Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Top Ten Books of 2012

I'm a big end-of-the-year list kind of guy. I read as many as I can, and I've enjoyed doing my own book and movie lists the last couple years. I'm back at it this year, and since I'll be squeezing in a few more movies, I'll start with my top ten books of 2012. I read 58 books this year (still working on #58, but I'll be done by the new year), up from 42 in 2011. The books on my list weren't necessarily published in 2012, just books I read this year.

10) The Age of MiraclesKaren Thompson Walker: This is the only YA on my list. The Earth's rotation begins to slow, and life is profoundly altered. Walker gives readers a believable teenage protagonist who continues to deal with the average problems of adolescence. 

9) Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBen Fountain: Billy Lynn and the rest of Bravo unit are war heroes. The Bush administration has brought them back from Iraq for a PR tour. This is an excellent look at the US during wartime and the soldiers doing the fighting.

8) Canada, Richard Ford: How's this for an opening line: "First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later." If that doesn't grab your attention, I don't know what will. Ford's writing is sparse and graceful.

7) Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller: This is the third memoir Fuller has written about her family's life in Africa. The Fullers are fascinating people, and I hope the memoirs keep coming.

6) Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward: This is a brilliant book, but don't take my word for it, Ward won a little something called the National Book Award for this one. Ward shines a light on rural poverty in Mississippi with piercing and poetic language.

5) A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers: A struggling businessman must travel to Saudi Arabia in a last ditch attempt to keep his life afloat. This is one of those rare books that comments on the times by showing the plight of a single character.

4) Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter: I would call this one an epic. Walter expertly weaves together the lives of multiple characters over the course of a lifetime, with unrequited love always the driving force. Walter is emerging as one of America's finest writers.

3) Telegraph Avenue, Micahel Chabon: Not many writers will drop a 12 page sentence on you, and make you love it. Channeling his inner Quentin Tarantino, Chabon has given us a book about America, an America where black, white, gay, straight, male, female, live and struggle together. This one goes in the Great American Novel category.

2) Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand: Nonfiction doesn't get any better than this. Louis Zamperini is a true American hero, and you will be a different person after reading his heroic story. Simply put, Hillenbrand is a nonfiction master.

1) Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn: This book is such wicked fun, I had to put it #1. I like to think of it as War of the Roses.....on steroids.....or even better, meth.  Flynn's first two books are really good, but this one was a coming out party for a great writer.

Let me know what you think of my choices. I'd love to hear what other people enjoyed reading this year in the comments, might give me some ideas for 2013. Your top book, top 3, 5, 10, whatever works for you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pay for Play

Each December, I finish off the year reading three of my favorite books: The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Travel Writing, and The Best American Magazine Writing. These anthologies are chockfull of powerful stories written in prose of the highest order.

I just finished reading The Best American Sports Writing, and one story in particular has me thinking,  "The Shame of College Sports" by Taylor Branch. The article was first published in The Atlantic, and while it's a long piece, I highly recommend it.

There is huge money in college sports, particularly men's football and basketball. Professional basketball and football players have powerful unions that guarantee money and healthcare for their members. College athletes do not have that luxury. Many American universities make obscene amounts of money on football and basketball. Branch makes the case that these universities should be paying their athletes.

This is something I've gone back and forth on for a while now, but after reading Branch's article, I would say that I am now firmly of the belief that universities need to compensate their athletes beyond the cost of a scholarship. Lots of people cling to the idea that a free education is more than adequate compensation for playing a game, and twenty years ago maybe it was, but the times have changed. The money involved in big-time college sports is staggering, and the kids who make the money should be getting a bigger piece.

I love college football and basketball. My alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, makes a ton of money on football and basketball. It's time my fellow Badgers get in on some of the money they bring to our school. The situation is the same at many campuses across the country. Every student benefits from the money generated by football and basketball, and I think it's time alums everywhere start demanding their universities take better care of the kids they cheer for on the fields and courts.

Friday, November 23, 2012

I Love Pi

I did a post back in August when I saw the trailer for Life of Pi, Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's novel. I love the book, and the trailer had my expectations sky high. That's usually a recipe for disappointment, but after seeing the movie on opening night, I'm happy to report that Life of Pi is awesome. As in, it inspires awe.

Most of the reviews highlight the film's look, and there is no doubt that this is one of the most visually intriguing movies I've ever seen. I read they used four real tigers for different shots in the movie, and the CGI is so good, it's hard to tell when the tiger is real or computer-generated.

While I'm not a fan of 3D, I have to say, it gives the movie an added texture that accentuates already beautiful imagery. I'll probably go to the movie again, without 3D, and it'll be interesting to compare.

Suraj Sharma is great as the teenage Pi. He is the only human actor on screen for a big chunk of the movie, and he commands your attention. Irrfan Khan packs an emotional punch as the adult Pi. Khan's face is so expressive, he makes you feel.

I don't want to get into the plot too much. If you've read the book, you already know, and if you haven't, the less you know the better. Two central themes resonate in Pi's story: Faith and Doubt. As Pi searches for the presence of God, we are right there with him. That's the beauty of this movie, it shows us a young man's journey, and challenges us to take it with him.

I'm glad Ang Lee took me on that journey, and you will be too.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day

Photo by Joe Oliva/Joe@Jetpix.com

A number of people have emailed me pictures of a tribute the Green Bay Packers did for veterans last year. The images are truly awesome, if I do say so myself.

Photo byJoe Oliva/Joe@Jetpix.com

My parents met while serving in the Navy, and I was born on the Naval base in Chelsea, Massachusetts. As the son of two veterans, I appreciate all that our veterans have done, and continue to do, for our country. As the son of two veterans, one a Democrat and one a Republican, I know that love of country crosses all personal politics. As the son of two veterans who worked in health care their entire lives, I know America must take care of the men and women who come back from the battlefield wounded and scarred.

I always think about this on Veterans Day, but it especially strikes me this year. On Friday, my mom went to an event at my daughter's school for veterans. I'm incredibly proud of my mom. If you met her, I doubt you would peg her as a veteran, but she most surely is, and I was so happy that she got to share that part of her life with her granddaughter.

My heartfelt thanks to all the men and women of our armed services. And to my mom, who is a regular reader, you are a true Patriot.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkin Yoda

Yoda features prominently in my classroom. A huge posterized Yoda faces the class, and I have four sweet Yoda dolls strategically placed around the room. My students know Yoda is always watching. What can I say, Yoda brings out my inner dork.

Last week one of my students surprised me with a Yoda pumpkin kit. It really caught me off guard, and I'm not gonna lie, I was a little verklempt.

It's a small thing, but as teaching constantly reminds me, it's these little moments of grace that make a big life.

Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Books to Movies

Cloud Atlas is an amazing book. Despite mixed reviews of the movie, I needed to see it, out of respect for the source material if nothing else. Meg hadn't read the book, so she wasn't as enthusiastic, but she was a trooper and came along.

