Monday, July 30, 2012

The World Is Still Too Much With Us

Article first published as The World Is Still Too Much With Us on Blogcritics.

As I sit here on a beach in an undisclosed location, enjoying my summer vacation, I am (if I want to be) totally connected. I am able to write for this blog, check all my messages (voice, text, and email), read an e-book, and watch CNN  instead of the seagulls and the waves. I am "away" but ostensibly still in the same spot I am at home, at everyone's beck and call, that is if I choose to be, but "I would prefer not to," quoting a line from my favorite Herman Melville story, "Bartleby the Scrivener."

Back in 1888 the great English poet William Wordsworth wrote the poem "The World Is Too Much With Us." When you read those words it is hard to believe it was not written about this time and place in history, but even back then Wordsworth saw the world shrinking and the loss of the natural way of things.

Consider these prescient first lines of the poem:

The world is too much with us; late and soon/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—/Little we see in Nature that is ours;/ We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!


These words are so apropos in 2012, when everyone has to be connected to everybody seemingly all the time. As I sit here and watch people coming in and out of the ocean, one thing I note is that they check cell phones before they go in and as soon as they come out. They are dripping wet, falling onto a blanket, and making certain they haven't missed something or someone. The salient point here is that we have reached a moment in time when we basically have no time to be alone, to be free, to be disconnected and on our own. Technology is not at fault here; we only have ourselves to blame.

During this vacation we have taken our children to various places like animal farms, amusement parks, and restaurants. I don't think I have been in a single place where I haven't seen people jabbering on a phone, usually at the table next to mine, or texting away with their thumbs hitting those little numbers and letters as if life itself depended on it. I have to wonder how important any of these connections is and why it is necessary to hold a cell phone in one hand as people do an infinite amount of things with the other.

I myself have been guilty on this vacation of being on the Internet too much, writing and editing and not taking time to just let things be. I have made a decision though: this will be the last thing I write or edit until I return to the real world (whatever that is now). I do not have to write, to answer emails, to return business calls because I am on vacation. I am away, and I want it to be like the old way when "away" meant out of reach, out of touch, and liking every peaceful minute of it.

I recall when I was taking courses in Paris back in the early 1990s, and I was totally disconnected from home. To get a letter out to my parents meant waiting about a week for them to get it and then another week for a reply letter. I definitely looked forward to those hard copy reassurances that my folks missed me. I sent them postcards if I took a side trip to Amsterdam or Cologne, and once in a while I would stand on line in the evening waiting for a payphone outside my flat on the Avenue des Gobelins to make a call home. All of these connections took time and effort and, quite frankly, they seemed to mean more to me back then.

How impersonal is a text message? Even an email seems to take more time and thought, but a text is like a throw away line from the ether. I see my teenage nieces and nephews texting all the time, the muscles in their thumbs bulging like an Olympic weightlifter's biceps. They want to see their friends, they text. They want to say hello, they text. They want to get a pizza, and so on. I don't imagine they would even consider picking up a land line and making an old fashioned phone call like I used to do on a Friday night to see if my friends wanted to go out. Those days are long gone along with phone booths, phone books, and fingers that did the walking. We're all thumbs now, it seems, and everyone seems positively giddy about it.

But back to my vacation and getting away from it all. I am turning off my cell phone, putting away the laptop, and I am unplugging myself from the world. I don't want to know about what's happening in New York or LA or at the London Olympics. I don't want to know about how the Mets are doing, how Jets training camp is going, or if the Knicks made another trade. I don't want to know about the neighbor's barbecue or my uncle's block party, and no one back there needs to know every detail of my vacation either. They're not going to get a tweet out of me that's for sure.

Years ago my Mom used to say that if someone was talking to himself he was either crazy or had money in the bank. These days neither apply as people are walking all over and conversing through hands-free phones. They are not talking to themselves but their vast populace of technological buddies, and they seem infinitely happy about not being out of touch. I will leave them to their own devices (yes, I know, but I couldn't resist), but I am going in the other direction.

I want my voice mailbox to be filled; I want my inbox to overflow until people tire of seeing my "away message." I want to be able to sit on the beach and not worry about something beeping or ringing. I want to climb a mountain and be sure the only connection I make is seeing the sunset and being at peace with being at rest. This is my time and, besides my family, I'm not going to share any more of it with anyone.

