Back to the Classroom, Slide Projectors, Mountains & Mole Hills

Four years ago, my intended formula for this blog was pretty simple–pick a form of media (TV show, movie, billboard, cat footprints) and let it take you down a path or two.  But the last path I took was in August, before I returned to the high school classroom for my 26th year.  Being in an office setting since 2012 certainly gave me more physical and creative energy for activities like blogging as well as producing a documentary series, but it also pulled me a bit away from some basic reality-check questions that I’ve always enjoyed from teenagers–beyond “Can you give me passing grade and a pass to go home?” The days following Election Day produced some poignant conversations for this English major turned video production teacher–with just a minor in US History. Q.  How can the losing candidate can have 3 million more votes–and what the hell is an Electoral College? It’s certainly a… Read More…

The Consolidated States of America

This past summer the kids and I took our annual trip to the beach in North Carolina from Connecticut.  We decided to play the old license plate game along the way.  Of course, the kids added a new media twist to it using an app.  As we ventured down the east coast and tracked our states we started to question why there were so many states.  Why was Rhode Island an actual state?  No offense the Dakotas, you are awfully small. 3 teenagers and a preteen quickly reeducated me in the history of the United States, the colonies and how we came to be.  The capitalist and cost optimizer in me then challenged them with new thinking.  What if you had to start over today in 2014?  Would you have this many states and if so, why, and if not, what would you do.  As we checked the list of… Read More…

The Biggest Story Few of us Heard: British Phone-Tapping & American Media Apathy

Ladies and gentlemen, have I got a story for you. Please, take your seats and listen closely. It’s a story about the fall of the mighty and about personal tragedy. It’s a story that involves one of the most powerful men in the world. It features princes and sexual dalliances. It’s a story that speaks to our paranoia and justifies it, like the Snowden revelations and the US government’s wire-tapping program. And most important, ladies and gentlemen, it has murder. It has desperate parents and missing children. A mighty corporation, 168 years in existence, crumbles at our feet. This story has been out there for years.  The question is, why aren’t we paying attention? The British hacking scandal, which led to the end of The News of the World, has one element which likely saps most of our interest: it’s a British story. It happened far away, to people who speak with… Read More…

Our Sanity Just Out of Rifle Range

Christina Taylor Green In the days after yet another school shooting, this time in Portland, let’s take a moment and reflect on how our attitude towards gun control and ownership has evolved in the past few years. The Sandy Hook tragedy took place on December 14, 2012, about a year and a half ago. Columbine was on April 20, 1999: 15 years ago. The Aurora movie theatre shootings, in which killed 12 people were shot and killed at the opening of the movie Dark Knight Rises, happened on July 20, 2012, almost two years ago. A friend of mine recently told me she was nervous about going to the movies; she was afraid of a gunman opening fire. Before 7/20/12, it probably never occurred to her that going to the movies could get you shot. Now, apparently, we should be afraid to leave our kids at school. It’s hard to… Read More…

Garage Sale Ethics: Lessons Learned Over 40 Years

It’s like a slow-motion drive-by shooting, only less friendly.  They are the dealers—the arch-enemy of the true garage-saler. You’re sitting on your lawn-chair beside three coffee makers, two toaster ovens and half an illegal lawn jart set. Your garage sale just opened at 9 AM. You know it’s 9 AM because the dealers have been knocking on your door for a solid hour. “Do you mind if I take a quick look?” “I’ve got to take my son to daycare, but I’d love to see what you’ve got.” “Come on, you’re up anyway! Open up!” For the rest of that Friday morning and into the afternoon, you’ll get to relive that wonderful grade school feeling of being passed over for the kickball. Cars crawl by and decide if you’re worth choosing or not. Some drivers might politely nod, some avoid eye contact. Some just stare at you like you’re trying… Read More…

