't know if we have antitrust laws that really can go after anticompetitive practices, and even if we do I don't know if our courts can move at the speed of digital change.

I think what we need is a disequilibrializing new competitor to enter the field, one too big to be plucked by one of the aforementioned.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tragedy of the Commons

The supposedly free internet is coming to an end. This might not be an entirely bad thing. After all, it might disabuse many of the notion that information should always be free. But I'll put aside my grumpiness about kids' belief that Wikipedia represents a great revolution in human understanding for a few moments. 

I've been following stories about newspapers cutting their publication. New Orleans' big daily newspaper will now publish only three days a week and will move its subscriptions over to the internet. I think it's only a matter of time until others do the same, though some (like the New York Times) will be able to hold out for some time. And perhaps it's time that we who value good journalism financially support the sources from which we get our news. Good journalism costs money, and I'd rather have good journalism at a relatively small price than lousy journalism for free. 

Facebook's IPO, I think, is opening a lot of eyes to the underwhelming revenue that comes from online advertising. It's a model for paying for services that works well for Google and that's about it. Most of us have conditioned ourselves to just ignore the cheap ads that finance Facebook, and we tolerate the more sophisticated ads that make us wait 10 or 15 seconds to read that story on the Times or Post. It might say a very good thing about us that we have tuned out the tacky advertisements. 

Eventually our social networks will have to experiment with charging for premium content, a premier service that might allow us to do more than just post and poke. We might find that they have interesting services worth our money. Or not. One can see media outlets laying the groundwork for this, such as at where they mark certain journalists as "Insiders." It's only a matter of time until that website is charging for people to read what their exclusive insiders have to say. To that, however, I have no choice but to yawn. Sports is really hitting the law of diminishing returns for me (with one exception: playing wiffle ball with my kids in the back yard).  

So if we start paying more to digest web content, what will we stop spending money on? My money (no pun intended) is on cable TV, which I think suddenly has much to fear. The advertisement I heard on the radio for a Spike TV show about horrible tenants didn't really make me mull over the awesome offerings on pay television. Perhaps the print magazine industry will get hit harder than they already are. 

But if I could go back to newspapers for a moment . . . I recall reading a former editor of a local newspaper mulling over a decision at the beginning of the century made by his paper to upgrade their presses to a new state-of-the-art means of publishing their dailies. He regretted not taking that capital investment and plowing it into an ahead-of-the-curve means of publishing digitally. Now I don't think the public was ready to support that business decision with subscriptions that would pay for that upgrade. But we might be seeing newspapers live out the credo "If you don't like change, you'll like irrelevance even less."

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My movie queue is finally getting touched

So, why on earth did it take me so long to watch A Beautiful Mind? Did it take me a decade because everyone said "you gotta see it" when it was first out in theaters? Probably, I can be stubborn that way. I will say that twenty minutes or so surrounding Nash's relapse were some of the most gripping moments of cinema I've seen in some time. I think my blood pressure shot through the roof when Nash's wife found the shed behind their Princeton home.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

There is no such thing as a free lunch, foreign policy version

For some time I have found the use of drones by America's armed forces troublesome. My first reaction to reading of their use was ambivalence, which gave way to unease. Now some journalistic attention is being shifted to the use of drones that is helping me figure out what bothers me. A cartoon some of my students found on Daryl Cagle's website reveals much of the unease I have about their use. Charles Krauthammer wrote a fairly critical piece about the Obama administration's reliance on them in yesterday's Washington Post, and in that essay he refers to a somewhat troubling story from the New York Times.

I cannot help but couple the increasing use of these drones with the problems our military has had employing the F-22 fighter. Is it possible that air warfare has become complicated to the extent that it surpasses human abilities to execute on the scene? If so, are we just the first nation to employ these drones? Is this what warfare's future looks like?