So when my daughter asks to use the laptop to go onto Club Penguin, she can have at it. If my son wants to play his SpongeBob games, that's fine with me, but if my wife asks me about checking my e-mail, I'm going say "I would prefer not to," quoting Bartleby again. This is it for me for now; I am officially signing off. I am going down to the ocean and listen to the waves and the seagulls and feel the wind on my face. If I hear old Triton blowing on "his wreath├Ęd horn," that will be a bonus old Wordsworth could appreciate, but I'll settle for not hearing or seeing anything electronic until I go home. Until then the world will not be too much with me if at all, and that is what a vacation is meant to be.

Enjoy your summer. Follow my lead and get away from it all. Vacationers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your electronic chains.

Photo Credit: shutterstock.com

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympics Opening Ceremony: Sound and Fury Signifying Mostly Nothing

Article first published as Olympics Opening Ceremony: Sound and Fury Signifying Mostly Nothing on Blogcritics.
I have just about had it with the hype concerning the Olympics Opening Ceremony , so much so that I am not watching it. Yes, I know that it is all being orchestrated by film director Danny Boyle, he of Trainspotting and Slum Dog Millionaire fame, but maybe that is my problem with the ceremony and whole Olympic thing in general. Everyone is so excited about the spectacle factor that they have forgotten the most important thing about the games: the athletes.

Yes, the athletes will be featured in the "parade" but that's just an after thought. The sparkle and glitter and bang-zoom is what the people want, right? They want the halftime show at the Super Bowl, which sometimes seems more important than the game itself. So we will get the shower of light and crash of cymbals and pounding of drums, but it's basically a flash in the pan. Boyle has said he wants "to show the best of us," meaning Britain I suppose, but also feature an international flavor to the proceedings. Can't we go to Disney and sit on the "It's a Small World" ride and be done with it?

If I sound jaded I think a report I heard on the radio this morning put me over the top. Some official was quoted as saying that this Opening Ceremony will costs "tens of millions of dollars." When questioned about that he said "But it's worth it." I don't know who this guy was, but he had a British accent and sounded like that old guy who did the Smith Barney ads long ago. I can't shake the feeling about money ruining the Olympics and a camel going through the eye of a needle and all that kind of thing.

You see, I don't like that the "amateur" factor has been thrown away from the Olympics. Now the athletes are cash machines, with all sorts of endorsements and the event itself being a cash cow for the chosen city. This time it is London and, yes, this New Yorker was a little annoyed that my city lost out to that city, but now that I see what is going on, I think my town got off lucky. All the security problems and many other annoying issues are London's now. Hope everyone enjoys riding the Tube with all those extra tourists and their maps (like London doesn't have enough of that in summer as it is).


I really don't like Carmelo Anthony (and other professional players) being on the U.S.A. basketball team. I don't like it at all. Why are professional athletes involved now? The answer is money, pure and simple, and it makes me sick when I think of the amazing Jim Thorpe, voted the greatest athlete of the twentieth century. Jim lost all of his Olympic medals because it was discovered that he once was paid to play semi-pro baseball before competing. The International Olympic Committee restored his medals, but the IOC was thirty years too late (Thorpe died in 1953).

Unfortunately, the Olympics now generate a huge amount of revenue and to me it's all tainted. While I would like the focus to be on the athletes, you just have to wonder about how some of them got there in the first place, or why guys like Anthony are there at all. The original intent of the Olympic games was to bring the known world together over something that is a universal language, because everyone appreciates the way games are played and team accomplishments; however, I wonder now if it isn't just a run for the gold and not the gold medals themselves.

Millions and millions of people will be watching the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics on Friday, but I won't be one of them. To me it's all sound and fury signifying nothing. I don't know about you, but I think the IOC could think of lots of better ways to use tens and tens of millions of dollars than on a frivolous show, maybe like providing training, education, and food to potential athletes in impoverished countries. Instead we get a spectacle, a bloated and unnecessary array of dancers, singers, and big and little drummer boys.

This is not Las Vegas; it's the Olympics. Too bad people have lost sight of that and what the games are supposed to be all about. Sadly, I am not sure what that is anymore, and I think I am not alone. Talk about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!

Photos: Boyle and company-guardian.co.uk; Jim Thorpe-sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Fat Lady Sings for Penn State Football

Article first published as The Fat Lady Sings for Penn State Football on Blogcritics.

