Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Don't Want My MTV

With the A-Z Blogging Challenge starting Friday, I wasn't going to post anything this week. I saw something on TV last night that got me a little wound up, and I need to rant a bit.

I should probably be more embarrassed to admit this than I am, but I was watching Showbiz Tonight last night. They caught my attention with a video of some girl beating the hell out of another girl. Apparently the girl doing the beating is on MTV's reality show Teen Moms. I must have missed the part about why this girl was pummeling the other girl, but I did catch a lengthy discussion about the show in general.

MTV says Teen Moms discourages teen pregnancy by showing how hard the life of a teen mom really is. MTV acknowledges paying girls on the show $60,000 a season, but they deny choosing any girls who purposely get pregnant so they can be on the show. Really MTV? Really? That's like Barry Bonds saying he didn't know he was using steroids. The panelists on Showbiz Tonight weren't buying it, and either am I.

MTV isn't fooling anyone. Teen Moms doesn't deter teen pregnancy, it glamorizes teen pregnancy. In our celebrity-obsessed culture, the last thing we need is a show that turns teen mothers into celebrities. MTV has been a pop culture cesspool for a while now, but Teen Moms might be a new low.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Basketball Blues, The Big Short, and George Clooney

The Badgers got Butlered last Thursday night, another season ending with a meek exit from the tourny. The guys had trouble shooting the ball all year, so it wasn't a surprise to see them struggle shooting. They might have hit a new low though, missing 17 shots in a row. You just can't do that in the tournament and expect to win. Overall, it was another great year for Bo and the boys, another year of exceeding expectations.

While the Badgers were struggling in New Orleans, Arizona was running Duke off the court in Anaheim. My colleagues had a little bounce in their step Friday morning. Unfortunately, the Wildcats ran into the hottest team in the tournament, UConn, and they came up just a bit short yesterday. I know people here are disappointed, but the Wildcats had a great season. With Sean Miller at the helm, Arizona basketball has a very bright future.

I finished reading an amazing book yesterday, The Big Short, by Michael Lewis. The book dissects the subprime mortgage shenanigans that have seriously derailed our economy. I'm fairly ignorant when it comes to big time business, but Lewis does a nice job of explaining complex economic concepts for the layperson. I can't say I fully understand everything, but I get the gist. A relatively small number of guys basically brought the world economy to the brink of collapse. I wasn't a big fan of the whole Wall Street buyout when it was going down, and after reading TBS, I'm even less inclined to believe it was the right thing to do. It's hard not to think Henry Paulson and his Wall Street cronies got away with a money grab that would make a Russian oligarch blush.

Whenever I finish a book, I always start another one right away, just a few pages to get it going. I started reading Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists last night, and it hooked it me right away. I read about 50 pages, and then this morning I woke up early and read another 50 before everyone else woke up.

Meg and I watched The American last night. This is one of the quietest, slowest movies I've ever seen. Not that there's anything wrong with that (full Seinfeld inflection), but the movie just seemed to take itself way too seriously. I normally like Clooney, and he's fine, but this isn't one of his better movies. Speaking of good Clooney movies, my two favorites are Out of Sight and Up in the Air.

I hope everyone had a nice weekend. Anyone do anything fun? See a good movie? Read a good book?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Need Some Direction

Just a quick post to ask for a little help. I've decided to do the A-Z Blogging Challenge this year. Starting April 1, I'll be posting every day in April except Sundays. That will give me a total of 26 posts-one for each letter of the alphabet. If you're interested, you can click on the button to the right to read more about the Challenge and sign up.

Here's where I'd like some help. I'm considering a number of different themes for the project, but I'm having trouble making up my mind. Whether you're a regular reader or here for the first time, I would appreciate some feedback. If you would be so kind, let me know which theme sounds the most interesting, or the least boring, as it were, in the comments. Of course, if you have any better ideas, write-ins are definitely welcomed.

1) Random: just go with whatever comes to mind for a particular letter when I sit down to write.

2) Movies: not reviews, but start with a movie title and see where it takes me.

3) Books: same idea as movies.

4) Music: songs, bands, concert venues, anything music related really.

I have another question about the project, but I'll save it until I've picked my theme. Time to get comfortable on the couch for a big night of college hoops. You know I'll be cheering my Badgers on, but I'll be flipping over during commercials to catch some of the Arizona/Duke game too.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Basketball Bliss

I wrote about my lifelong relationship with the men's college basketball tournament last week. The first weekend of the tournament has always been one of my favorite weekends of the year. The upsets, the buzzer beaters, there's really nothing else like it in all of sports.