The Quarter Million Dollar Student Athlete

College is fun.   It’s a time of liberation and discovery.  It’s a time to develop self-awareness, accountability, empowerment.  What any of us wouldn’t give to go back to college? Watching March Madness always reminds me of that liberation, joy and jubilation.  It propels me back twenty plus years to a time when we were students and the Fab Five were rocking at Michigan. We jammed into Crisler Arena bouncing up and down, partying at our friends’ houses and storming South U at our victories or near victories.  What pride we had in watching our fellow students represent our great University in the hunt for a title. The debate as to whether or not to pay college athletes has been ongoing for years.  At its core it’s a simple argument.  Student athletes bring so much revenue from the two big sports of basketball and football and they deserve to share in… Read More…

No Snow-Days at the Detroit Zoo: A Winter’s Afternoon with a Camera and a New Gadget

Dig through your parents’ photo albums.  If you’re from the Detroit area (or ever visited someone there in your childhood) there’s probably one of these shots somewhere, for example, the bear-pit where you used to be able to toss marshmallows, in the days before ursine diabetes… My mom was there twenty-two years earlier… The same day they were posing in front of the zoo’s signature water tower where my Uncle Larry (standing) perfected his sneer/smile to be seen fifty years later as a “Grumpa.” And perhaps the most recognizable family photo-spot in the park… In fact, you can Google “Detroit Zoo Fountain” and get a couple thousand family pictures like mine–some snapshots are even for sale on eBay… I hadn’t been there in five years–after all, the Detroit Zoo is nearly four miles from my house and I only drive by it every day.  But it was going to hit… Read More…

Christmas Carol Demolition Squad: Revisiting a 3 and 5 Year-Old’s Medley, Thirteen Years Later

It’s just six minutes of random videotape from thirteen years ago as the kids decorate a Christmas tree.  It’s funny what passes for nothing at the time but turns into family legend.  Thanks to my kids for letting me post these brief video clips and for not minding an interview on-location a couple days ago (final clip). The 2000 model of Abby (3) and Aidan (5) had decided it was time to add the candy canes to the tree.  As a kindergartener, it was very clear to my son what the pecking order would be–and not just for tree-trimming .  My daughter, in a calm “no,” simply vetoes the maneuver and moves to the front of the line when dad asks for a song. She continues to ignore her brother, whose attempts to bastardize the classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” seem to be bothering only the director… So Abby gets… Read More…

All I Want for Christmas is Bronchitis: A Scrooge and Healthcare

I’m sure that Hell is a waiting room.  And I suspect that “Kelly and Michael” is on the TV there as well. I’d been hedging my bets, waiting for the really nasty cold from ten days ago to fade away.  Two days off work, leaving me just three in my sick-bank (after 17 months on the new job) combined with 17 hours sleep per day and I thought I had it licked. But the cough persisted through Day 6 and brought me to the real answer why Victorian homes had separate bedrooms for the husband and wife.  Antibiotics weren’t invented yet and the snoring/wheezing/coughing of one spouse would end in either exhaustion for the other–or murder charges.  So I moved down to our guest room (also known as the basement couch) to sequester my nasty hacking and keep only our cat wide awake–and she’s up anyway. The cough was practicing… Read More…

Corinthian Leather: A Fond, Gas-Guzzling Reminiscence of Shag-Luxury

It’s funny what passes for luxury when you’re a kid. In 1973, we visited my Uncle Bob and his family in Winter Haven, Florida and I couldn’t believe they had a fountain in their backyard.  Along with so many in-ground pools, lizards running all over the yards was added the magic of my grandma’s mobile home park three miles away where they actually had adult bikes with three wheels! Moving into our new house that same summer, I was amazed to see that each of the kids’ rooms had its own color scheme of shag carpeting—pink, green, orange and yellow.  My parents’ room was a deep blue shag and the family room was a tasteful blend of all of the colors listed above. But what made me know we had really arrived was the plastic rake that the previous owners had left behind to tend the fluorescent blades of carpeting…. Read More…