Disgraced former Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno was reportedly a fan of opera. It is said that the show is not over until the fat lady sings, and perhaps it is fitting then that the "fat lady" in this case is NCAA President Mark Emmert, who sang the swan song for PSU to be sure as he announced wide ranging sanctions against the school.

Paterno, who was directly involved in covering up his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's child abuse (as revealed in former FBI director Louis Freeh's scathing report), now has no legacy. With all his victories from 1998-2011 nullified, he is no longer the winningest coach in in history. How fitting that the very thing he was trying to protect (his record and program) is decimated. Had he cared about the innocent victims in this matter, he could not only have made a difference in their lives but would have been seen as a hero. All he had to do was pick up the phone and call the police; instead, he did everything in his power to not only protect Sandusky but to allow his perversion to continue.

The sanctions send a clear message to people everywhere that Penn State was directly responsible in this child abuse scandal. The sanctions leveled include the following:
  • Vacating all wins from 1998-2011 (in the record books for the Nittany Lions and Joe Paterno as coach.
  • A $60 million fine (equals the annual gross of the PSU program); money will be used to help sex abuse victims nationwide.
  • A reduction in footballs scholarships (from 25 to 15)
  • 5 years probationary period
  • Virtual free agency for players who want to transfer to another program
Now Paterno's family has responded to these sanctions as lacking "due process," but with all due respect to them (for they are no doubt still mourning the loss of Paterno) where was the due process for Sandusky's victims? There was absolutely none for them, and Paterno made sure of that. So as PSU students and Paterno's family and others who still don't get it defend the former coach, the clarity is there for everyone else. Sandusky was a monster and anyone who aided and abetted him was a monster too.

All one has to do is look at the annual gross of the program ($60 million) and know why Penn State officials wanted to protect that. For Paterno it ran deeper than that, even deeper than being the winningest coach in history. It was all about him, all about his reputation and his being a beloved figure. He was JoePa (his last name itself coming from the word "paternal"), and in the saddest of ways he was anything but. He wasn't fatherly and he wasn't loving here; he was as bad as the sadistic man he protected.

Joe Paterno's statue came down on Sunday. In literature they call this foreshadowing, like the thunderstorms in Shakespeare's great play Julius Caesar the night before Caesar is murdered in the Senate. Now we get the sanctions, and in some way this is worse than happened to old Julius. Because at least he had Marc Antony come and give a funeral oration that saved his legacy. None of that can happen here for Paterno. His legacy is toast. He is done, and rightly so.

I would have argued that the sanctions are not enough. I would have shut down the football program for at least a year and then allowed it to come back under severe scrutiny. PSU gets away pretty easy here, despite how it looks. They still get to appear on TV, meaning they get a share of the rights to money from the networks. They get to keep their team and for the true believers, they still have their legacy, no matter how fractured, but the only ones they are kidding are themselves.

The fat lady sang for PSU on Monday. The song was not what they wanted to hear, and when it was over the show was too. Sandusky goes to prison forever and a day, and Paterno rests in no peace. Reputation, legacy, and money are meaningless now to him. Too bad he didn't realize that when he was alive; he could have saved so many boys from the horror they faced.

In Shakespeare's play Marc Antony said of Caesar, "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones." For Paterno whatever "good" he did is insignificant now, and the evil lingers for all time.

Photo Credit-sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Monday, July 23, 2012

Penn State Removes Paterno's Statue

Article first published as Penn State Removes Paterno's Statue on Blogcritics.

Penn State President Rod Erickson announced that the statue of disgraced football coach Joe Paterno was removed from its place outside the football stadium because it "has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing." The statue will be put into "storage" for what probably will be not only the foreseeable future but no doubt for eternity, and well it should be.

As we learned in former FBI director Louis Freeh's comprehensive report analyzing the Jerry Sandusky child abuse debacle at Penn State, Joe Paterno was no bystander in this matter. He was very much aware of the situation and did everything to keep it quiet for the good of the university, which in reality meant the health of the football program. This revelation has opened the eyes of many, though Paterno supporters remain, and the statue was a flagrant reminder of a man who put the survival of his own program above the well being of children.

I recall a line from the film Die Hard with a Vengeance, in which terrorist Simon (Jeremy Irons) reveals to police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) that he would never place a bomb in a school. "I am not a monster, though sometimes I work for monsters." Yes, this is only a movie, but the point is that putting the lives of children in jeopardy is seen as something inherently wrong, even by someone who harms people for a living. It has become increasingly obvious that Paterno was a monster, in some ways worse than Sandusky because he knew what was happening and took a course of action which allowed it to continue.