Wisconsin was never good enough to make the tournament during my time in Madison. The basketball program finally got its act together a few years after I graduated, and now you can pretty much bank on the Badgers being in the field of 64, I mean 65, I mean 68. The Badgers started this year's tournament in Tucson, so for the first time, I was able to cheer them on in person as they battled for a spot in the Sweet 16.

I wanted to bring the girls, but they had dancing commitments for St. Pat's. I talked a friend into going to Thursday's opening game, and instead of sitting in the nosebleed seats we paid for, we easily found empty seats near the court. A lot of the experts had Belmont upsetting Wisconsin, but the Badgers pulled away in the second half for a comfortable win.

I thought about bringing the girls to Saturday's game, but the tickets were just too expensive. My buddy didn't want to pony up another $80, so I went solo. I caught the end of the San Diego State/Temple game, a double overtime barnburner. After seeing how things worked on Thursday, I figured a good chunk of the San Diego State fans would clear out after their game. That's exactly what happened, and I wound up sitting in the front row, center court. It was like a basketball dream come true. The Badgers overcame a late six point deficit to win an extremely hard-fought game. They're moving on to the Sweet 16 in New Orleans, and the Final Four is a real possibility now.

The game was brilliant, but the best part of the whole experience came after the game. The full moon was out; it was a beautiful, balmy Arizona night. I called my brother and a couple buddies to talk about the game as I waited with a small crowd of the Wisconsin faithful to congratulate the team as they boarded their bus. I took some pictures of Coach Ryan and the guys, and I even got Jordan Taylor to pose for a quick picture with me. I told him I was an alum, teaching 8th grade right down the street, and that my students would be very impressed that I got a picture with him. He graciously listened to me ramble and actually thanked me when I told him he made a great block at the end of the game to seal the victory. I walked away very proud to be a Badger. ON WISCONSIN!

Friday, March 18, 2011

School Without Noise

Today was a grading day at school, which means there were no kids in the building. The silence of a school without kids is strange. It's a nice break from the audio assault that is public education, but it's the kind of silence that could get to a person after a while, a Shining kind of silence.

Needles to say, I find it hard to stay in my classroom very long on these days. I spend a lot of time visiting with other teachers. Just in case this sounds unprofessional, I'd like to assure the tax-paying citizens of Arizona that our conversations are always focused on the academic achievement of our students. There is no way I would ever use school time to talk about the awesome seats I had for the Badgers game yesterday. Nor would I waste valuable time listening to colleagues talk about the U of A's chances against Memphis and a possible matchup with Texas on Sunday. We teachers are all business, all the time. By the way, my seats for the Badger game yesterday were amazing, Arizona/Memphis was a great game, and I like the Badgers and the Wildcats to advance to the Sweet 16 this weekend. Just sayin.

Blogger extraordinaire, Munk Davis, sent me this cool video clip about teachers. It's brilliant-give it a look. Thanks Munk.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Madness

The men's college basketball tournament officially gets under way tonight, although I am not a fan of these play-in games. My Badgers come limping into the tournament, but they're playing here in Tucson, so I feel like I should find a way to be at the game. The girls are actually really excited to go, but like most sporting events these days, it's not cheap. With multiple games being played at one sight, it's a little more complicated than just buying tickets for the one game your team is guaranteed to play, so we'll see how it all works out.

The tournament has always been my favorite sporting event of the year. So many great memories, where do you even start. I remember One Shining Moment before it was a big deal. My earliest memory is Al McGuire and Marquette winning the title in '77. My dad went to Marquette, so that was our team. A few years later some of the Marquette players came to my school, St. Thomas More, for a little basketball clinic, and I remember being in awe. When Marquette fell on hard times, I just kind of followed the game in general, usually pulling for the underdogs.

I remember losing my mind, like everyone else of course, when Lorenzo Charles snatched that ball out of midair and slammed it home. I loved Rollie and Nova taking down mighty Georgetown. Keith Smart's jumper in '87 was a highlight of my senior year. I vividly remember the collective shock in my dorm room when Chris Webber called the infamous timeout that robbed the Fab Five of their legacy. Meg and I were in Tucson visiting friends in 1997 when Arizona won the title, and the air was literally electric with victory. Last year the Butler Bulldogs gave basketball purists everywhere a reason to dust off their copies of Hoosiers.