I don't necessarily blame President Obama for the employment of this weapon. We began using them on George Bush's watch. And I think any commander-in-chief would jump at an opportunity to use a weapon that increases damage to the enemy and keeps our brave servicemen safe. Still, there is a creeping sensation to using a weapon that, from the perspective of the user, is sanitized. When the cost of something deadly becomes something that is only monetary, it becomes easier to resort to it and kill more often. It lowers the threshold by which a commander orders the use of deadly force. Further, it does little to build affinity amongst the civilians for whom we claim to be fighting. It's hard to respect a power, even a deadly one, that strikes from afar and is immune from their own personal harm. This is a lesson we have witnessed many times since the end of World War II. Hearts and minds change with boots on the ground, not drones in the air.

Bill Bennett likes to say that in history, if a people were to see a flag come over the hill, they would hope it was ours. For the most part, our military power has been used to expand freedom and end totalitarianism. The people of South Asia and the Middle East already doubt our intentions greatly and might never come to welcome the flag of our nation coming over the hill, borne by our own young men. I think it much less likely they'll ever embrace the flag of a nation that is on the small tale of an anonymous agent of death from the sky, operated by an officer in a cubicle in Colorado.

So, here's another reason the TV is dying

Today my wife's parents called us from Denmark. We had a video chat over the iPhone. My kids got to see their grandparents, see their grandparents, six timezones away. Their grandfather got to show the kids what it looked like out the window. No video hiccups, no poor quality of voices (other than my kids' poor enunciation), just two people we love telling us how their vacation was going. 

It's enough to diminish my interest in what's on TV. Screen time should be chatting with friends and family far away. But as my kids grow, they'll take for granted something that I look at as an awesome thing (I grew up in the age of 3-6-and-10 bunny ears): using screens as a way to see loved ones. Why will they settle for commercial programming? 

Interestingly, The Economist ran a great article about two years ago analyzing why TV will be such a great survivor. Might that be another prediction my favorite magazine got wrong?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Worst Highways

I-81: There's nothing particularly scenic about this highway in PA. Traveling south-to-north it begins in a broad, valley devoid of character. It stays there through the Harrisburg area, passing just far enough from towns like Carlisle and Harrisburg that one doesn't see any of those towns' character. It then splits from I-78 northeast of Harrisburg and becomes a highway that traverses the most colorless anthracite foothills one can imagine. In fairness, the highway passes through beautiful scenery in Virginia, but in that state the high way couldn't possible be any longer as it moves diagonally along the long, long spine of that large state. 

I-78: It's hard to believe scenery so ugly, so remote, and so inspired by the film Deliverance could exist so near Philadelphia. The trip between Harrisburg and when the highway mercifully ends at its junction with I-81 is essentially a time warp into an older, homelier America. By the way, one exit along that stretch is labeled "Grimes." Grimes? Are you kidding? 

I-83: I guess it's a highway that is somewhat necessary. After all, there's a virtual flood of commerce that must travel back and forth between Baltimore and Harrisburg. What, a highway with Baltimore as one terminus and Harrisburg as another? Please, the Interstate Highway System surely could have given this highway a more fitting final destination. Or, at least let I-78 carry the number from Harrisburg on down to Baltimore. The stretch of this road that travels through York County doesn't do much to boost Pennsylvania's scenic credentials. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Marriage and Society

I'm not quite sure why The Washington Post decided so much space in the opinion section should go to the topic of marriage, but I'm glad it did. There were two thought-provoking pieces there, one about myths of marriage and another about how Dan Quayle might have been right 20 years ago in that whole Murphy Brown kerfuffle. 

This is a tough topic, in political circles, to be both truthful and sensitive. Yet it's a topic worthy of discussion. And I'm happy to see that considerations of marriage's importance are becoming more common in the media. I think a great elephant in the room of American political dialogue is the preponderance of out-of-wedlock births. There is a lot of research to suggest correlation between out-of-wedlock births and fatherless families and poverty. Meanwhile there is significant research to suggest that marriage is something of a token of middle-class affluence. Perhaps it's even a ticket for admission.