Rating People Like Movies? Using a Metascore for Your Neighbor and Spouse

In the land of The Newsroom‘s Aaron Sorkin, everything ends up as it should be–Karma works and Yins and Yangs co-exist happily.  (For example, the Obamacare websites would be working on day one.)  In Sorkin’s final scene in The Social Network he portrays the Facebook founder as a miserable billionaire with no friends, cyber stalking his ex-girlfriend who started the whole ball a-rollin’–all to the Beatle’s tune, “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” But unfortunately for us, Zuckerberg’s not really that sad and Martin Sheen isn’t in charge of the Affordable Health Care Act.  Hollywood isn’t real–but maybe a piece of Hollywood could be real–the Metascore. Bloodsuckers in Washington?  Who Knew? I’d finally caved and started a Netflix viewing of the terribly bad, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.   “Now that’s a mistake,” I complained.  “The White House didn’t have that second floor porch until Truman was president.” “They also didn’t have vampires,”… Read More…

Go Pick on Someone the Size of a House: “Bullying” in the NFL

Yet another victim has fallen into the hungry maw of bullies. Another Rebecca Sedwick? Another Phoebe Prince? Thankfully, this is a man who did not die by his own hand, but still martyred himself to make us aware of an insidious problem. Jonathan Martin, an offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins, endured a hardscrabble life, with nothing to go on but the example of a struggling Harvard professor for a father and a mother scraping by as a corporate lawyer. He grew to be a whisp of a figure, a mere 6’5″, 312 pounds, living no doubt on Ramen noodles and a paltry $390,000 salary in 2012. He was constantly mocked at work–at one point forced to pay for the expensive meals of his teammates. Ironically, it was at the lunch table that he’d had enough. He sat down, and everyone at the table got up. That was it. Off… Read More…

A Story So Frightening Your Hair Will Turn White…Eventually.

The loud crack of my stapler hitting the floor startled me out of my work and re-acquainted me with my surroundings.  I was in my office.  It was dark out. Halloween night, 2004, a Sunday night.  I had no kids and no holiday related plans.  I was there on a Sunday because I had a Motion to file in the Freeman case, and with trial a week away, I had a deadline to meet.  I had never been in the office that late before.  My day usually ended at 5:30 pm, and if I was on the phone when the 5:30 bell chimed, I hung up the phone abruptly and left.  I was not used to the stillness, the quiet.  I looked at my watch: 5:45.  The only sound was the buzzing of the hallway fluorescents, which also provided the only light besides my own office light.  All the other… Read More…

Fighting the Fight: Running for Seven with Cancer

I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to live my life thinking that the cancer I once had and fought might come back. Or what it feels like to panic when you feel a lump in your throat, or breast or somewhere else and think that it might be the worst. I can’t even fathom what it’s like to lose a spouse, a loved one, a father, a mother to this dreaded disease. I can imagine the relief for those who successfully fight cancer to hear the words “you are officially in remission”. I often think of those people that get sick and their worst fears are confirmed when they hear the doctor utter those miserable words – “you have cancer”. This week, I received an email from a friend: “Amazingly, I feel great even though I know I have cancer. I am calm and optimistic, walking the walk… Read More…

Imaginary Guns and Real Bullets

I’m pressed up against a wall, waiting.  Hunting.  The gun I’m holding is inches from my nose, my two hands folded as if I’m praying.  My enemy, James Lyons, is around the corner, and I’m about to spring as soon as he comes into view.  I’m secret agent John Lennon, and besides making the greatest music ever, I also work for the government, saving the world.  Yesterday, I was Captain Kirk.  I’m 12 years old at 6th grade recess, the gun is imaginary, but I did actually save the world.  (Things are still going on, right?  You’re welcome.)  Let me tell you a little something not about myself:  I am not a gun advocate, a gun owner or (liberal alert) a gun tolerator.  I am a Tarantino film-lover, but that’s about the extent of it.  I m also not the rhythm guitarist/vocalist/composer for the greatest band ever.  I was never a starship captain,… Read More…