This situation makes me remember some famous moments in history. One is when Ronald Reagan, speaking in West Berlin, said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" in reference to the Berlin Wall. Another moment is when the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad. In the end Gorbachev and Hussein were powerless to stop the inevitable. That wall in Germany and that statue in Iraq were powerful symbols of oppression, and their "fall" was just as powerful, sending a message to people everywhere.

How sadly ironic is it that Saddam's statue and Paterno's both feature right arms raised in the air. The myth of the all conquering hero comes to mind, with crowds cheering and the arm gesture showing appreciation. In the sad reality of both men, they were so out of touch with the truly heroic; one gassing his own people and oppressing them, the other being unable to appreciate or to care about the young men who were being savagely abused by Sandusky. Both Saddam and Paterno can be seen as monsters, and I do not know which one is worse, and that may be the saddest part of all.

For now, Penn State has done the right thing after years of getting it wrong. Unfortunately, Paterno's name remains on the school library. Erickson justifies this saying that it is because of "the substantial and lasting contributions to the academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State University." If this leaves a bad taste in your mouth you are not alone.

Reagan said to tear down the wall, and eventually it happened. I called for the statue to come down weeks ago, and it finally has. I am also predicting that the library should soon go by another name. It is just a matter of time. Paterno's only "substantial and lasting contribution" is a toxic one, tarnishing the name of his university and the reputation of his program. His legacy is one of horrific proportions, and it is fitting that his statue is where it should be, in the darkest of catacombs where it can remain for all time.

Photo Credits: paterno statue-AP; saddam statue-guardian.co.uk.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Night of the Living Dread: Mets Fan Turns Into Dodger Zombie When LA Comes to Town

Article first published as Night of the Living Dread: Mets Fan Turns Into Dodger Zombie When LA Comes to Town on Blogcritics.

This Friday evening the Los Angeles Dodgers come to town and, as is the case whenever this occurs, a powerful virus is unleashed in New York that even the CDC is unable to do anything about it. We're talking about something so insidious and malevolent that it takes certain New York Mets fans and turns them into Dodger zombies, making them shed all vestiges of loyalty (and any hint of orange) to skulk into the night and root for the very team that abandoned them. With apologies to Shakespeare, they become blue-eyed monsters that mock the meat they feed upon. Where is Sheriff Rick Grimes (from AMC's The Walking Dead) when you need him?

Witness the case of one such creature. Let's call him "Hank" (name changed to protect the virulent one). Hank is a great guy most of the year. We are friendly and talk about the Mets and Jets and share our hatred of the Yankees. Hank walks around wearing Mets attire half of the year (and then dons Jets green the rest of the time), and the basement in his house is basically a Mets/Jets museum, including chairs from old Shea Stadium and a patch of sod from the field that grows inside a boxed replica of the place. But one corner is reserved for the old Dodgers memorabilia, including a huge picture of the 1955 Dodgers and a drawing of Ebbetts Field. That area is off limits to everyone, or as Hank likes to say, "It's sacred ground."

Hank is 64 years old and has never gotten over one thing in his life: the day the Brooklyn Dodgers left New York to go to California. Hank was seven years old and living on Bedford Avenue in the heart of Brooklyn when the team he loved defeated the damn Yankees in 1955, and in some ways that has been the highlight of his life. While he is married and loves his children and grandchildren, he confesses that nothing has come close to equalling that World Series Dodgers victory in 1955.

After the Dodgers left New York, Hank was one of many who felt hatred, anger, and emptiness in his life. A great deal of what he had invested felt like it was lost, and since the New York Giants had also left for California, there was no baseball team for him to root for, with the abominable Yankees not even worthy of his consideration. So he did what many fans Dodger fans ended up doing: following the box scores in the newspaper of his former team now playing in Los Angeles, but there was a perceptible void in his life.

When the Mets were born from Dodger blue and Giants orange in 1962, Hank instantly became a fan. Now a teenager, Hank loved that some of his former Dodger heroes like Don Zimmer, Roger Craig, and Gil Hodges were on the team, but even more importantly that Casey Stengel was the Mets manager. He was a committed Mets fan from that moment on until the fateful day that the Dodgers came to town to play the Mets.