We both liked the movie. Didn't love it, liked it. Now having said that, I have a feeling this movie will grow on me, much the way the book did, and in time, I may very well consider Cloud Atlas a cinematic masterpiece. This happens with a lot of great books and movies, they hang around in my brain, prodding me to continue thinking about them until I realize their true brilliance.

I would say more about Cloud Atlas, but here's a link to a really great review of the movie that puts anything I have to say about it to shame.

Got to see the Life of Pi trailer again, and I am deliriously excited about that one. Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas are two outstanding novels made into movies, and I've been thinking about my favorite book/movie combos all day. Thus, a top five list is in order: the five best book/movie combos.

5) Up in the Air: Being a sucker for marketing, I picked this book up in the Denver airport. Walter Kirn's protagonist, Ryan Bingham, is certainly a man for the times. Always on the move, but never getting anywhere. I love the book, and George Clooney delivers an understated performance in a great adaptation of the film.

4) The Color Purple: I actually saw the movie first. As a child of the 80s, anything Spielberg did was required viewing. Whoopi Goldberg was brilliant, and the last scene of this movie is remarkably powerful.

3) No Country for Old Men: I'm a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers. This may be the ultimate combination of literary and cinematic genius to date.

2) Wonder Boys: I love Michael Chabon. I started reading his new one, Telegraph Avenue, this weekend. This is one of those times when the movie might just be better than the book. Michael Douglas is perfect as Grady Tripp, a best-selling author who breaks out of a funk over the course of a crazy weekend with one of his students.

1) To Kill a Mockingbird: I've written about TKAM numerous times here on the ol' blog, so let me just say this. Classic book and classic movie. Not sure you can say that too many times.

Let me know what you think of my choices, and by all means, share some of your favorite book/movie combos.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Am I Undecided?

A lot was made of the first presidential debate; the TV talking heads lost their collective minds. Conservatives were giddy that Romney performed well, and liberals were dismayed that Obama performed poorly. I actually had something better to do, coaching soccer, and while I normally record things I want to watch later, I purposely skipped the debate. My plan was to let the media coverage do my thinking for me. I mean, that is what CNN, FOX, and MSNBC are for, right?

So Romney won and Obama lost. But does it really matter? I don't think anyone bases their vote on debates anymore. All the information is out there already, and most of us picked our guy a long time ago.

But apparently undecided voters are still out there, and they may very well decide the election.

As this recent Saturday Night Live skit points out, that's kind of scary.

My apologies if you are an undecided voter. But seriously?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Banned Book Week

I did a banned books post a couple years ago, and since there weren't many people reading this blog back then, I thought I'd do a repost. I have added to the old post, and that will be in red.

This is banned books week. The American Library Association has a list of the most challenged books of the decade, and I highly recommend checking it out. If you're like me, the list will boggle your mind. It's important to remember that there are still people out there who would censor some of the best books ever written. A number of the bloggers I follow have written about their favorite banned books, and reading these posts has inspired me to write about the banned book that means the most to me.

To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book of all time-hands down-banned or otherwise. I didn't read the book in school, which is surely an indictment of my education. I read it on my own after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. I read it over the course of a Western road trip with a good friend of mine, and it had an immediate, profound effect on me. For my money, Atticus Finch is the best character in American literature. His integrity and perseverance in the face of evil still inspire me to this day.

Then there's Scout. Let's just say Jean Louise Finch made quite an impression on me. When the doctor told Meg and I that our first born was going to be a girl, I knew her name had to be Scout. Luckily for me, Meg was amenable, and I have to say, our Scout embodies the spirit of her namesake.

We did get a little push back from Scout this summer about her name. Like any good millenial (I think that's what they're calling her generation), she googled her name. There's not a ton out there (I did some googling myself), but there are some negative comments: Scout is a dog's name, no one will ever take anyone named Scout seriously, that kind of thing.

Ah, the internet, home of anonymous ignorance and cowardice.

I think Scout was mostly concerned about the transition to middle school and fitting in. As much as it bugs me, middle schoolers, for the most part, don't like to stand out. I was sympathetic to Scout's feelings and we had some long talks about the things that truly make a person unique. Now that Scout has made it through her first quarter of middle school, I think she's feeling better about her name. We were talking about names in the car the other day, and Scout commented that there are a lot of unique names nowadays, much more so than in the past. I told her that sounded about right, sensing that she had made her peace with her unusual name. I've always known Scout would need to be older to truly appreciate her name. I can respect that she's still working it out, and I have faith that she'll get there.

I think the main reason people have tried to ban Mockingbird is because of racist language, particularly, use of the n word. The language makes people uncomfortable, but that's the point. Harper Lee was shining a light on hatred and racism. Yes, the n word is abhorrent, but to exclude it from a book set in Jim Crow Alabama would have been dishonest. And that's the thing about To Kill a Mockingbird. It is the most unflinchingly honest book I have ever read.

I make it a point to reread The Bird every year. If you haven't read it in a while, maybe now is the time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stunned in Seattle

If you allow yourself to love a team the way I love the Green Bay Packers, heartbreak is part of the deal. You can't enjoy the success without the pain. And let me tell ya, last night was painful. The never-seen-anything-like-it kind of pain. The Packers lost on the last play of the game, and if you haven't seen it, here it is (the audio stinks, but you get a bunch of angles).

If you're a Packers' fan, you will go to your grave swearing our guy intercepted that ball. The Stunner in Seattle will go down in Green Bay lore. Future generations will be forced to listen to gloriously detailed accounts of the injustice perpetrated by replacement referees on our beloved GBPs.

I spent a good two hours after the game venting and commiserating with friends who I have watched football with since I was a boy. It's all you can do after something like that.

At the end of the night, I found myself sitting in my backyard, drinking a beer in the light of the moon. My thoughts turned to my dad, and despite the pain, I had to laugh. That was one hell of a game Pop.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

WWW Wednesday

Blogging is clearly taking a backseat to teaching this year. I don't usually bring work home, but I've actually been enjoying grading papers and making lesson plans while I sit with the family as they subject me to ridiculous TV shows. God help me, another season of The Voice has started.

Back in July I did an inaugural WWW Wednesday post. I didn't commit to doing it every week, but I didn't think it would take nearly two months to do another one. Whatareyagonnnado?

I've actually read quite a bit since that last post, but I'll stick with the format:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I'm reading Tolstoy and the Purple Chair right now. I saw this one while browsing at Barnes and Noble this summer before we went to see Brave. I added it to the book list I keep on my phone, and I got it from the library this past weekend. This is one of those memoirs that chronicles a year of doing something or other. I'm kind of a sucker for that do-it-for-a-year thing. Nina Sankovitch lost her sister and to cope she decided to read a book a day for a year. I'm not very far into it yet, but so far it's quite good.

I recently finished The Odds by Stewart O'Nan. I've been on the O'Nan bandwagon since I read Last Night at the Lobster a couple years back. Both books are extremely short, about 170 pages, and both are top-notch. The Odds is about a couple seemingly at the end of the line. O'Nan is one of those authors who perfectly captures the intricacies of every day life and relationships.