Autumn Falls in South Florida

Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile…William Cullen Bryant. I love seasons…that’s why I live in a place that skips the @#%ty ones…Daniel Tosh Autumn fell on us on a Sunday this year.  As I type this, it’s a brisk, autumny 85 degrees in downtown Miami. There will be a hard rainfall later today from about 5:45 until 6:05, depending on what time I get on I-95 to go home.  The rainy season will most likely be over sometime this month  It’s football season, and after the Sunday game, kids spill out of their houses to play outside in their favorite team T-shirts and shorts.  Since this is South Florida, the shirts will read NY Jets and NY Giants. We’ll all try to enjoy this last bit of outdoor activity before the winter makes the outdoors unbearable, with temperatures dipping down to the mid 60’s, when Floridians shut their doors and grab… Read More…

The Fading Power of Handwriting: My Dad and Journaling in Northern Michigan

D-Day was just three months away, but my dad’s Uncle Walt was instead worrying about the folks back home, specifically his sister Laura and her husband. I didn’t know my grandparents had a rocky marriage, or that they were even separated, until I’d read this folded letter in my grandma’s shoebox. Sixty years later,  I attended the funeral of Walt and Laura’s youngest brother Jerry in Florida, I had a chance to give the letter to Walt’s children, whom I had never met.   Walt had died thirty-four years earlier and they had never seen their father’s handwriting from a young hand–smooth, and confident.  They had only known their father’s shakey hand. When they had held the letter and seen the writing, the tears began. The afternoon of my own father’s death sixteen years ago this Thursday–before I could accept that he had left me completely, I needed to sense… Read More…

Thanking Two Men I’d Forgotten to Thank 30 Years Ago: Mr. Denstaedt and Mr. Wentz

After attending 25 years of high school graduation ceremonies, it finally dawned on me as I sat in my robe and was thanked by grateful students and their parents–I really didn’t deserve such nice seats. Compared, to the folks who were really responsible for the pomp and circumstance, my hourly contribution was minimal.  Elementary teachers put in the long hours and are stuck with the kids all day long.  Middle school teachers are fighting the two-headed dragon of hormones and immaturity in a short, nasty body that hasn’t often developed a soul yet. Within two days, Clawson lost two of its icons–John Denstaedt and Bill Wentz.  Both of them were outstanding educators and mourned by thousands.  Yet when I walked across the stage and grabbed my diploma in 1983 they weren’t there–or if they were, I wasn’t even looking for them.  I had moved on.  Clawson High School and Junior… Read More…

Yom Kippur: Judaism’s All-Star Break

I don’t really consider myself a very religious person, but I do celebrate the Jewish holidays and participate as much as I can because, while I may not be religious, I frequently find myself digging spiritual concepts and spiritual philosophy, and I use Judaism, sports, film and music as avenues to tap into that vague spirituality. It could be The Muppets or Maimonides. Everything from “There is no spoon” to “Luminous beings are we” to “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Or, even baseball.  That’s why I love Judaism. I find that—perhaps more than other religions—Judaism is celebrated and practiced in so many different ways, that there’s something for everyone. Especially given the religion’s history and what its people have been through, Judaism has transformed into a variety of vehicles traveling down the same road. In my case, I’m constantly trying to find new ways to experience… Read More…

If You Meet Your Father On The Road…(Hanky Alert)

There is an old Buddhist proverb that goes something like this: if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. If you meet your father on the road, kill him.  I’m sure I got that wrong.  It’s been a long time since my “Eastern Religions” course in college.  The first part of the proverb reads like some vague comment a prophet might have screamed on a street corner, but that second part…kill my father?  I think I know what it means, or at least it has meaning for me which may in no way relate to its intended meaning, but as it turns out, I didn’t kill my Dad. Cancer did. My sister reminded me on Facebook that yesterday, 8/25, was my father’s birthday, but it’s not a day I’ve had cause to celebrate since that date in 1992. I don’t recall the celebration that year. Either it was… Read More…