It was something he tried to fight at first, but just like someone bitten by a zombie, no matter what he did, the virus took over his body. When the Dodgers came to town that first time in May 1962, Hank dug his old Brooklyn Dodgers hat out of the closet and went to the Polo Grounds to root for the old Dodger blue. He was possessed by something beyond him and had no control. He was rooting for the team that broke his heart and against the team that had come along and saved him. He didn't understand it but had no way to combat this compulsion.

All these years later, Hank is still infected and has no desire to seek a cure. For the three days that the Dodgers are in town, Hank and I will not speak. I am the enemy now, just like a human who sees his friend infected and become a zombie. I know I can't help him, and the only way to stop him is to destroy his brain, and that is, of course, out of the question, so for now I leave Hank be and let him feast on the games at hand.

I don't like these games at all myself. My family (on my mother's side) were all Dodgers fans, but I am steadfastly a Mets fan and always will be. It seems when the Dodgers come to town that it sets up almost a Civil War mentality, splitting families and friends. There were even those New Yorkers who could not live with the loss of their team, so they pulled up their roots and moved to LA. When they come back to New York, it is not so much a family reunion as it is Hatfields and McCoys. That is why this and every year I dread this night and the ones to follow.

As for Hank, I can best sum him up the way the chief in the original Night of the Living Dead
described the zombies to a reporter: "They're dead; they're all messed up." I'm just happy that come Monday Hank will spring back to life as good as new. He will revert to wearing his Mets orange and blue; we will talk again, and he will survive until the next time. Most zombies never get that lucky.

Photo credits: 1955 Dodgers-librarythinkquest.org; dodger cap-keymancollectibles.com

Friday, July 20, 2012

Jeremy Lin's Jersey Goes Into My Closet of What Might Have Been

Article first published as Jeremy Lin's Jersey Goes Into My Closet of What Might Have Been on Blogcritics.

Perhaps you have one of these too: a closet with old sports jerseys that bare names of those players traded away or lost to free agency. I hate to admit that mine is brimming with old shirts and misty (and sometimes moldy) memories, best left to time and moths.

I just added my Jeremy Lin number 17 Knicks jersey to the collection. I slipped it in between my Dave Kingman (Mets) and Brett Favre (Jets), certainly two of the less distinguished names in the fold. I am speaking of what they did here in New York as opposed to what they may have done elsewhere. Kingman (whom the late great announcer Bob Murphy called "Sky King") was indeed the royal holder of the high pop-up, some of which became homers. Favre is even held in lower regard for his brief and ineffectual tenure with the Jets.

But Lin, oh Jeremy Lin, what you might have been as a Knick. I keep thinking that. I know the deal he signed with the Houston Rockets was insane, that MSG head James Dolan was right in every way not to try to up the ante and outbid the Rockets, because in truth Lin is untested. Still, he brought a level of intensity to the court for the Knicks that hasn't been seen in a long, long time. That was worth something, but not Lin's asking price to be sure.

I stared at the jersey for a long time, pondering how I would one day tell the story to my son. Instead of it hanging for posterity in the rafters of Madison Square Garden, it will hang in obscurity in my closet along with many other might have beens. I briefly ran my hand over the different colored jerseys: the green Jets, the orange and blue Mets and Knicks, and the white Islanders ones with the map of Long Island and a hockey stick centered on it. Ah, the memories connected to these names of a lost battalion of players that (mostly) left us wanting more.

I looked at some of the names on the jerseys: Dineen, Westfall, Trottier (Islanders), Kingman, Seaver, Beltran (Mets), Favre, Riggins, Pennington (Jets), and Starks, Ewing, King (Knicks) and shook my head. Some of these guys made their mark before leaving New York; others either didn't have a chance or missed the opportunity (like Beltran and Pennington). Still, I once proudly wore these shirts, even if only briefly, but now they are to be kept in the darkness, a phantom brotherhood awaiting additional members who will no doubt eventually join their ranks.

I heard on the news this morning that there are something like 15,000 Lin number 17 Knicks jerseys out there on the racks in the city. Obviously, their price has plummeted and in some cases the stores will probably not even be able to give them away. My idea would be to hand them out to the less fortunate or send them off to China for a price, where perhaps they would become a novelty item. Last year it seemed like every other person in New York was walking around town in a Lin shirt, but just like the "Linsanity" he brought with him, that is sadly gone.