Next up for me is father-mucker by Greg Olear. How 'bout that title? See what he did there? This is another one I saw browsing at B & N, and rather than pay for it, I added it to my phone list and got it from the library. It's about a stay-at-home dad on the brink. I haven't read Olear before and I always enjoy reading a new writer.

If you've read any of these books, I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you're not doing your own WWW Wednesday post, how 'bout sharing in the comments what you're reading, what you've read, and what you will be reading. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A New School Year

Here in the desert, we're just about done with our first month of school. I know, crazy. It feels weird to be half way through the first quarter and it's not even September yet. So much for the days when school started after Labor Day. With the new schedule adopted by the school district, we do have the first week of October off, so at least I've got that much going for me (Bill Murray Caddyshack voice).

A new schedule isn't the only big change for me professionally this year. Three years ago I chose to participate in a federal study. It was a two year commitment, but I stayed a third year because I loved the people I worked with, and I believed we were turning things around. We found out this summer that the girls would be starting school later, and since I handle the mornings, I needed to find a job that fit our new family schedule better. As it turns out, the school I left had a position available, and fortunately, wanted me back. 

I'm teaching 6th grade language arts this year, and while it's a new grade for me, the content isn't much different. I'm quite enjoying it so far. A couple things are making it a unique experience. First of all, my oldest is in 6th grade this year, so for the first time in my teaching career, I have a child who is the same age as my students. I've told my students that I have high expectations for my daughter, and whatever I expect of her, I'll be expecting the same from them. What kind of teacher would I be if I didn't?

The other thing that's kind of strange is that for many of my students, I am the first male teacher they've ever had. A number of parents mentioned this to me at the little pop-in we had before school started. Some of the kids were actually nervous about it. This won't change how I do anything, but it's kind of cool to think I'm the first male teacher for some of the kids. I better make sure I represent for the fellas.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Can't Wait

I'm not normally one to get worked up about a movie trailer, but this trailer for Life of Pi has me really excited. I love the book, and I'm not gonna lie, when I saw this thing yesterday before ParaNorman, I got a little verklempt. I know movies often fail to live up to great trailers, but if this movie is anywhere near as good as the trailer, Life of Pi is going to be one hell of a movie.

Any Life of Pi fans out there? What do you think of the trailer? If you're unfamiliar with Life of Pi, does the trailer pique your interest?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fast Five: Olympic Highlights

I'm writing this post as I watch the closing ceremony of the Olympics with the family. That's what this Olympics has been about for me-family. The girls really got into the spirit, and their enthusiasm made these last two weeks a transcendent experience. I'm sad the the Games are over, but also glad to get back to a more regular schedule.

The Olympics are always full of memorable moments, and these Games were no different. The Rileys have spent a good chunk of today discussing our favorite Olympic moments. So as I watch The Pet Shop Boys sing "West End Girls" in some seriously ridiculous outfits, these are my top five moments of the 2012 Olympic Games:

5)  The Queen's Entrance: I thought Danny Boyle did a nice job with the Opening Ceremony. I enjoyed the ode to the national health system and the young couple finding love with help from their cell phones, but the highlight of the OC had to be the Queen and James Bond parachuting in.

4) The Blade Runner: Oscar Pistorius didn't claim a medal, but in my mind, there was no bigger winner. Pistorius showed us all what real courage is, and his performance will continue to inspire me for a long time.

3) King of the Pool: There will be plenty of debate about who's the greatest Olympian of all time, but the choice is simple for me. Michael Phelps: 22 medals, 18 gold=fuggitaboutit.

Before I get to #2, why the hell isn't The Who singing their own damn song.

2) Fab Five: My girls fell in love with Gabby, Aly, Jordyn, McKayla, and Kyla. It was a blast to watch them screaming and cheering for their every move. They nearly lost their minds when the Fab Five won the team competition.

1) Queens of the Track: The American women set a world record in the 4x100 relay. When Carmelita Jeter crossed the finish line pointing at the clock because she knew they'd set the world record, the Rileys were going crazy.

These are five great memories that I'll take away from the London Games. Which moments will stick with you?

P.S. Why in the holy hell is Liam Gallagher performing without his brother?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thoughts on Penn State

I admired Joe Paterno for most of my life. I wasn't a Penn State fan, but like many football fans, I grew up respecting him. He seemed like one of the few people in college football who was doing things the right way. Over the years, the more I learned about Paterno, my admiration only strengthened. In 2004, the 79 year old Paterno was steamrolled by one of my Badgers during a game, a collision that shattered his leg. I marveled at his resiliency, further solidifying my respect.

Joe Paterno was a great football coach. That does not mean he was a great man.

Clearly, he was not.

Too often we equate success on the field with character. We assume winners are admirable. Joe Paterno won the most games in college football history. Everyone assumed he was a man of great character.

Until we learned the awful truth. Despite unprecedented success on the gridiron, Joe Paterno failed when it mattered most.

Penn State took down the Joe Paterno statue Saturday. There are Joe supporters who wanted the statue to remain, trying to separate his football legacy from his personal disgrace. Those people are delusional, Joe had to go.

The Penn State football program was severely punished by the NCAA today. I spent some time listening to sports talk radio, and there are people who think the penalties went too far, punishing current Penn State players who had nothing to do with the scandal. That's true, but it misses the point.

Penn State, as an institution, covered up horrendous crimes against children. In my mind, no penalty is too severe.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

WWW Wednesday

I started this blog a couple years back with the intention of writing about books and movies. I do a fair bit of reading, and I watch a lot of movies. I've kind of strayed from that original intent. Not that there's anything wrong with that (Seinfeld voice), but I've been meaning to get more books and movies in the blog.

So today I'm joining a weekly meme I came across on one of my favorite blogs, What Else Is Possible?. The meme was set up by MizB at Should Be Reading, and it's simple and to the point. Exactly the way I like things. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I'll do this every Wednesday, but if I do post on a Wednesday, this is what I'll be doing...........for now.

To play along, all you have to do is answer the following three (3) questions…

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I'm reading Canada by Richard Ford right now. In fact, I'll probably finish tonight. This is literature with a capital L my friends. Big themes, metaphorical, perfectly constructed sentences, keen insights, all the things you would expect from a writer of Ford's caliber. I really can't recommend this one enough. I mean seriously, if you get a chance, just read the first two paragraphs and I bet you'll be hooked.

I recently finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This book is a twisted good time. I'm sure this one will wind up on the big screen sooner or later. I kept thinking about The War of the Roses as I read it. The couple in the book is like the Roses..........on steroids. 

Next up for me is The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. Sounds like an interesting coming of age story. The earth's rotation is slowing, causing big environmental changes, and all the while, the main character, Julia, has to deal with life's usual problems. 

If you've read any of these books, I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you're not doing your own WWW Wednesday post, how 'bout sharing in the comments. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

What Were They Thinking?

Bruce Springsteen did a show in London over the weekend. The guy is 62 and the show was over three hours long. Even if you don't like The Boss, you gotta give the man his credit. He's out there puttin the young kids to shame.

