Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Parenting Dilemma

We retreated to what is becoming our default retreat, Hickory Run State Park, and camped there this past weekend. Until a storm chased us away, we were having a wonderful time.

The campsite I like best is set against beautiful woods (site 1 is my favorite but this weekend we were at site 2, nearly as great). There are no other sites to our west, and if you're there at the right time, the only sounds you hear is the breeze in the trees and a gentle roar of Hickory Run flowing at the bottom of the hill near our campsite.

Upon arrival, the boys wanted to go down the hill and play. I thought nothing of it, having played in woods for most of my childhood. But our friends kept accompanying the boys down the hill. At one point, I thought there might be some overreaction: what supervision do two good-natured boys need alongside a Pennsylvania creek? But on one trip I tagged along, and I saw something both beautiful and terrifying.

As the creek meanders to the southwest, the terrain quickly rises. Following what you think is a bank, you find yourself suddenly atop a rock cliff cut by the creek, ten feet or so above the creek. In other words: there's a cliff down there. No warning. Just a potential fall high enough to be, well, fatal.

And this is one of the great challenges of fatherhood: Do I let him play down there? Do I allow him the wonder of exploring woods, of traipsing paths dirty, rocky, or rooted? Does loving him mean I allow him freedom, or does loving him mean hovering, and squelching a good part of the joy a boy finds exploring in the woods outside of the gaze of parents?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

It's Sunday afternoon and I watched no football

I didn't watch any yesterday, either, but I was only a peripheral college football fan at best. In the wake of the Penn State scandal (and the NCAA's response) I can't watch it at all.

Back to Sunday. There was a day, and I recall it not too long ago, when sitting in front of the TV nearly all day to watch football was the way to spend a day. Today, however, I turned on the 1pm matchups, saw nothing interesting, looked out the window, decided to run 3 miles, then came home and forgot football was even on. I watched three minutes of a 4 pm game, then came the commercial break, which prompted me to watch a 44-year-old Cold War thriller.

My Eagles played Thursday night. Awful game. Didn't watch much of it past halftime. When I see my team playing Thursday or Monday, I'm initially happy that my Sunday is clear to watch more, better matchups. But then the product I see on TV leave me feeling "meh."

If the NFL were a stock I would sell it. Games now are caught in something of a limbo between encouraging hyper-tempo offenses but trying to prevent players from inflicting devastating injuries. At the college level (feeder programs for the league), teams are coming up with more high-tempo schemes but have no choice but to bend and twist arcane NCAA rules to field championship teams. At the high school level, many parents wince at the idea of their kids playing football, and they push their kids into safer pursuits such as soccer and lacrosse. At suburban high schools, where I teach, hallways are bereft of the mountain-like young men who would make you nudge a colleague and say "Surely, he's a football player." Simply, there just seem to be better things to do than watch a game over the weekend. And I don't think I'm alone in that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I'm shocked . . . good TV news journalism?!?!

CBS News has video of a debate from Face the Nation regarding the Syria episode that is quite good. It seems so much more mature than a lot of the talking head fare we're exposed too. Either that, or I really am a sucker for Michael Gerson and David Gergen. I encourage you to watch if you're in the mood for elevated debate on the Syria crisis which seems to have lapsed.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My favorite Sunday reads

So, what did I find most interesting in today's news . . .

Ross Douthat's column, centered on a faux conversation with Vladimir Putin's, is a winner.

Charles Lane writes on Cuba's decay in The Washington Post. So much attention has been focused on the hells in North Korea and Syria that the West has perhaps lost site of the Caribbean's hermit regime.

The Post also ran an essay that is a bit troubling, speaking to the observation that images from Syria aren't moving the American public to support war there. The piece makes me think a lot about how fifty years ago, moving images from TV moved the American public away from ambivalence on civil rights.

Oh, and let us not forget that today is the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing at Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.Two good links: from the National Park Service and from PBS.  

Thank you, CNET, for offering this gem on automotive excellence from Detroit at the nadir of America's industrial age.

Oh, and one interesting observation. I woke up early today and found a way of spending Sunday morning that was even nerdier than combing the news. I notice that now my Twitter feed is full of an excess number of Tweets about the Eagles' game, which I guess means that on a game day the-early-bird-catches-the-worm thing applies to getting news that way. Sometimes I can fall prey to arrogance about watching and reading things on my schedule. Is it possible that Twitter can throw us back into "appointment" viewing, just now on a smaller screen?

However, for the record when I turned on the TV for today's Eagles game, it was on the same channel as I had left it Friday night. We went 39 hours without watching any live television.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Some Slideshows

The Washington Post has offered some pleasant surprises recently. I found this slideshow on their page about famous public service announcements (PSAs), which led to the shocking discovery that my wife doesn't recall the famous "Iron Eyes Cody" PSAs of the 1970s and early 1980s. I guess I watched more TV than she did. 

In class on Wednesday I shared with my students another slideshow, this on how the world has changed since 9/11. Seemed appropriate as I've now had to treat 9/11 as a historical topic for my students (who were 3 or 4 when it occurred) as opposed to an in-the-news topic. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

News Roundup

Neat analysis piece in the New York Times regarding what the Syria episode is revealing about presidential power. High school Social Studies teacher orthodoxy calls for an assumption that the power of the presidency has grown since the time of the Framers. Perhaps we overlook the stubborn nature by which Congress can veto a president's intentions. I think the analysis might miss the way in which the Supreme Court can redirect events, too. Perhaps a running theme I used to call my students' attention to in AP U.S., that no president with the possible exception of James Monroe had a good 2nd term, is consistent with this analysis. Good read.

Maureen Dowd's essay offers me something I'm tempted to use in my classroom. Great example of the style that makes op-eds interesting to read, and it invites debate.