As I sat drinking my morning tea and staring out the window, I wondered whose shirt would be the next to go into the closet. My best bets would be Mike Pelfrey (Mets) or Mark Sanchez (Jets), but I am not hoping for either one of them to leave town. The closet has enough shirts in it and too many memories, but I really feel sad about Lin's shirt being in there, while others like Bobby Bonilla's and Stephon Marbury's really bring no emotion at all (except relief that they were gone).

I didn't even get a chance to wear Lin's jersey enough because it was a brief 25 games, but what a great ride that time was.  His shirt shouldn't be in there but it is, and now I have to get used to wearing a Stoudemire or Anthony once again. Goodbye, Jeremy, we hardly knew you.

Photo Credit: fansedge.com

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Enduring Myth of An Endless Summer

Article first published as The Enduring Myth of An Endless Summer on Blogcritics.

When people hear "Endless Summer" (and depending on their age), they may think of the great surfing film The Endless Summer (1966) or the iconic Beach Boys album (1974) that evoke misty memories of a different time and place. The film is about two guys roaming the world looking for a great wave; the album is a compilation of the classic tunes that still make me think of sand, surf, girls, and cars. Either will get me in the mood for a swim even in the frosty depths of a snowy January, and I have fond memories connected to both the film and the album all these years later.

There is something so alluring about summer, bringing us back to our youth with a spring in the step and joy in the soul. Summer smells differently even now, the aroma from various barbecue grills drifting in the air on a warm evening. There is the sweet singe of impending rain, the quick burst of a sun shower, and then the enveloping warmth of the afterglow with the moisture glistening on surfaces. People seem less burdened by the worries of the world, the pressure of work and school, and there is a notion that this is never going to end.

Days meander in the heat and light, giving kids of all ages more time to run and play. There is less clock watching and more time to linger in the park or on the beach. A sunset becomes not just the end of the day but an event worth waiting for and enjoying until the orange burst sinks into the sea. Then torches are lit, grills glow deep into the night, and marshmallows become brown on sticks held by kids and adults who remember that there is no rush to things.

How can we not like summer, as the late great Nat King Cole evoked in his song "Those Hazy Lazy Crazy Days of Summer" and not want it to ever end? We can travel about the country or the world, catch up with friends and loved ones in distant places, and take the kids to see all the things we want to share with them. Summer means packing up the car or mini van and taking that journey, remembering when we used to sit in the back seat and count license plates as our parents drove. It is a time to pass the baton and make the memories that our kids will one day share with their own children as we now share with them.

Now when I think of summer I think of freedom to be with my children the way I wish I could be with them all year long. It is wonderful being able to watch my little son wake up and see the joy in his eyes when he sees my face. "You have no work, Daddy?" he asks, and what a true pleasure it is to say that I have the whole day to spend with him. It is also a delight to watch my daughter go from swimming, tennis, and dancing classes and be able to see her in action. And, as we prepare for our yearly journey out of New York, there is the relief of knowing that the road and destination lie ahead of us as we leave everything behind.

Ask my kids about summer, and the first thing they think about is the animated TV series Phineas and Ferb. This is a great show for kids but parents can really enjoy it as well. Phineas and Ferb are two boys who want to make the most of every day of their summer vacation (all 104 days of it). There is a subplot about their platypus Perry (who happens to be a secret agent), but that is not as crazy as it sounds once you get acquainted with the show. Nevertheless, it is one TV series that truly embraces the overwhelming joy that kids experience in the summer, and it is a vicarious pleasure for me to watch it with my children and think that summer is really endless.

Unfortunately, as we adults all know to well, summer has to end. Still, as it is only mid-July and there is a long time to go until that first day of school in September, the illusion can still be something we can enjoy with gusto. Take the time to smell the burn of impending rain in the air, to linger on the beach until it is dark and wish on some stars, throw a Frisbee to your heart's content,  share ice cream cones with your kids and let them melt all over your arms, and take a journey where you can put enough distance between there and here that makes you feel like you are indeed on vacation.

The myth of the endless summer endures because we are all still children at heart, and children love summer because they know what we sometimes forget: we need to play and laugh and not worry about what time it is. I love summer and I believe in its endless possibilities now as much as I did as when I was a kid. I hope that I will always feel this way and wish that for my children and their children and you and your children too.

Photo Credits: Endless Summer - imdb.com/Phineas and Ferb - disneypictures.net

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Knicks Newly Acquired Jason's DWI Is No Kidding Around

Article first published as Knicks Newly Acquired Jason's DWI Is No Kidding Around on Blogcritics.