The London crowd probably lost their minds near the end of the show when none other than Sir Paul McCartney joined Springsteen on stage. Bruce and Paul played "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Twist and Shout." Bruce told the crowd he'd been dreaming of playing with McCartney for 50 years, so one can only assume they would have played more songs together. 

Apparently there was some kind of curfew, and unbelievably, the plug was pulled on two of the all-time greats. I'm not normally one to worry about the fall of western civilization, but if Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney can't play music as long as they damn well please on a Saturday night, there is something fundamentally wrong with society.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reading and Economics

A recent visit to Barnes & Noble has me thinking.

I had a $25 gift card, and there were a couple books I really wanted to get: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter and A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. The books had just come out, so they were only available in hardcover. I didn't want to spend a bunch of money, so I went back and forth between the two. The more I deliberated, the more irritated I became.

Did I really need to pay $10 more for a hardcover book? If they were both in paperback, I could have bought both books for about $5 more than the cost of just one of the hardcovers.

Then I had to decide if I should just find two other paperbacks and wait for BR and AHFTK to come out in paperback. But that takes months. I could get them from the library, but there's usually a wait for new releases from guys like Walter and Eggers. I was jonesing to read them now. I eventually chose to buy Beautiful Ruins (amazing book by the way-check it out), but I left the store unsatisfied.

The whole situation has kind of stuck with me. I buy a lot of books, but I hate paying more for hardcovers. I know some people love hardcovers and are willing to pay extra for them. Even though I've never liked dust jackets, I was one of those people for a long time. After this experience, I think my days of buying hardcovers are over.

If I knew the extra money was going directly to the author, I would be willing to continue buying hardcovers. I'm pretty sure authors don't see much of that extra $10, so then it comes down to what's cheapest for me. Of course, ebooks are often the cheapest way to go, and while I've done a few books on my phone, I'm not sure I'm ready for a full ebook immersion.

I still want to have actual books, especially the books of my favorite writers. Paperbacks aren't so bad. The cover art is still there, and it's not like I'm going to read a book so many times the binding won't hold up. As far as books I can't wait for, well, after this experience, I'm getting pretty comfortable with the idea of buying ebooks on itunes.

I just can't see paying $25 for a new release. Not anymore.

Are your reading habits changing because of economics?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

American Movie

The Fourth of July is a day to celebrate the birth of a nation, to reflect on what it means to be American. Movies are a big part of American culture, and certain movies encapsulate the American experience. Here are five great movies that strike me as particularly American.

5) Remember the Titans: Race relations have been a contentious part of the American story, and any number of films have attempted to deal with race. Titans certainly doesn't have the gravitas of other films tackling race relations in the US, but it reminds us that when we work together, anything is possible.

4) Rebel Without a Cause: This is the movie that made James Dean an American icon. Rebel perfectly captures the angst of the American teenager. Times may change, but older Americans always think the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket.

3) Gran Torino: America is a country of immigrants, and Gran Torino is a movie about immigration. Walt Kowalski is a bitter old white man, watching his neighborhood change before his eyes. Walt is a metaphor for the US itself. He is a flawed man who evolves.

2) Rocky: Americans love an underdog, and Rocky Balboa may be the best underdog of all-time. Rocky Balboa is another cinematic metaphor. He gets knocked down, but always gets back up.

1) Saving Private Ryan: World War II may have been America's finest hour, coming to the defense of freedom and justice. Some would argue we haven't always fought for those principles, but freedom and justice are at the core of what America is all about. Saving Private Ryan is the best example of that spirit I've ever seen on the big screen.

These are five movies that scream America to me. What do you think of these choices? And what movies scream America to you?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Does Anyone Have It All?

Last week the Atlantic published an article that caused quite the media ripple. "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" describes the struggles of Anne-Marie Slaughter as she tried to balance a high-powered career with raising two sons. It's a long article, but definitely worth a read. I've heard and seen a lot of response to Slaughter's article since its publication, and I can't help thinking the media got it all wrong, again.

Much of the media focus has been on the notion that older feminists have somehow lied to younger women about the realities of juggling work and family. They've used Slaughter's experience to imply that women can't have a productive career and a happy family life. Slaughter gave up a demanding job, yes, but she didn't leave the work force. She simply went back to her old job, one which allowed her the flexibility to balance work and family better.

Slaughter did not intend to say that women can never have it all, a biological truth she only just came to realize. Quite the opposite actually. She clearly understands that most women in the 21st century don't have a choice. They have to find a way to balance work and family. And this is where Slaughter's main point lies. The majority of women will need to work while raising a family. That's not going to change any time soon. What can change is the way companies deal with their female (and men too quite frankly) employees. Companies need to become more flexible so that women can have more time with their families. That flexibility will create more productive female employees, and that's a win win for everyone.

The media tried to frame Slaughter's article as some existential choice modern women face. Maybe for wealthy women, sure, but for an overwhelming majority of women, there really isn't a choice. Slaughter knows this, and I think she was trying to wake up corporate America. Companies do have a choice. They can work with women to make it easier to balance work and family.

As the father of two girls, this article really has me thinking. I can only hope that by the time they are ready to enter the workforce, companies that don't promote a positive work/family balance will be few and far between.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fast Five: Sci-fi Edition

Let me do a very brief movie review: I saw Prometheus recently, and I loved it. The look, the sound, the ideas. All top-notch and definitely worth your time.

If you're like me, after seeing Prometheus you might just spend a bunch of time reading stuff online to see what other people think it's all about. That's almost been as much fun as actually watching the movie. In fact, my man, Micheal Offutt, wrote a great piece about Prometheus that helped me sound pretty smart at breakfast yesterday. Thanks Michael. Check him out for some seriously in-depth film analysis.

I wouldn't say I'm a huge sci-fi fan, but Prometheus got me thinking about some of my favorite sci-fi movies. I usually do my lists on Fridays, but I am officially breaking free of that structure. Fast Fives will now appear whenever the motivation strikes. 

So today, in honor of a truly great sci-fi film, I present my top five science fiction movies of all-time.

5) Close Encounters of the Third Kind: This is probably one of the first sci-fi movies I ever watched, and so many of the images have remained with me. The movie perfectly captures a sense of adventure that every sci-fi movie after it has tried to emulate.

4) Back to the Future: I recently watched this again with my daughter. I just kept thinking how damn clever it is. 

3) The Matrix: This movie literally had me on the edge of my seat at times. The sequels, not so much.

2) Inception: The movies love to play with dreams, but nobody did it as well as Chris Nolan.

1) Alien/Aliens: These two are a packaged deal for me. Aliens may be the best sequel of all-time, and Ellen Ripley is one of the great female characters in film history.  

Prometheus may join this list after some more marinating, but for now these are my choices. I'd love to hear what your favorite sci-fi movies are.   

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Coke Addiction

Last week New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg caused a stir with his proposal to ban sugary soft drinks larger than 16 ounces. There was an immediate backlash, much of the commentary invoking the tried-and-true "nanny state" reference.