Unfortunately, the Badgers never made the tournament when I was a student, that would have been amazing. My buddies and I followed Tony Bennett and UWGB during our college years; their victory over Jason Kidd and Cal was huge for the state. The Badgers finally became a factor in the Dick Bennett era. It wasn't always pretty, but they won, and if it wasn't for Michigan State, we probably would have won the national championship in 2000. Bo Ryan has turned UW into a perennial power on the hardwood, but in my mind, the Badgers have often underachieved in the tournament. They had a nice Elite 8 run a few years back, losing a tough one to eventual champ, North Carolina, but other than that, too many loses to lower seeds.

Whatever happens this year, whether I see it live or in a sports bar, whether the Badgers continue to underachieve or somehow find a way to make a run, doesn't matter. The girls are budding basketball fans, so watching the tournament with them will add another dimension to this already great time of year.

How about you? Any fond tournament memories?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why I do What I Do

Teaching is a fickle profession.

I left work yesterday completely defeated. My students took a quarterly reading assessment earlier in the week, and the results were discouraging, to say the least. I'm not usually one to worry about standardized tests, but we're getting more pressure than ever to raise these damn test scores, and if nothing else, my pride was wounded. Jerry Maguire was good at closing deals, I like to think I'm good at raising my students' test scores. I drove home in silence, doubting myself, searching for answers.

Another day, a new perspective. One of my former students is a junior at West Point. He's in town for a few days, and he went to talk to kids in the JROTC program at his old high school. Meg works at the school, so I told her to send my regards and invite him to stop by my school if he got a chance. I don't work at the middle school he attended any more, so I didn't expect him to come by, but sure enough, he did. It was probably more of an afterthought, but our Assistant Principal asked if he'd like to talk to some of our students, and without blinking an eye, he agreed.

So today I had the privilege of introducing this amazing young man to my 2nd period students. My students are predominantly Mexican American, many of them from poor families. Here was this dashing (the looks on the girls' faces were priceless), humble, intelligent young man who looks like them, grew up in the same kind of neighborhood, proof positive of what hard work can do. Watching my former student talk to my current students was a sublime experience. It's something I won't soon forget. It's the kind of thing standardized tests can't measure, can't take away. It's why I do what I do.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Words to Live By

I don't know about you, but my daily vernacular is peppered with movie quotes. My movie-saturated brain enjoyed this collection of movie lines and catch phrases, many of which I routinely employ.

My favorites:

"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." One of many classic lines from The Princess Bride, one of the most quotable movies of all time.

"I want my two dollars." This one is an underappreciated gem from the John Cusack oeuvre.

"I'm walkin here!" I can't tell you how many times I've dropped Ratso Rizzo while trying to negotiate crowded school halls.

I know there are going to be worthy movies left out of a collection of this nature, but there are two omissions I cannot abide. Fletch and The Big Lebowski are chock-full of classic lines, and I find it hard to believe that both movies were shut out.

I'd love to know which lines are your favorite, and which movies were shut out that you find hard to believe.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


My baby girl turned 8 yesterday. In the time-honored tradition of parents everywhere, I have mixed feelings about another birthday. It's that whole bittersweet thing. As I've gotten older, birthdays have become quite the existential experience. Thoughts of the past fuse together with thoughts of the future to create a weird mental state. But enough of that.

The birthday festivities kicked off Friday. We took Quinn to get her ears pierced after school. We always tell Quinn she's "one tough cookie," and true to form, not a tear, not even a flinch. Her best friend had her ears pierced too, and it was pretty cool to see how excited they were. The earring thing is interesting. I would have let Quinn get her ears pierced earlier, but Meg had always said the girls should be 10. She changed her mind recently, and like the good husband I am, no questions were asked.

The girls enjoy coming up with themes for their parties, and in a testament to the power of marketing, Quinn went with a Rango theme this year. We did the movie of course, and then we did a lizard scavenger hunt in the backyard. I was Rango's deputy sheriff, and the girls had to check in with me when they found their lizards. I got to wear the sheriff's badge my buddy Matt bought me when we went to Tombstone that one time: Sheriff Tim. Probably enjoyed that more than a grown man should, but whatayagonnado.

