Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Right to Make Me Uncomfortable

I was a political science major at the University of Wisconsin.  I've always enjoyed a good political debate, but lately the tenor of political discussion has become so vile, I find myself becoming apolitical.  It's all ranting and raving.  If you're a republican, you can't possibly take seriously what a democrat has to say, and vice versa.  Working with someone from the other party is considered weakness.   This makes me sad.  It strikes me as profoundly unAmerican.  The media is to blame for much of the animosity.  I guess people trying to belittle each other makes money.

I'm trying to avoid politics more and more, but I can't get a couple things off my mind this weekend, and I think they're related.  First of all, the whole debate about the mosque near Ground Zero.  I'm glad our President spoke out in defense of religious freedom.  Frankly, if he hadn't, I would have been incredibly disappointed.  Religious freedom is one of the founding principles of our nation, and if our leader can't defend it because it's politically unpopular, then we have a serious problem.  Having said that, I sincerely hope the mosque isn't built, it just doesn't seem like the right thing to do.

I also take issue with went down yesterday in D.C.  I'm not going to lie, I can't stand Glenn Beck.  I believe he is a hateful man masquerading as a compassionate one.  For him to hold a rally on the anniversary of Dr. King's historic moment strikes me as crass and egomaniacal.  He talks about taking America back, like those of us who disagree with him aren't American enough.  The man is shameless.  Having said that, I'm glad Mr. Beck had his rally.  It is his constitutional right, and I will defend it every bit as much as I will defend the rights of Muslims to build a place of worship.  

A mosque near Ground Zero makes me uncomfortable.  Glenn Beck channeling Dr. King makes me uncomfortable.  You know what?  Tough.  As citizens, we don't have the right to be comfortable all the time.  Too many of my fellow citizens have confused their comfort with rights, and it's making a mockery of our principles.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Leonard Smalls vs. Anton Chigurh

I'm a huge Coen brothers fan.  The Big Lebowski is my all-time favorite movie, but that's not what I want to write about.  I recently watched Raising Arizona again, and I couldn't help noticing some striking similarities to another Coen film: No Country for Old Men.  If you've seen both of these films, the comparison may seem like a stretch, but I've been thinking about this a lot the past couple weeks (just ask my wife), and not only do I think the films are eerily similar, I think a case can made that they are essentially the same movie.  For the record, I don't consider that a bad thing.  In fact, I think it's genius.

Both films have the same basic premise.  The protagonist takes something that doesn't belong to him, and then is relentlessly pursued by a demonic antagonist.  The Coens deftly use both Leonard Smalls and Anton Chigurh as symbols.

You don't have to be a film expert to realize these two characters represent pure evil.  On a deeper level, the Coens use the bounty hunter and the hitman to symbolize the evil of the times, which happens to be the 80s in both films, catching up with America.  Or something like that.  The Coens do love their symbolism.  I'm certainly open to other interpretations.

There are other, smaller similarities as well.  Both movies are set in the desert Southwest.  Both films have friendly police officers, and finally, both movies feature lengthy scenes with dogs chasing the protagonist.  There are more, but you get the point.

Now, having tried to make the case that Raising Arizona and No Country for Old Men are basically the same movie, I want to give the Coens their due.  These cats are auteurs, so I'm pretty sure they did it on purpose.  Even though the films are quite similar, the tone is completely different.  Raising Arizona was made pre 9/11, and the movie is essentially a comedy.  NCFOM was made post 9/11, and it is most definitely not a comedy, unless you tend to the very dark.  I have a feeling the Coens made the same movie to illustrate how different our world has become.

Of course, this could all be complete nonsense.  I can't help myself.  I watched a lot of Siskel and Ebert growing up.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

School and Favreball

The first week of school is in the books.  Even though my class sizes are bigger, it feels like a good group of kids, much better vibe than last year.  We're still in the honeymoon period, but my instincts are usually pretty good.

I actually had a first this year.  I always start out with student interviews.  The kids interview a classmate and then they present that person to the whole class.  I realize this is a nerve-wracking experience for the kids, so I offer extra credit if they volunteer to come up.  I've never had an entire class volunteer until this year.  Just one of many signs that have me cautiously optimistic.

With school back in session, that means the football season is right around the corner.  I've written about Brett Favre before, but in honor of his 20th season, I thought I'd say a few things about the ol' gunslinger.

I'm glad Favre's back.  Love him or hate him, the guy is flat-out entertaining.  Favre and the Vikings put a beat down on the Packers last year, and if the Packers want to be a serious Super Bowl contender they need to beat Minnesota with #4 under center.  I'm sure Favre will play well, he always does.  Just remember Vikings fans, the plot may change somewhat, but the ending with Favre is always the same.  Heartbreak City.  If you're like me, you'll love him anyway.    

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Road

Cormac McCarthy's The Road was one of the most profound reading experiences of my life.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I was moved to tears, and more than once.  The Road is right up there with To Kill a Mockingbird in my personal pantheon.  The amazing thing about the book is that it works on so many levels.  On one level it's a simple, and undeniably bleak, story of a Father and son trying to survive a post-apocalyptic wasteland.   Go a little deeper, and there is a beautiful and incredibly powerful theme at work.  No matter how bad things are, every minute we spend with loved ones is to be valued and fought for.  In the end, what else is there?  At it's deepest level, The Road is a commentary on the times.  McCarthy illustrates how hard it is to keep the fire with so much evil lurking in the world, and yet, in the end, if we follow the road, there is a way.  Sorry to go all literary there, but I love this book.  Don't take my word for it, Mr. McCarthy won a little thing called the Pulitzer Prize for his efforts.