Bloomberg's critics hate the idea of the government intervening in their choice of beverage, and I can't say I disagree. I love me some soda. I have drunk copious amounts of Coke over the years.

I've tried to quit any number of times, to no avail. I don't drink as much soda as I used to, but on average, I drink a couple cans of Coke Zero a day. Meg and I have made a concerted effort to keep the girls off soda and fruit juices for as long as possible. Soda and juice are considered the rarest of treats for the girls, but they are pushing for more, noting the hypocrisy of their parents drinking soda while denying it to their children. Crafty lil' buggers.

So no, I do not want the gov't telling me what I can and cannot imbibe.

But, on the other hand, I wouldn't mind paying more. Which is to say, I can see parallels to what happened with cigarettes. As more and more information came to light, and it was determined that cigarettes are truly bad for you, with massive economic costs, the gov't got involved. Cigarette taxes have undoubtedly reduced the number of people smoking, and I think most people would agree that's a good thing.

Could the same situation be unfolding with sugary drinks? More and more information is coming to light about the negative health and economic consequences of so much sugar. I have to wonder. If the gov't knows something is causing widespread health problems, and the cost of dealing with those health problems is straining the economy, shouldn't something be done?

People will never allow the gov't to ban sugary drinks outright, but they may be willing to adopt the cigarette model. Taxes on sugary drinks could reduce the amount of sugar people put into their bodies, without eliminating the choice to do so.

 I'm conflicted on this, but I have a feeling Bloomberg's proposal is just the beginning.

How 'bout you? Are you on board with Bloomberg? Should the gov't do something about all the sugary drinks? Or should the gov't get its damn hands off our soda?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Unintended Consequences

I came across an interesting article in my twitter feed this morning. The NY Times had a story about the growing digital divide in the US.

The digital divide used to mean that poor kids didn't have access to the same technology as their wealthier peers. While that gap has been narrowed, it does still exist. With the cost of technology coming down all the time, one can assume that gap may one day be nonexistent.

The 21st century digital divide isn't about access to technology, it's about how much time is being wasted using technology. The story chronicles how kids of all socioeconomic classes are wasting time every day watching shows, playing video games, and hanging out on facebook. Without going back to check the specific numbers, kids whose parents didn't graduate college spend 11.5 hours a day, A DAY!, using technology to entertain themselves, while kids whose parents did graduate from college only, ONLY!, spend 10 hours a day.

Pardon me while I hide my kids' ipods.

Now don't get me wrong. Computers and such are great. But as a senior researcher at Microsoft admits in the article, we have failed to account for how computers are actually used. Kids aren't spending 11.5 hours a day honing their math and reading skills. They're simulating war and butchering the English language on social media, and other fun stuff of course.

The use of technology in education is pervasive and unquestioned. School districts spend a ton of money on technology, and while I don't have a problem with it per se, I do sometimes wonder if all that money is being well spent. The ways things are going, it won't be long before every kid gets a lap top on the first day of school. Technology, the savior of the American public school system. What do people think kids are going to do with these free lap tops? Their homework? That's cute.

Not gonna happen my friends.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Say It Ain't So

I knew I wanted to take a break from blogging after the A-Z Challenge, but I didn't realize it would be so long. As if the end of the school year isn't busy enough, I decided to check out some opportunities at other schools here in town. A couple things fell through, but there's a gig I'm hoping works out. I'll know more soon, and I'm sure there'll be a whole work post when the dust settles.

What I really want to talk about today is much less important, but sad nonetheless. After seven years Kristin Wiig is leaving Saturday Night Live. Her last show was last Saturday, and it was one helluva send-off. Mick Jagger was the host and the musical guest, and he was great in both roles. Wiig played a prominent role in the show of course, and her final farewell at the very end of the show was surprisingly emotional. I got a little verklempt. Meg and I watched the show again Thursday, and it occurred to me that Wiig is probably my favorite SNL cast memember of all-time. A thought like that usually leads to list-making in my head. And since it's Friday, and I haven't done a Fast Five in a while, here's a Fast Five of my favorite SNLers:

5) John Belushi: I was just a kid when Belushi was in his heyday, but my parents loved him, and that rubbed off on me. I was the kind of kid who wanted to get what the adults were laughing about. As I got older and saw reruns, my appreciation for Belushi's humor grew.

4) Eddie Murphy: I was a teenager when Murphy blew up. I loved Gumby, Mr. Robinson, James Brown, and Buckwheat. It's hard to believe the guy who was so funny back then is now a shell of his former self.

3) Martin Short: Everyone remembers Ed Grimley of course, but for me, Short's best character was the lawyer Nathan Thurm. I remember seeing Thurm for the first time with my mom, and she was in tears.

2) Phil Hartman: His fellow cast members considered him the glue that held the show together. His Clinton impersonation was brilliant. I still crack up just thinking about Hartman's Clinton in the McDonald's. I also love Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer- Meg and I still quote him to this day.

1) Kristin Wiig: Wiig may have had the most recurring characters in SNL history. My two favorites were Penelope, the ultimate one-upper, and Judy Grimes, the nervous travel agent who's always kidding. I'm really going to miss Wiig, hopefully she'll keep us laughing at the movies. Bridesmaids II anyone? 

Who are your favorite Saturday Night Live alumni?      

Monday, May 7, 2012

A-Z Reflections

This was my second A-Z Challenge, and once again, I quite enjoyed myself. It does take over the month, but the life a middle school teacher can be pretty draining come April, and the Challenge is a nice diversion from the craziness.

I found a lot of great writers during last year's Challenge, and it was fun to see what they came up with this time around. I found more great writers this year, and I look forward to reading more from them now that they aren't bound by the alphabet.

There was no way I was going to make it to all the participating blogs. My goal was to hit at least 5 blogs a day, and if anything, I exceeded that goal. When picking blogs to visit, I went with titles that caught my attention. In my experience, if the title hooks me, the blog itself usually does too. I didn't follow every blog I visited, and I wonder if that's bad etiquette. Not that I'll change my ways if it is, but still, I wonder.

There were a lot more people involved in the Challenge this year, but I think I actually got less comments. Half the comments were my responses on a lot of posts, and even those numbers didn't match last year. I did have a lot more page views, but not the jump in comments and followers you'd expect with increased traffic. I'm not in it for statistics, but let's be honest, we all get a kick out of more comments and followers.

I do have one suggestion. I don't know how feasible it is, but I would like to see a best-of kind of thing. People could nominate specific posts for each letter, and a compilation of sorts could be created. Maybe it could even be made into an ebook. I think we'd all buy that, wouldn't we? We could nominate blogs for overall excellence, give people who are nailing this thing some kind of recognition.

I mean, Inger at Desert Canyon Living may have single-handedly increased tourism to Sweden with a month of beautiful posts about her homeland. And if Sweden is too far, after reading Julie's posts at What Else Is Possible?, you just might want to head on over to Cincinnati some time. My man David over at Brits in the USA had a musical theme going on, and he perfectly captured how music creates memories in our lives. I got to see Great Britain through L.G. Smith's eyes at Bards and Prophets, and Cathy at life on the muskoka river cracked me up all month. This is just to name a few, but the point is, a systematic way to acknowledge excellence during the Challenge might be a way to take things to the next level. Or maybe it's just me. It often is.