Divorce and same-sex marriage might seem to complicate this. To me commitment is the keystone of this dialogue. The important act is two adults entering into a covenant to commit, even with the knowledge that keeping that promise can at times become too difficult to keep.

We've become a more tolerant society in the last half century. That is a great thing! But tolerance doesn't mean free-for-all, and I think we would do better if we uplifted, honored, and valued commitment when it comes in the form of marriage between adults. This is where I think those opposed to same-sex marriage have been missing something big: that heterosexuals haven't done the best job advertising commitment as a valuable act in modern-day society.

My own exhibition of being tongue-tied in the previous two paragraphs is perhaps testament to how this is a topic that defies our best attempts to be both truthful and sensitive. I offer these comments knowing and loving people who raised children (and doing a great job of it) outside the institution of marriage. Still, I'm glad media treatment is starting to be cast on what role marriage can play in our culture. After all, we've been through a fascinating transition in the past five decades. Marriages became easier to sever. Divorce became less taboo. Same-sex relationships are seeing growing acceptance. The percentage of births that are out-of-wedlock have grown. Dialogue is welcomed.   

Friday, May 25, 2012

Egads . . . This makes sense! A case against sleeping in.

Interesting little study found on So, sleeping in on weekends leads to increased likelihood of obesity. Well, now I feel better for typically getting up in the 6 o'clock hour on weekends. More to the point . . .

One of the bits of wisdom my father passed on to me was that every hour one sleeps before midnight is twice as good as any hour one sleeps after midnight. That's one of those Dad-is-right-but-there's-no-empirical-proof sort of situations. It also complicated that tidbit of college wisdom that every beer one had at a party one night required one extra hour of sleep to oxidize. Such troublesome proverbs often made me speculate if it was possible to get a negative amount of sleep after a night of excess. 

Anyway, I'm glad I stumbled on this study. Saturdays and Sundays are precious days for they are days of rest. I abhor using up that valuable day of rest in bed. Yet then I go downstairs and watch TV. Hmmm. Guess I'm not really investing time then, just spending it.

A Mormon Candidate

Jennifer Rubin wrote a pretty sharp criticism of the recent front-page New York Times piece analyzing the impact of the Mormon faith on Governor Romney's life. She raises some good points, but I think she is wrong on a few counts. First, I felt the New York Times article was a fairly objective accounting of how belief has guided Romney. It sheds light on something that gives a lot of meaning to his life. I feel like I know the candidate and his faith better as a result of the piece. 

Second, though I think Rubin is right to point out the cynical condescension of the New York Times by choosing to even write the piece, I think that kind of cynicism about faith is more widespread than just the intelligentsia of New York. A lot of Americans simplify and downplay the meaning of faith. Bluntly, religious faith isn't much a part of many people's life. That the media in this instance decided to explain rather than demean his Mormon faith is something I appreciate. I think we could use more conversations about faith in this country.

Though Ms. Rubin might be right that any piece analyzing the Jewish tradition or Catholic faith of a candidate would be deemed bigoted, she is overlooking the place Mormonism right now occupies in American life. It is a faith many Americans distrust and disrespect. The portrayal of Mormonism as seen in The Book of Mormon and South Park is not characterized entirely by good-natured humor. And it wasn't long ago that the Mormons were being chased across the continent to flee from Americans determined to exterminate them.

When I look at the Mormon faith, I see much more to admire than despise. Like Catholicism, it is a discipline of Christianity that I have great respect for though I cannot necessarily adhere to it. The analysis piece in last week's Times did nothing to dissuade me of that sentiment.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Favorite Roads

When I get bored with my desktop image I look for a photograph from one of my favorite roads.  Here are some roads and highways that mean a lot to me. 