I wanted to see the movie when it came out last year, but Meg isn't a fan of the whole post-apocalyptic thing.  Meg and Scout were at a Girl Scout camp Saturday night, so I picked up the DVD.  McCarthy has had a number of his books made into excellent films (No Country for Old Men is a classic), but I wasn't sure if The Road would translate as well.  When you love the book, the movie can often be disappointing.  The movie isn't on the same level as the book, but I definitely wasn't disappointed.  I love Viggo Mortensen, and his spot-on portrayal of the Dad makes this movie worth watching.  The Road isn't for everyone, but it is a powerful film in it's own right.    

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mixed Emotions

School starts tomorrow, and I have conflicting emotions.  As a teacher, I'm ready for the challenge of another year.  As a parent, I will dearly miss spending so much quality time with the girls.

Last year was the most difficult of my teaching career.  It was my first year at a new school, and in an attempt to fit in, I dialed it down, particularly in the classroom.  I like to describe my teaching style as a cross between Bobby Knight and Father Flanagan.  I kept Bobby bottled up, and Father Flanagan got his butt kicked.  I may not go as far as throwing chairs across the room, but to be truly effective, I need to let the inner Bobby out every once in a while.  After a lot of reflection this summer, I had to admit to myself that the fire, the Bobby, just wasn't there last year.  I won't make that mistake again.  I'm challenging myself to teach with that fire this year.  My students deserve it, and I won't let them down.

On the flip side, I hate to see this summer end.  This really has been one of the best summers of my life.  June was all about lazy days: playing games, reading, swimming, watching movies, taking naps, just being together.  July was an action-packed month of travel, family, and friends.  August has been about integrating Riley into our family.  I am incredibly grateful for the time we've had, but selfishly, I want more.        

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Addition

Meet the newest member of the Riley family - Riley.  That's right, Riley Riley.  No, we didn't name her, she's adopted.    

Before going up North this summer, Meg and I told the girls we would look into getting a dog when we got back.  Meg and the girls scoured throughout July, and they fell in love with two dogs in particular, one of them being Riley.  Things came together quickly once we got home.  Riley was in foster care in Tempe, and as it turns out, we were going up to Tempe for a feis on Saturday.  We arranged to meet her before the feis, and we picked her up on the way home.

When Goldie passed away last February, I knew it was only a matter of time before we got another dog. The girls were persistent, but this isn't a case of the parents folding.  Meg and I grew up with dogs, we've raised the girls with dogs, I guess we're just dog people.  I did have my doubts, but something Scout said wiped them all away.  "It's like having a best friend who never leaves!"  So there you have it, my little girls have a new best friend.          

Friday, August 6, 2010


The Rileys picked up a new hobby in Minnesota.  It's called geocaching, and it's a great family activity.  Shout out to Aunty Jody for introducing us. 

Geocaching is basically a modern treasure hunt.  Yon can sign up for a free membership at, and you're off and running.  Punch in any address, and a map will show you all the caches in the surrounding area.  With over a million caches worldwide, there will be plenty.  Each cache, or container, has coordinates, so you do need a GPS device.  We used the Garmin my dad gave me for Christmas, and it worked just fine.

Plug in the coordinates, and your GPS will take you right to the area.  The caches come in all sizes, and they're hidden, often in difficult terrain, so finding the container itself can be challenging.  When you find one there is a real sense of accomplishment.  Here are the girls looking mighty proud after finding a cache today.  It was cleverly hidden at the base of the Palo Verde tree in the background.  We were out for about an hour today, and we found three caches.

Each cache has a log book to sign, and some have little trinkets you can take, but only if you leave something else behind.  There may also be a travel bug.  These are little dog tags that people buy through the website and attach to an object.  We've already found two, one attached to a Lego Indiana Jones, and the other attached to a mini surfboard.  If you find a travel bug, you can take it and put it in the next cache you find.  Travel bugs have a tracking number, so you can follow where they go online.

Each geocaching excursion is logged online, even unsuccessful attempts, so the creator of the cache can see what's going on.  That's the next step for packoriles (our geocache name), hiding our own cache.  It's ready to go, we just need to figure out the best place to hide it.  The girls are looking forward to seeing what kinds of things people leave behind.  I'm looking forward to all the time we'll spend as a family with our new hobby.      

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Opportunity Knocks

After 35 days on the road, we finally made it home, albeit a little later than originally planned.  Our flight was overbooked, so we took a bump.  We weren’t on a schedule, so we couldn’t pass up the $300 vouchers.  That’s $300 per person, $1200 total=NO BRAINER.

We were perfectly content to stay in a hotel and fly back in the morning.  In fact, the girls were down right giddy about the idea.  They weren’t exactly itching to leave this morning, so anything to extend the trip was fine by them.  They’ve already decided that we’ll use the vouchers to go see their cousins in Portland.   They wanted to get bumped again, but alas, no such luck. 

I heard the agent trying to get some other people on the last flight to Tucson, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if we could squeeze on as well.  Turns out there were some empty seats, so we made it home by 10:30.  In my mind the Rileys made a cool $1200 for spending an extra three hours in the friendly confines of the Dallas/Fort Worth airport.

In my last post I wrote about the girls learning first hand that sometimes the most rewarding experiences of travel happen off the beaten path.  I think they learned another valuable travel lesson today.  Be flexible on the road, you never know when opportunity will present itself.  Well, that, and never pass up free plane tickets.