This is getting a bit long, so let me just say, I was happy to see the Challenge come to end, but I know by next April I'll be ready to go.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for..........

Z is for..........Zusak.

Markus Zusak has written five books: The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, When Dogs Cry, I Am The Messenger, and The Book Thief.

I don't remember how I came to read The Book Thief, if someone recommended it to me or I just came across it in a bookstore one day and it caught my attention. However it got in my hands, I'm glad it did. The Book Thief is one of my very favorite books, certainly in my lifetime top ten.

The Book Thief is a World War II story like no other. Liesel Meminger is a young girl on the verge of adolescence in Nazi Germany. Liesel develops a strong bond with Max Vandenberg, a Jewish fist-fighter taking refuge in the basement of her foster parents' home. Liesel sporadically steals books throughout the novel, perfectly illustrating the transformative power of the written word. I'd say that's what this book is, transformative.

Zusak's language in The Book Thief is unique, sometimes unsettling, consistently beautiful. I have read The Book Thief with some of my 8th graders the last few years, and I'll never forget something one of my students said in class one day. After we'd read the first few pages, she said it sounded like poetry. I've always liked that description.

Zusak has said he doesn't know if he can write anything better than The Book Thief, and to be honest, I highly doubt it myself. It's kind of like Harper Lee trying to follow up To Kill a Mockingbird. Which she didn't do of course. I'm glad Zusak is going to try though. His next book is supposed to come out in 2012, and I can't wait to read it.

Well folks, there you have it, the last post of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. The feedback has been awesome and greatly appreciated. The Challenge was a lot of fun, but I'm glad it's over. The hosts of A-Z have a reflection post scheduled for May 7, so I'll share more thoughts then. Again, thanks to everyone for making this challenge a rewarding experience.      

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for...........

Y is for..........Yellow Jackets.

I was never much of a soccer guy, but when my girls started playing, I quickly became a fan. In fact, I've been coaching one of the girls' teams for the last 6 years.

This past season was my first coaching Quinn's team, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The Yellow Jackets were a great bunch of girls. They worked hard all year, and that hard work paid off with an undefeated season.

The highlight of the season came in the championship game.

There was a girl on the team who wasn't very good. Her own parents called her a baby giraffe. She wasn't fleet of foot, but she was smart. I usually played her at forward, hoping she could get a goal. She would stay in position and throughout the year she had some chances to score, but the shots just wouldn't find the back of the net.

The championship game was very competitive. We took a 1-0 lead early in the second half, but things were still tense. I had my girl at forward, and sure enough, one of her teammates made a beautiful crossing pass. She was in perfect position, wide open, and she blasted that baby in. Our sideline went nuts. And not just the girls' parents, all the parents. Everyone knew this was our girl's first goal of the season, and in the championship game no less. It was awesome.

Winning the championship was cool, but the best part was the look on that girl's face when she scored that goal. It's something I'll never forget.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for..........

X is for..........Xenophilia.

When I signed up for the A-Z Challenge last year, I knew what my X post was going to be right away. It had to be xenophobia. Back in April of 2010, our governor signed SB 1070 into law, legislation that many believe promotes racial profiling. Unfortunately, for many people across the US, my adopted home state became the poster child for xenophobia.

With the Supreme Court about to rule on the constitutionality of the law, I thought about doing xenophobia again this year. I changed course when I found xenophilia while doing a search for X words.

Xenophilia is an attraction to foreign peoples, cultures, or customs. The opposite of xenophobia if you will. To be honest, I was unfamiliar with the word. I'm glad I found it. I love learning about foreign cultures and customs, and some of my very favorite people hail from other countries.

So today, X is for xenophilia, because not everyone living in Arizona is xenophobic.

How 'bout you? Have any favorite foreign people, cultures, or customs?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for..........

W is for..........Wisconsin.

Arizona is a fairly transient place, not a lot of born-and-raiseds. Talk with someone long enough and the question of where you're originally from comes up.

That's always been a tough one to answer for me. My family moved around a lot, but I guess when it comes down to it, I consider myself from Wisconsin.

When I tell people I'm from Wisconsin, a cheesehead reference soon follows. Which is cool. I am a cheesehead.

But there's more to the story. I lived in four Wisconsin cities, and each one left its mark, making me the person I am.

Port Washington is a small fishing town on Lake Michigan. My childhood there was idyllic, very Tom Sawyer. I remember summer days waking up before the sun, heading down to the creek (very definitely pronounced crick) for full days of fishing.

We moved to Appleton when I was in 4th grade. I wrote about Appleton for the Challenge last year. Appleton is where the hormones kicked in and girls started to matter. Appleton is where I met friends that have stayed with me over miles and years.

Green Bay was only 30 miles north from Appleton, but when we moved there my sophomore year, it felt like another planet. Green Bay is where I learned to fit in again, miraculously finding people who got me, and still do. I graduated from high school in Green Bay, and I suppose one never forgets that.

Madison is a college town, and a great one at that. Madison is where I figured out who I really was, wanted to be, the place where I started to become a man.

Port Washington, Appleton, Green Bay, Madison. All these places are Wisconsin. And when I tell people I'm from Wisconsin, this is what I mean. I haven't lived in Wisconsin for a long time. Nearly twenty years now. But these places remain, they are in my blood.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for..........

V is for...........Vomit.

A little while back, the girls had a couple friends sleep over. There'd been a lot of junk food earlier in the day at Quinn's end-of-the-season soccer party. We made the mistake of taking home a nearly full tub of Red Vines. Over the course of the night, the girls polished that baby off. At the time I didn't think much of it. I mean, sure, it was ridiculous for 4 girls to eat that much licorice, but not unprecedented.

Of course, every time I saw Quinn grabbing a bunch of Red Vines, I assumed she was just being the considerate young child I know her to be and sharing with the other girls. Umm, not so much. Turns out the other girls weren't that into Red Vines, so Quinn took advantage and ate the whole lot. Even when we figured out that she'd pulled one over on us, I kind of had to chuckle.

My attitude radically changed around 4:00 the next morning when those Red Vines exacted their revenge. Quinn woke us up to tell us she had to throw up. We tried to get her into our bathroom, but it wasn't to be. Quinn puked her way to the bathroom, leaving a remarkably vibrant red trail. After pretty much emptying the contents of her stomach on the carpet in our bedroom and the tile in the bathroom, Quinn informed us that she had thrown up in her room as well.

There was so much vomit in Quinn's room, it was a small miracle that her friend was untouched. We moved the girls out to the living room and feebly attempted to clean up. I tried the stain remover we had in the house, but to no avail, those stains weren't going anywhere. Meg and I finally gave up and went back to bed. We'd been talking about replacing the carpet in the bedrooms anyway, so we figured this had to be a sign before drifting back to sleep.