Interstate 80.  I'll always associate it with trips to my grandparents.  I've logged many, many miles on it and I must have some good karma for I've never been pulled over by one of Pennsylvania's Finest along it.  I get a thrill when I go by the sign marking "Highest Point of Interstate 80 East of Mississippie" near Clearfield.  The The stretch from the Susquehanna River out to the Lock Haven Exit is spectacular scenery. 

U.S. 6.  Years ago my wife and I thought we had no money, so we made traversing the state on this highway our small vacation.  Quite picturesque.  The drive through the Allegheny Forest is beautiful.  The scenery between Scranton and Mansfield is at times spectacular.  The town of Wellsboro is one of the prettier in all of PA.

Route 23.  It's home for me.  I could drive much of it with my eyes closed, for it was the only way to get from home to any kind of civilization, if one is to call Pottstown civilization.  It cuts through Warwick Township (Chester County) along a ridge that takes you through Knauertown.  It's a beautiful drive, with lovely hills (well, lovely if you're not riding a bicycle). 

Others mean a lot to me, but I think I'd rather save my energy for a post where I blast some of my least favorite such as . . .

Monday, May 21, 2012

How a long summer gets short

I have been eager for this summer for some time.  It will be the longest stretch off from work I've had since beginning this profession.  However, it's funny that my stretch from June 8 until September 4 is starting to fill with interruptions (but at least they are fun interruptions):

  • For the first long weekend of the summer my wife (and daughter) will be away.
  • For the first two weeks of the summer, all of us will be on the road in California.
  • There's a pretty neat history workshop that could consume a week in mid-July.
  • A half-week at the shore with family looks like fun.
  • Let's mix in a baseball game with a cousin and a visit to Cooperstown.
  • Oh, and let's not forget some sort of anniversary surprise for my wife.  

These are good ways to have a summer go by quickly.  I look forward to the 10 or 11 weeks I'll have with a four-year-old and a six-year-old, kids who are in the midst of an age where time with dad trumps all, and before time with friends becomes so much cooler. 

I resolve to spend as much of this at a pool and with other kids in the neighborhood as is humanly possible. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Eternal Resonance

Our church is bidding farewell to our long-time office manager, who is retiring.  Her job will not be filled upon her departure.  It will be folded into another position an experienced member of the staff will take. 

When my father retired, his job was eliminated.  When my mother retired, her job was eliminated.  I've seen colleagues depart and their jobs simply disappear once they left.  Though it's a better fate than to have a job eliminated before one is done with it, I've usually felt sadness when I see someone leave a job and the job simply disappear.  Does it undermine the meaning of what they did?  Does it suggest that the person wasn't useful anymore. 

I think it's time I moved on from that philosophy.  Perhaps I'm moving on from it because I realize that the same fate awaits me.  More importantly, I think it's useful to not judge a person by how useful they are which, if I mourn the loss of a job they are finishing, is the prism through which I'm looking at the situation.  In some way all of us are useful to our organizations.  But we have a lot of useful things in life.  And useful things constantly become useless or archaic.  It is that way with tools, appliances, and, I guess, vocations. 

Some time ago I remember a pastor giving a sermon urging us to look for something that possesses "eternal resonance" - a job or calling that lends us to becoming meaningful in ways that transcend money, fame, or status.  I think that is what we, when we are truly fortunate, must do when we find the jobs that pays our bills.  If we find a career that fulfills us, we get the chance to enrich others.  Perhaps we enrich our families by earning the income that supports our kids' aspirations.  Perhaps we enrich others by serving those with whom we work.  Perhaps we enrich others by contributing to the reputation of an organization that is bigger than the sum of its parts.  In our careers we have the chance to shape and influence those around us, and when we do that we transcend mere usefulness and even value.  Our job descriptions, jobs, firms, and markets are temporary things (though they often outlive us).  The impact we have on those we are around and on the greater good we foster is what has some real chance at attaining permanence. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The TV is dying

Television is dying for me.  I'd like to identify the culprits (in chronological order):