Thank you, Ben Schott. Your glossary is a great reset for those outside the Beltway looking in.

An interesting point of view regarding the rising cost of college tuition is at the Washington Post. Not too much interesting there today on Syria . . . I guess they put forth their best on Friday when they had Krauthammer and Robinson weigh in. However, one op-ed offers the depressing reality that "Saving lives is a hard sell these days." You can read that here.

My local paper had a write-up about Bike Night. It's actually kind of neat to stroll Main Street for this event. I don't know why it took my wife and I so long to visit it.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

One of the more infuriating columns I've read in some time

I haven't been political with my posts in some time. A column from the New York Times compels me to break that truce.

Timothy Egan wrote a piece recently that laid the blame for whatever we're doing (or not doing) with Syria at the feed of former President George W. Bush.

Mr. Bush left office nearly five years ago. His aims on foreign policy were repudiated in a midterm elections seven years ago. The chief architects of his foreign policy left office that long ago or even longer. He has been remarkably quiet in his time since leaving office. It stretches credibility to lay the Syria impasse at his feet.

I'm troubled by recent developments, and in many ways I identify with the ambivalence our president is showing. I also sympathize with his predicament by which words he said in the past have come back to haunt him. As for dealing with jackals in Congress who thwart his aims, well, I think many of us have had our own adversaries and partisans poking at our vulnerabilities.

We've all been guilty of leaping before we have looked.

Ross Douthat's most recent editorial is perhaps my favorite perspective on what to do with Syria. I wish the President hadn't promised action in Syria. But he did. I wish he hadn't thrown the vote to Congress. But he did. I wish Congress didn't seem inclined to undermine the president's stature. It looks like it does.

There is a messy reality on the ground in Syria. And it's tough to push for the overthrow of a regime when we know the likely victors of that struggle bear our nation significant ill will. The episode in Syria has not really become about the Syrian people, or even about Assad or Putin. It's about the inferences millions around the world will make about America's wherewithal, and I'm afraid we're coming up short long before we need to.

Okay, now I'm ready

My relatively short summer comes to an end. Tomorrow is my first teacher day (now it's called professional development, which seems to me an awkward title). Students arrive in a bit more than a week.

An annual trip to the Grange Fair in Centre County serves as my transition from summer to school year.

It's a five-day retreat for me, with the kids, to a tent which has served as the base for reunions in my family since 1976. As we get older and as, for the generation of new parents, our schedules get more frenzied, it's an important moment for me to pause with relatives I don't see as often as I would like. It's also an interruption in my summer because, well, I can do nearly anything I want to do (see exceptions below), but those things are more difficult. Bathrooms are a walk. Getting to bed requires setting up cots. Cooking requires some creativity in a makeshift kitchen.

Cleanliness is a war. Hopping online requires patience as one tries to get onto a burdened 4G network (tragedy of the commons, anyone?) and fights to keep one's phone charged.

But the detachment from the normal grind recurrently surprises me. Every once in a while I laugh at the preposterousness of voluntarily living in a canvas tent rather than a house with solid walls. The peculiar twang of Central Pennsylvanians flows into the tent (lots of diphthongs). There's a sight I get when I walk in our tent neighborhood, of row after row of tents lit from within and above, and it reminds me that thousands look to this event as a way to catch up and recharge.
I enjoy the soft glow of the lights as I sit in front of the tent and catch up with siblings and cousins. I revel in pushing my kids to follow routines at bed time and meal time that keep the place clean. I laugh when I think that years from now they might see this place the way I see it, as a semi-detached, semi-primitive haven from a world of schedules, agendas, and worries.


Perhaps the most pleasant surprise from summer 2013 was my relationship with my neighborhood, which strengthened. Sherry and I bought our home in 2002, thinking it was a nice starter home. We saw ourselves there for a few years before moving on. If we do move on, it's hard to see us doing it anytime soon and it's hard to see us moving from our neighborhood. This summer only deepened my affection for this little corner of Montgomery County.

Improvements to the house make this an easier conclusion to draw. This was the summer of central air conditioning, and though it was tough to see craftsmen saw holes in our walls and ceilings, it made the house remarkably more comfortable.
Looking down through the hole which now is the uptake of our air conditioning. 
The pool continued to be a great feature of our neighborhood, and as one who grew up in the woods, I'm still kind of astonished at the idea of having a pool within walking distance.
Sam on the final day of swim lessons.
The style of the homes, also, still appeals to me in our particular neighborhood. 

But I'll remember summer of 2013 most for it being the summer of beers outside and in town. Several of the fellows around here, whose kids my kids play with, turn out to have a lot in common with me, and we enjoyed spending time this summer walking to one another's homes to enjoy beer and talk. Certainly that thwarted some diet goals this summer, but that's where the running came into play. 

I never thought I'd be saying this at age 37: I have a running partner. But I am learning how to make runs in the area enjoyable, and that's helping me appreciate some nearby places, such as the Green Ribbon Trail.

A bittersweet moment: I bid farewell to my favorite chair. Before giving it away, I placed it on my porch and enjoyed a beer. 

And now there's news that Chick Fil A is moving in nearby. Oh, and Wegmans too.

I'm coming to chuckle more and more at the quirks of Lansdale: the way in which you can live here for 11 years and still feel like a newcomer, the fact that we have a Mardi Gras parade on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, that no Wawas exist in the borough, but surround it in every township, that we have great neighborhoods and churches, but a dormant downtown core, that we're old but have lost some of the finest pieces of architecture (it's amazing the way this town has demolished great buildings only to have them replaced by hum drum . . . the original Trinity for a non-descript bank branch, the original high school for a shuttered McDonald's, a victorian hotel for a tire superstore). 

And that is all for now.