It might be a little while before we get to replacing the carpet. In the meantime, those red stains kind of crack me up. Parenting is a funny thing. It can turn a night of prolific vomiting into one of those family stories we'll share and laugh about for years to come.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for..........

U is for...........Up.

I'm gonna make this a quick post. I just got back from a conference, and I'm beat. I haven't been around A-Z much the last five days, but now that I'm back, I'll start working on getting myself caught up.

Back in January of 2011, I did a post on my top ten movies of the first decade of the new century. If you get a chance, check it out, let me know what you think.

Number 3 on that list was Up. The best animated movies work on multiple levels, and Up is both a fun movie for kids, and a deeply moving film for adults.

The best movies give you something to talk about, and I have had so many great conversations about Up with the girls. One day Scout asked me why Mr. Fredrickson used a walker in the beginning of the movie. This led to a discussion about symbolism. I didn't have to tell the girls why he used that walker. I asked a few questions and they were able to figure out that the walker was a symbol for giving up, and that by the end of the movie, Mr. Fredrickson didn't need that walker because he had decided to enjoy his life again.

Not bad for a cartoon.

What's your favorite animated movie?

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for..........

T is for..........Twitter.

My I post for the Challenge was about information. I get most of my news and information from Twitter these days. News organizations tweet their headlines, with links to articles that make it easy to stay insanely current. Only if a story merits an actual visual do I need to turn on the TV. I like this system.

I'm not exactly sure why I joined Twitter, just kind of a joiner I guess. For a long time I didn't really do anything with Twitter. After a friend suggested I tweet when I have something new on the blog, that got me going.

Then I started to find some really interesting people, many of them writers. Hanging out on Twitter makes it feel like every person in the world is a writer. I've had some fun run-ins with well known authors on Twitter, which is really what I wanted to write about in this post.

I'll usually post something about the books I read. Last summer I read Half a Life by Darin Strauss, and I tweeted that it's an incredibly honest, moving memoir. Later that day, Strauss responded, thanking me for the kind words. That was pretty cool. Another time, I was lucky to catch Jonathan Tropper, one of my favorite authors, responding to tweets because his wife told him his Twitter etiquette needed work. I told him I was looking for a book to read, and he suggested Steve Martin's latest.

Those are just two examples, but they illustrate one of my favorite things about Twitter, the chance to interact with writers.

How 'bout you, any interesting Twitter encounters?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for..........

S is for...........Springsteen.

The Boss
rock n' roll poet
the ultimate showman
a true American icon.

I've been working on this post for a while, going through the Springsteen catalogue, trying to come up with my top ten Springsteen songs.

It wasn't easy, but here they are, my top ten Springsteen songs:

10) Darkness on the Edge of Town
9) Bobby Jean
8) Hungry Heart
7) Waiting on a Sunny Day
6) Backstreets
5) The River
4) Thunder Road
3) Jungleland
2) The Rising
1) Born to Run

OK Springsteen fans, have at it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for..........

R is for..........Reality.

I'm writing this post as I watch The Voice with my kids. Normally, I wouldn't be caught dead watching this crap, but my kids love it. It's for the kids man. Of course, we might have to switch over and check in with Dancing With the Stars to see what my man Donald Driver is doing. I mean, come on, Donald plays his heart out for my Packers. It's the least I can do. After that I might watch a little House Hunters with Meg. What kind of husband would I be if I didn't spend a little quality time with the wife?

And that's just Monday night.

Reality shows dominate the airwaves these days, and while I generally scoff at them, upon closer examination of my TV habits, many of the shows I watch are reality shows. Some of it I blame on my kids. They love reality shows, and I have to admit, it is nice to hang out as a family and watch shows like Man vs. Food or The Barefoot Contessa or even Storage Wars. There is a dark side though. The girls also love shows like Dance Moms, and it takes every ounce of strength I have not to run screaming from the house when that damn thing is on. And now there's a Dance Moms: Miami. I don't know if I can take it.

There will always be a place for quality scripted shows, but I would imagine there will be more and more reality shows. Gotta give the people what they want.

Pardon me while I go grumpy old guy for a minute.

Sometimes I worry about this generation of kids. They're going to walk around thinking their lives are perpetual reality shows waiting to happen, absurdly melodramatic music punctuating the minutia of their lives.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

How 'bout you? What's your favorite reality show?

I'm going out of town for a conference, so I apologize in advance for not visiting as much as I'd like. I'll be back Monday night, and then I can give the challenge my full attention for the last week.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for..........

Q is for..........Quarterback.

Quarterback is perhaps the most glamorous position in American sports. If your team has a good quarterback, they always have a chance. My beloved Green Bay Packers have been blessed with two great quarterbacks, and a third on the verge of greatness.

Green Bay's first great quarterback was Bart Starr. I never saw Starr play, but he was the first Green Bay coach that I remember. Starr guided the Packers to unparalleled success as a quarterback, but his coaching career with Green Bay would have to be considered a failure.

The thing that really impresses me about Starr is that he was drafted in the 17th round out of Alabama. 198 other players were drafted ahead of him. Guys like Starr aren't supposed to make the team, much less become a franchise icon.

It would be a long time before another great quarterback roamed the frozen tundra.

Brett Lorenzo Favre was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the 1991 NFL Draft. Favre was traded to the Packers the following year, and most Green Bay fans were underwhelmed. Quite frankly, most of us had never even heard of the guy. But oh my, how that quickly changed.

Favre got his chance in the 4th game of the 1992 season (which Green Bay won on an incredible Favre touchdown pass no less), and he went on to start every game through the 2007 season. Favre is the only player in NFL history to win three consecutive MVP awards (1995-1997), and let me tell ya, those were fun times to be a Packers' fan.

Unfortunately, things ended badly in Green Bay. Management was ready to move on, but Favre wasn't ready to retire. Most Green Bay fans cheered for Brett in New York, but when he donned the purple and gold, Favre's reputation took a serious hit. Even now, when someone talks about Favre, my first response is often, "Who?" I still need time to get over the whole Vikings thing, but eventually I'll open my heart to the ol' Gunslinger again.

It wouldn't take another 21 years for Green Bay to find its next great quarterback. In fact, Green Bay sent Favre packing becasue they had a young kid waiting in the wings.

Aaron Rodgers took over for Favre in 2008. A lot of fans were still upset about losing Favre, and the pressure on Rodgers to succeed was intense. While the team's record in Rodgers's first season was an unimpressive 6-10, Rodgers played at a high level. Even the most ardent Favre supporters could see that Rodgers was a special player.

In 2010 Rodgers led the Pack to their fourth Super Bowl title. Rodgers was the league MVP last year, as he led the Packers to a 15-1 regular season record. Unfortunately, the Packers ran into the red-hot New York Giants in the playoffs and failed in their quest to repeat. With Rodgers at the helm, Green Bay should be in the hunt for a title every year.

Green Bay may be the smallest market in the NFL. But when it comes to quarterbacks, they're second to none.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for..........

P is for...........Politics.