  • My kids.  When they're around, I can't always watch the shows I want to watch.  And when they aren't around, I don't want to waste my precious screen time on commercials or waiting for a show. 
  • The iPad.  Sherry and I bought one about a year ago.  It is a complete game-changer in how it altered my preferences for consuming news.  Ironically, I have ceded ownership to my wife.  She gets more out of it than I do.  I'll still get chances to occasionally use it to read my magazines and The Inquirer.
  • The Kindle.  Really, it might be a bit player in all this.  But I acquired it last summer just as I was starting to get more interested in reading Game of Thrones.  Reading on it came to supplant watching the Phillies as my way to pass a pleasant summer evening. 
  • The Philadelphia Eagles.  Their 2011 campaign was such a clunker it diminished my desire to watch nearly any sport.  The Flyers' pratfall in the playoffs and the Phillies' mediocre start to the 2012 season hasn't helped matters.  Ironically, I won't miss a single Eagles game after switching off the cable.  Those are still over the air. 
  • The Roku Box.  It's nimble.  It's flexible.  It links me to nearly anything I want to watch.  I just have to pray that the little guy holds out against the titans that are Apple and Google.  
  • That commentator on Michael Smerconish's show who, back in March, talked of how one should invest one's time rather than just spend it.  It's made me rethink what I do when I relax.  (By the way, a peripheral casualty of this was Angry Birds.) 
  • This laptop.  Now I can just digest however much content online as I want.  And a lot of it is news and commentary.  I like the ability to create and consume this laptop gives me.  I like being able to pick away at tasks both tedious and amusing online as I half-heartedly watch something.  Further, I'm starting to lock in on the richness of news that is out there.  

And that's the story.  The economics teacher in me wants to point out the diminishing marginal returns of television.  And after 36 years of watching a lot of television, it makes sense that I've hit the end of what it can do for me.  It's amusing to think of how these changes are going to make my household look different by the time my kids are 15 or 16, the age I was when cable first came to my neighborhood. 

Sherry reminded me tonight of how I used to yearn for a television in the kitchen.  No more.  The iPad and laptop can satisfy that.  I think she enjoyed knowing that holding the line on keeping TV out of the kitchen has worked out so nicely. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Sunday News Roundup

Some interesting angles on what's going on in the world:

Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett wrote an interesting essay on the long-term cost of unemployment.  What they have to say on unemployment's impact, for me, wasn't as meaningful at the idea they shared from Germany.  Germany, when it encountered the cyclical unemployment that came with the Great Recession embarked on offering subsidies to companies if those companies would keep workers on their roles, albeit at reduced hours.  Instead of paying out unemployment benefits they subsidized the payrolls of companies that otherwise would've been sending workers tot he unemployment office.  I like it.  It strikes me as committing money for something more purposeful than just supporting the misfortunate.  It's giving them something purposeful they can do. 

Jess Gavora's op-ed in the Washington Post struck a chord with me  She was commenting on the Julia advertisements from President Obama's campaign.  I share Gavora's perspective.  I watched the whole ad on the president's election website and I felt unsettled at the ominpresent nanny-state it seemed to call for.  To me, there seems only a small degree of difference between Uncle Sam being there for every life change and Big Brother being there instead.  It's the sort of ad that won't win any convert, but instead reassure bases.  Conservatives watch it and are repelled.  Liberals watch it and might be tempted to look for the "Donate Now" button.  Let's face it, that's what the candidates' websites should do.  I wonder how the target demographic for which Obama's campaign is targeting would feel about Governor Romney's Mother's Day marketing.  I couldn't help but feel a little sad for that future that the ad depicted because, with the exception of Julia's son Zachary, there is no one else in her life.  No spouse, no parents, no siblings, no friends; only a government on whom one could lean.  Life is richer with others. 

Speaking of Mother's Day, did anyone in the media think about doing a series of interviews with recent presidential moms?  If I'm not mistaken, the mothers of Obama, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton are still alive.  Oh, whoops, I'm very wrong.  The president's mother died in 1995.  Never mind. 