If you are a Knicks fan like I am and not completely sold on the idea of Jason Kidd being the answer to your point guard prayers, his arrest in the Hamptons for DWI early Sunday morning might add insult to injury. The veteran player was supposedly acquired to mentor Jeremy (Linsanity) Lin, who is now signed with the Houston Rockets for an absolutely insane contract offered to an untested player. One has to wonder about how much mentoring Kidd could have done anyway when he doesn't have enough good sense not to wrap his car around a tree.
If the Knicks aren't rethinking this new acquisition yet, we will have to see what legal problems are headed his way. As one of approximately 50,000 people arrested in New York State every year for DWI, Kidd becomes another statistic. Happily, he did not hurt himself or anyone else, but that is besides the point. You get drunk and get into a car to drive and that is just like loading a shotgun and pointing it into a crowded room. It is beyond wreckless behavior and could be considered much more if someone had been hurt; however, the lack of victims (except for his damaged Cadillac Escalade) shouldn't have him left to go on his merry way.

Kidd is charged with a misdemeanor and that carries with it the possibility of a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine, but he could also (since it is his first offense) get off with losing his license and a year's probation. The problem here is not that Kidd is just one of 50,000, but the fact that he is a sport celebrity, and as such he has a position that requires him to be a role model.

Jason is no kid and, as a husband and father of three, he should have known better. Luckily, his family was not in the car with him, but that is not the issue here. Other people's children look up to sports stars (whether they like it or not). It seems that they forget this fact, as Kidd obviously was not thinking about his own children or anyone else's for that matter. If Kidd walks away, what does that tell the rest of the players in all sports out there who have a drink in the hand at 2 a.m. and a luxury car parked outside the bar? More importantly, what message is sent to the kids? Oh, he's a basketball star, and he got away with it.

Kidd is one of a long line of players who have forgotten that what they do matters (on and off the court). Now, what happens to him matters as well. If he should get jail time that might be a slap in the face for his fellow sports celebrities and send a message loud and clear: drunk driving will never be tolerated in New York State no matter who you are. It would also put the Knicks into damage control mode for certain, but that is less important than what could have happened on the roads of Suffolk County this past Sunday.

Photo Credit: nydailynews.com

Monday, July 16, 2012

Knicks and Nets: New Rivalry Good For New York

Article first published as Knicks and Nets: New Rivalry Good For New York on Blogcritics.

An upstart Brooklyn team daring to take on the successful established team in New York: if that sounds familiar (think Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees) it is, and it is happening again. The Brooklyn Nets (how nice it is to hear "Brooklyn" as part of a team's name) are looking to establish a legacy in the city, and the team had a pep rally outside Borough Hall with Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz leading the charge to challenge the cross river rivals.

Markowitz implied that the Knicks haven't been able to bring a championship to the city and that "it's going to take the Brooklyn Nets to get the job done." Images of two guys standing in the middle of the street in a Western town ready for a gunfight flashed in my head. If anything, this is going to be a most exciting and interesting basketball season here in New York.


Nets coach Avery Johnson praises his backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, who will join the rest of the starting five (Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries) as the new era begins in the sparkling new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. While Avery has no illusions that the team will win a championship in 2013, the goal is to win one soon thereafter. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has made it clear he expects to win a championship by 2015, but there's no pressure, at least not yet.

The Knicks certainly have the Nets on their radar, but they have enough on their plates to keep them occupied. The idea of filling their most pressing need: point guard, is still not resolved. The Houston Rockets have now upped the ante and offered Jeremy Lin a $25.1 million contract, which is going to be difficult for the Knicks to beat (the team has three days to match the offer). The Knicks have wanted to keep Lin to work with Jason Kidd, whom they had hoped would be a mentor for the 23 year old Harvard graduate, but now it doesn't seem like it will happen.

"Linsanity" became a worldwide phenomenon last year, and the Rockets must sense that what he may lack in ability can be greatly overcome by his star power. The Knicks are also aware of the possibilities of a healthy Jeremy Lin (who hasn't played a minute since getting hurt in April) playing in Madison Square Garden again. Last year (judging from walking around New York) the team must have made a fortune on Jeremy Lin jerseys alone. If he is healthy and playing well, it will be great for the team and for the player.