I've always been interested in politics. I was raised in a house where political debate was encouraged and enjoyed. When one parent is a Republican and one is a Democrat, just about every conversation eventually turns political. Let's just say things were always lively at the Riley house.

Sure, there were arguments, some hard feelings now and then, but ultimately, there was respect. Always.

Respect seems to be sorely lacking in our politics today. Politics has become a blame game, our two political parties acting like petulant children, each whining that the other started it. Politicians get elected by blaming their opponent for everything that's wrong, not for actually having any good ideas for how to deal with problems.

Vote for me.


Because I'm not him/her.

That just isn't good enough.

I was a political science major at the University of Wisconsin, but my interest in politics has been steadily waning since my ivory tower days. Civil political debate is essentially gone, modern politics nothing more than party hacks accusing the other side of trying to destroy the country. As far as I'm concerned, there's plenty of blame to go around. Party hardliners would like us to believe that their party is the one to get us out of our current mess, but it's getting harder and harder for me to see a real difference between the parties. As far I can tell, Wall Street bankers are calling the shots these days.

Now having said all this, I'm sure I will put my cynicism aside to follow the politics of an election year. Republicans and Democrats will try to convince me that this is the most important election in the country's history. Obama and Romney will use scare tactics to win votes, all the while hiding behind negative super PAC ads.

We'll elect our next President this year. One side will celebrate, their hope renewed, while the other will bemoan the end of civilization as we know it.

Politics as usual.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for..........

O is for..........Olympics.

Like a lot of people my age, I fell in love with the Olympics in 1980. The Miracle on Ice? It doesn't get any better than that. I'm not a hockey fan, but I still get chills when I hear Al Michaels's famous call: Do you believe in miracles? Arguably the greatest moment in the history of American sports.

The Winter Olympics feel more quirky to me. You've got crazy ski-jumpers, speed skaters seemingly parallel to the ground, that thing where people ski and shoot guns. And then there's curling, that strangely hypnotic frozen cousin of shuffleboard.

The Winter Olympics are brilliant, but I prefer the Summer Games. I'm really looking forward to watching this summer with the girls. Track and swimming are my favorite events, and I'm excited to see if Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps can repeat their dominance.

I'm sure London will be a great Olympic host, but have you seen the mascots they came up with? Meet Wenlock and Mandeville, the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascots. These guys are apparently based on a short story by children's author Michael Morpurgo that tells how they were fashioned from droplets of the steel used to build the Olympic stadium.

Um, I'm sorry. What?

I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm sure the kids will love these guys. I mean, what kid doesn't love droplets of steel?

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for..........

N is for...........Netflix.

I've written about Netflix Guilt before, but recent developments have made it necessary for me to revisit this most pernicious of mental disorders.

Newsweek coined a great phrase a few years ago: Netflix Guilt. If you use Netflix, chances are you've experienced this condition. Netflix Guilt results when a movie shows up at the house, and for whatever reason, you never get around to watching it. The guilt intensifies every time you watch something else, but you just can't bring yourself to watch it. You really want to, but the mood is never right. Finally, after months of excuses, you shamefully place the movie in your mailbox before skulking off to work.

My last bout of Netflix Guilt was brought on by The Last Station. Fine film, I'm sure, but I never did watch it, finally admitting defeat and sending it back in shame. I've been able to avoid NG for quite a while, but I am currently experiencing an attack over another film, Martha Marcy May Marlene. This is one of those small indie movies that all the critics love, and normally, I make it a point to watch those kinds of movies. If that's not enough, the Olsen twins' sister is in it, and supposedly she's great. I mean, the Olsen twins' sister. Who can resist that? And yet poor Martha Marcy May Marlene sits forlornly in a red and white paper coffin, desperately hoping to be resuscitated by the friendly confines of a DVD player.

I fear it's too late. Martha Marcy May Marlene may never know the joy of being watched in the Riley household.

As if that isn't enough guilt, now there's an added layer. When I first wrote about this disorder, I wasn't streaming movies on Netflix. Now that I can stream movies, I find myself adding movies willy nilly to my Instant Watch queue. And there those movies sit, in some kind of digital island of misfit movies, waiting to be watched.

So many movies, so much angst. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for..........

M is for..........Music.

Last year I went all Inception for my M post. That is to say, I did an A-Z list of Movies for the A-Z Challenge. See what I'm sayin?


That was actually a lot of fun, and I was going to do it again. Self-doubt reared its ugly head, and I thought I should do something different. My next idea was to write about Music and how it triggers Memory, but I couldn't resist and wound up exploring that theme in my post about the Jayhawks.

So then I had two ideas on the brain: music and doing another A-Z list for the A-Z Challenge. Thus, today I present a musical A-Z, all artists whose music elicits distinct and powerful memories.

B - Bruuuuuuuuuuuuce!
C - Clarence Clemons (it's all about the E Street)
D - Depeche Mode
- Enya
F - Foo Fighters
G - Goo Goo Dolls
H - Hall & Oates
I - Indigo Girls
J - Jayhawks
K - Killers
L - Living Colour
M - Marley
N - Nirvana
O - Otis Redding
P - Prince
Q - Queen
R - Replacements
S - Springteen (The Boss deserves as many mentions as possible)
T - Thompson Twins
U - U2
V - Violent Femmes
W - Weezer
X - xx
Y - Yeah Yeah Yeahs (triple score!)
Z - Zeppelin

So tell me, who's your favorite on this list?

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for..........

L is for..........Lombardi.

I grew up in Wisconsin, so it goes without saying that I'm a huge Green Bay Packers fan. As a child of the 70s and 80s there wasn't much to cheer about, the Packers were consistently terrible. My generation had no idea what it felt like to cheer for a winner. All we could do was listen to stories of the glory days, passed down from parents to children, stories of the Lombardi era, when the Green Bay Packers were the epitome of success, right up there with the New York Yankees.

When I was 16, we moved to Green Bay, about a mile down the street from Lambeau Field. When you live in Green Bay, Lombardi and the Packers are everywhere. My old high school is on Packerland Drive. My brother and sister both attended Lombardi Middle School. We drove Lombardi Avenue nearly every day. Lombardi may have died in 1970, but his legacy is still very much alive in Titletown.

Lombardi  became the head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers in 1959, winning Coach of the Year honors in his first season. In 9 seasons, Lombardi's Packers racked up a record of 105-35-6. The Packers reached the NFL Championship game in Lombardi's second season, the only time the Packers would lose a title game during his tenure. Lombardi famously promised his men they would never lose another title game, and he was true to his word. The Packers went on to win 5 of the next 7 NFL Championships, including the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and 1967. And that my friends is why they call it the Lombardi Trophy.

The Lombardi Trophy is a vagabond, making stops all over our glorious country, from Oakland to St. Louis to New York. Since 1967, the Lombardi Trophy has only made it home for brief stops, in 1996, and most recently 2010.

Who knows how long it will take for the Lombardi Trophy to make its way home again, but when it does, you can bet the ol' coach will be smiling down.