Little else in the news intrigued me today.  A lot of coverage about the president's decision to endorse same-sex marriage, but after a while that commentary seems repetitive, and it seems like conservative pundits aren't weighing in on it yet, which leads to a lot of commentary that seems like an echo chamber.  Then again, I don't miss any commentary decrying the president's endorsement.  I'm glad the president did it, but there is no legislation or amendment pending in Congress regarding the topic.  What occurred was more symbolic than practical last week.  Though symbolic acts offered by presidents usually are seismic.

One odd gem: Apparently Studebaker once sold a car called the Dictator, or so says George Will in his column.  I would call the 1930s an inopportune time to choose that as the label for an automobile.

My conservative friends reading this might be surprised that I linked to a NY Times piece.  I broke down and got a digital subscription.  Hope I'm not voted off the island.   Ironically, some justification comes from a column written by the Washington Post's ombudsman about the massive IT infrastructure their paper now requires.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  If we want good journalism, we need to support the  businesses on which we rely.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The 24-Hour News Cycle is Reaching New Lows

So, Mitt Romney was allegedly cocky and obnoxious as a teenager, prone to moments of cruelty to other teens.  Or, so says this flash-in-a-pan story.  My, my, the president's pronouncement of support in favor of same-sex marriages didn't even take a day to become too stale for the media cycle.  We've already moved on to the sophomoric behavior of a grown man back when he was, well, a sophomore. 

I guess I have something in common with both candidates for president.  Like the incumbent, my views on same-sex marriage have evolved.  Like the challenger, I regret some of the things I did as a youth. 

I guess that approximately 100 million other Americans could say the same thing. 

We've got two men of character running for the highest office in the land.  Both seem like principled human beings.  Both are family men, well-spoken, well-educated.  Why is there reluctance on the part of them, their advisers, or the media to move on from this silly side-show stuff and onto more substantive issues.  If the news cycle has stooped now to claiming that Mr. Romney was a bit of a brat in high school, I content that we have hit the law of diminishing returns of side-show character issues.  For the president and his challenger, can we just concede that there aren't really any instrumental issues of character and that, instead, there are important issues of vision, policy, and priorities that should dominate our national discourse? 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Okay, now this is amusing

So the History channel website had an interesting article on the five U.S. presidents who have taught school.  One of them was Lyndon Johnson.  On one hand, I could actually see that working.  I could see him being a very capable teacher.  But I can't help but chuckle at how he must have dealt with ornery senior high school students.  After all, he was famous for the "Johnson Treatment" (pictured below)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Farewell to another RINO

All I can say to this story is "sigh."  Not even a capital S for my sigh.

Politico Reports Lugar's Defeat

The fella had been there 36 years.  He had fallen out of touch with his constituents.  He was at one time a miserable candidate for president.

But he had sound credentials on foreign policy.  He had an impulse toward creating consensus and reaching across the aisle.

Just as it was for Arlen Specter, I guess it was time to go.  But what is replacing this generation of leadership in Washington?  What are their principles?  What is their calling card?  D or R, I just don't know.

I look at some of the successors to the venerable ones in the Senate and wonder what they've accomplished, independently or as a cohort.  I don't know if I can recognize anything worth mentioning. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Divine Sense of Humor

I do believe God has an amazing sense of humor.  Please accept as evidence this little tale . . .

I have a fund by which I save for fun purchases.  You know, toys for men in their mid-30s.  I've maintained this fund, building it through savings gimmicks, spending it, then building it again, since early 2006.  I've bought some neat stuff with it.  I pat myself on the back for my frugality, for buying items with cash rather than credit, for depriving myself of transient luxuries like beer or bourbon for loftier goals. 

Uncannily, each time I make a big purchase with it, an unexpected expense ambushes me right after I have depleted my savings.  My favorite such instance came after the purchase of the big-screen TV and Blu-Ray player I scrimped for and purchased back in 2009.  Within a week of paying for the TV, I was stopped by one of Upper Gwynedd's finest for doing 40 mph in a zone that called for only 25.  Oh, and shortly after that episode I lost my wedding ring. 