Quick tangent to discuss Rango. I'm not sure who loved it more, the kids or the adults. It's a spot-on homage to Westerns, with a brilliant nod to Clint. In the beginning of the movie Rango talks about what makes an effective story. He uses words like protagonist and conflict, things I try to teach my students every year. I like to use movies to help kids understand the elements of fiction, and I'm sure we'll be watching Rango next year. Not only is Rango a possible teaching tool, I wouldn't be surprised if it's nominated for best movie. My man, Roger Ebert, gave it four stars, and I have to agree, it's that good. My only complaint is geographical. The Mojave Desrt of the movie has saguaro cactus prominently featured.  We take this a little personally down here in the Sonoran Desert. There are no saguaros in the Mojave Desert. Saguaros can only be found in the Sonoran Desert. Thank you very much.

Back to the party. Instead of cake, Quinn wanted a giant chocolate chip cookie with a frosted peace sign. After chocolate chip cookie and ice cream, we did the presents. Quinn lit up with each gift like it was the best present she'd ever received. She profusely thanked each friend and gave them a hug. I was really proud of how she handled herself. That was pretty much the party. Before each kid left, Quinn gave them a little cactus she picked out at a local nursery. It was a great party, great day. Still can't believe my little girl is 8.

Friday, March 4, 2011

One Shot

I came across some cool videos on /Film this week, thought I'd share. Both videos were done in one camera shot, and I thought they were pretty interesting. Curious to hear what other people think.

The first one is Tick Tock, a short film by Ien Chi. It plays in reverse, and according to Chi, "traces a young man's few minutes trying to fulfill his highest potential." Not sure I get that from watching it, but it's certainly cool to look at. Chi said it took 36 takes to get the right one, and it was filmed on the Oxford College of Emory campus. I'd say Chi was influenced by Memento, which in my book is a good thing.

The second video is a rap song, T.Shirt's "24 Frames." I don't know how many takes they needed for this one, but it was shot on two floors of a theater in SoHo. I could do without the cheesy blond, but the lyrics, 120 movie titles, are kind of cool. I'm not much of a rap fan, but I thought this was pretty creative.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

If Loving Melissa Leo Is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be Right

The Oscars are a big deal in the Riley house. Meg and I try to see as many of the nominated movies as we can each year.  We had to pull a movie doubleheader last Friday, but we managed to see all 10 Best Picture nominees this year. Overall, I thought it was a particularly strong group of movies.

My personal favorite was Inception, but I have no problem with the The King's Speech winning Best Picture. I do think it's ridiculous that Christopher Nolan wasn't nominated for Best Director. Other than Nolan's omission, I'd say the Academy pretty much got it right though.

I wanted Exit Through the Gift Shop to win Best Documentary, mostly to see what Banksy would doI was hoping for some street art shenanigans. By all accounts, The Inside Job is a deserving winner, and I'm looking forward to watching it.

The acting awards were foregone conclusions this year. Colin Firth was brilliant. He is now officially America's favorite Brit. I just hope he doesn't wind up in any more Bridget Jones movies. Natalie Portman winning Best Actress makes sense, but Black Swan was probably my least favorite of the ten Best Picture nominees.  The Fighter was a great movie, and Christain Bale and Melissa Leo were spot-on in their Bostonness. I think the moral is, do a convincing Boston accent and Oscar will come a callin. Well, unless your Marky Mark, whose Boston accent wasn't nearly as authentic, despite actually being from Boston. All this Boston talk reminds me, if you haven't checked out this mashup of Boston movies, do yourself a favor, give it a look.

Speaking of Melissa Leo, her F bomb was the only interesting thing about the whole show. I liked her a lot in Frozen River a couple years ago, but she reached a whole new level after that little acceptance speech of hers.

I'm sure I'm in a very small minority on this one, but I was disappointed there was no lifetime achievement award. I like a little history mixed in with the awards.

I don't normally get very excited about the Best Score, but I was very happy that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won for their score of the social network. I haven't been able to get that little piano riff out of my head since I saw the movie.

I don't know who thought James Franco and Anne Hathaway would be good hosts, but I would hope they will not be involved in planning next year's show. Award shows should be required to have stand-up comedians as hosts. I was actually hoping Billy Crystal was brought in to replace Franco and Hathaway, but alas, no such luck.

Even though the show wasn't great, it was a fun night. Watching the Oscars is something Meg and I enjoy together, and that's always the best part.