This trend continues.  Two weeks ago I purchased the computer on which I'm typing this post.  (A great system, by the way.)  And then . . .

  • A bicycle belonging to my kids was stolen from the porch.  (Really quite sad.)  That'll be about $180 and a couple of broken hearts. 
  • I punctured a tire on my automobile driving over an enormous bolt.  That'll be $200. 
  • On the way back from shop where tire got fixed my recurring check engine light came on.  My hunch: catalytic converter.  If I'm right: four digits. 
Normally God's humbling moves come at a cost of half the price of the big-ticket item on which I just splurged.  The ticket and ring ended up being about $450 to replace; the TV and Blu-Ray about $900.  It looks like this most recent dose of humility will exceed my normal agreement with the Big Fella. 

These are funny things to muse on.  I have so much to be fortunate about.  I must if I'm trying to make light of it. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


The last word from this week's The Week is worth a read.  It's a mournful commentary on the demise of America's space program.  It pushed me to wonder, how is America trying to grow right now?  What is our grand national project?  Is there any? 

We've always had a grand project.  Westward Expansion.  The Transcontinental Railroad.  The Panama Canal.  Saving the world from tyranny.  Space.  But what is it we're yearning to do today.  I really can't think of anything not having to do with preserving, maintaining, or elevating people's standard of living.  Noble, perhaps, but not grand.  I miss grand.

It's funny.  I have little time for science.  Chemistry, biology, physics never really have much of a hold over me.  Yet I'll drop a lot of things to look at the tales of our quest to the moon.  I miss something grand like that which captures my imagination and makes me temporarily overlook my biases against the world of math and science. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Mindless Cross-Promotion

I moved a step closer to cutting the cord this weekend.  The introduction of a Roku player into the house has definitely made me more reluctant to watch anything on cable.  The offerings are too weak, the scheduling too rigid.  I'm just not getting much for my money there.  The saving grace had been Comcast Sportsnet.  That's no longer the case.

That station interrupted Saturday's sports highlights with a breakaway to the local NBC affiliate to get a weather forecast.  Ugh.  First of all, CSN's Toyota Sportsnight is so inundated with commercials I don't want to lose any additional minutes to something other than sports.  That is all the more true for a weather forecast that, if I wanted one, I could easily call up on my telephone. 

More importantly, they've entered the same cross-promotional hell that ESPN entered into years ago when I kicked them to the curb.  Congratulations, Comcast, on having acquired NBC.  Boffo for you!  But now are you obligated to juice the ratings for the local NBC station?  Are we now to be treated to advertisements for the latest shows on NBC primetime?  Will there now be crossovers to the Today show? 

Comcast Sportsnet might now have become just another station, just another part of a network that exists only to boost the numbers for the other parts of its corporate entity.  It now stands out less from the other stations, of which there are already way too many. 

Why do we still have it, the digital cable?  There's so much to read online and in print.  There is so much we can watch through Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.  Why bother with a box that brings me channel after channel of sameness? 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I wonder if I can learn from this

Yesterday I saw a student depart.  I've known him since 2008.  I've known him to be troubled for some time.  Yesterday he withdrew from school.  Withdrew may as well be a euphemism for dropped out / kicked out.  With six weeks remaining until graduation, and no possibility of earning a passing grade in some critical courses, he withdrew.   

He exhibit some symptoms that made me think he's battling an addiction, which is sad, but a problem I'm unequipped to help.  For some reason, it's easy for me to say that this isn't a problem I can solve, I'll trust others (parents, counselors, administrators) to make an attempt at solving it.  They might succeed, they might fail.  I tolerate the ambiguity. 

Often I find it tempting to get too involved helping others solve problems.  Usually, others seek my help.  Sometimes I jump in because I think my help is desired.  And in the last months, I've gotten burned a few times helping in those situations. 

I think I made the right call gauging my involvement with that troubled child yesterday.  It's not a problem I can solve, aside from being a stable, honest, and caring adult who shows that he likes the child.  I need to apply this mentality to other situations so I can more wisely put my time and energies to use. 

A book I'll probably never read, but should

When I was in college we spent time in a methods class talking about Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson entitled Rise to Power.  The professor used it as an example of meticulous research.  At that point in my learning, I wasn't necessarily a fan of Lyndon Johnson, and I was already reading a lot for my classes, so I passed on reading it. 

I guess the fourth of five books has been released now.  And it's getting a lot of positive press.  George Will writes in today's Washington Post about it.  Will offers an interesting vindication for political history: "Caro . . . is also a valuable anachronism, a historian who rejects the academic penchant for history 'with the politics left out.' These historians consider it elitist and anti-democratic to focus on event-making individuals; they deny that a preeminent few have disproportionate impact on the destinies of the many; they present political events as 'epiphenomena,' reflections of social 'structures' and results of impersonal forces. Caro’s event-making Johnson is a very personal force." 

I don't know if I would have voted for Lyndon Johnson had I been of age in 1964.  I still don't know how truthful it is to call him a great or even good president.  His is a difficult presidency to distill into one clear judgment.  However, his five years and two months in office are some of the most intriguing to study and some of the most meaningful to teach.  I've come to admire his leadership though I don't necessarily think it was always marked by wisdom. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

A bad time for incumbents

An interesting last week of politics: In PA the Republican candidate blessed by the governor for the Senate nomination got his barn doors blown off.  Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate striving for the Attorney General nomination with the blessing of the Democratic establishment got beat, too.  President Obama's polls are sinking low enough that it seems like charisma-less Romney is drawing even.  Overseas, the French are about to dump President Sarkozy.  It's a lousy time to be an incumbent, or associated with them.

My question: Is it the incumbents who are to blame or is it us for not being patient enough to give them a real chance? 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Investing One's Time

Recently a news program was inviting callers to chip in with personal finance advice they had found valuable and one gem from a caller really stuck with me: "Invest your time, don't spend it."

Wow, is that a hard one for me to follow, but it's one I think I need to do.

One can invest one's time in a lot of things. I think it's possible to invest it in leisure, in friends, in advancing oneself at work, in family, in fatherhood, in Church, in maintaining a blog. I don't think the advice is a call to be a workaholic. It seems to me like it's a call for one to be purposeful, a word I like to use a lot with my students.

My last month or so has been humbling, in part, because I've been spending time rather than investing it. My time is something I'm usually quite willing to give: to band, to Church, to my kids, to my work, to doing more than I need to do at work. But if I'm spending it so freely in so many places, I don't know if I'm really investing it. And I think it's time for me to figure out where to stop spending time and focus on where to invest it. It means I'll have to say no more often, which I think I can do politely, but it doesn't come easily to me. Maybe young, in the midst of a career, married, with two kids (who are no longer babies), and with a growing extended family is exactly the point when one needs to find ways to invest time rather than just spend it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Sunday News Roundup

Some insights I found interesting:

Ruth Marcus on latest iteration of the mommy wars.

A silly idea from Sheila Bair. The $10 million amount is absurd, but I like absurdity to prove a point. My amateurish economics isn't adequate enough to inform me as to why we can't offer Americans the option to accept income tax refunds in the form of U.S. bonds. I think we'd benefit from a more transparent connection between our personal financial wellbeing and the debt our government maintains.

Maureen Dowd wrote of how boring the 2012 election might be, given the two candidates. One point I would offer, however, is that maybe the American people have settled on two men who just happen to be faithful husbands, good fathers, and otherwise decent human beings. Is it possible that we got something right?

And then there's this little kernel from New York Times regarding the tempest-in-a-teapot nature of today's news cycle.