Also, the rivalry between the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks will depend upon both teams performing well on the court. How much fun will it be to see that heat up if the two teams are doing well? It will be great to have New Yorkers debating about players and the teams, in many ways just as we now have with the Mets and Yankees. This New Yorker is thrilled that we have the Nets back in New York where they belong.

Of course, we will have to see if there will be an opportunity for both teams to be playoff contenders. For now, under Mike Woodson the Knicks seem to be heading that way again. Johnson says he feels his team can compete, so when we have the first Knicks game against the Nets in Brooklyn it will all feel the way it should feel for New Yorkers. Let the rivalry begin!

The New Jersey Nets are now dead; long live the Brooklyn Nets. Now, if we could just get the Jets back on this side of the river, I would be one happy sports fan.

Photo Credit: brooklyneagle.com

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Why Do So Many People Need to be Liked?

Article first published as Why Do So Many People Need to be Liked? on Blogcritics.

Way back in 1984 actress Sally Field's Oscar acceptance speech for the film Places in the Heart is remembered as "You like me; you really, really liked me." Akin to many misquotes over the years (like James Cagney's "You dirty rat"), the actual quotation was "...you like me, right now, you like me!" Either way, there was an awful lot of liking going on, and it had nothing to do with Facebook (considering Mark Zuckerberg was born during that year).

Which brings me to the modern concept of "like" in the way it is connected to Facebook. I hear "like us on Facebook" or "like me on Facebook" again and again. Why is it that so many people crave the vicarious thrill of seeing that little thumbs up icon on their screen? What does it actually mean to "be liked" on Facebook?

Truthfully, I have "liked" some things I have seen from family and friends. If a particularly poignant post is up there, I'll hit that thumbs up with no problem; however, when the local deli has a sign in its window that says "Like us on Facebook," I'm starting to wonder about the whole thing. To actually "like" this store I have to go out of my way to do it online. Why in the world, even if they have a great chicken salad sandwich, would I do that?

How far will this need to "like" or be liked go? Will we start getting bumper stickers and ask other drivers to "like" our driving? Perhaps we should be expected to "like" our dentists, doctors, our children's teachers, and our neighbor's dogs. I am not sure how far we can take this concept, but when I see a panhandler on Fifth Avenue near Bryant Park who has a sign that reads "Like Me on Facebook" poised above his tin cup, I have to believe this thing is out of control.

There is also the small matter of not liking something someone has asked us to like. Just because fifty thousand people like that YouTube video doesn't impress me in the least. So if I go ahead and "dislike" a video or a website or a politician, and I am in the minority, what does that say about me or those who think differently? Is someone tracking these likes and dislikes? Does anyone know or truly care about this or is it a molehill that has morphed into a virtual mountain?

The thumbs up and thumbs down is a very powerful symbol, going back to the days of the Roman gladiators. All these years later the symbol has regained prominence, but its power is linked to a precarious online relationship between people and things. If we all do indeed seek to be liked, then perhaps Facebook is a panacea and affirmation for us all; however, it could also be something of a placebo, and what happens to everyone when they find out that they aren't as popular as they thought?

For now that little thumbs up symbol isn't going anywhere. People crave it, they need it, and there are enough like minded souls out there all more than willing and ready to click away. It's just that being "liked" is nothing if there is no genuine feeling behind it. Sally Field got her Oscar and her affirmation because her peers who respected her work voted for her. We get our thumbs up from "friends," many of whom are complete strangers, and nothing much else. Seems after all these years that Ms. Field is still way ahead of the game.

Photo Credit: redroom.com

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ernest Borgnine Dies: Known to My Kids as Mermaid Man

Article first published as Ernest Borgnine Dies: Known to My Kids as Mermaid Man on Blogcritics.
Last night when my wife told me "Ernest Borgnine died," my daughter asked, "Who's that?" I turned and told her, "He was the voice of Mermaid Man." Her response was, "Oh, no!"

For those of you who do not live in the world of kids ages 3-12, legendary actor Ernest Borgnine voiced the part of Mermaid Man on the hit Nickelodeon series Spongebob Squarepants. Mermaid Man is an aging superhero, who along with his equally decrepit sidekick Barnacle Boy (voiced by another legend Tim Conway), are the heroes of the titular yellow sponge and his goofy friend Patrick.

All sorts of mayhem results in an appearance of the two in various episodes over the years, and my kids just love the characters.
Borgnine it seemed would not have had it any other way. I heard him talking on a radio show one time, and someone called in and asked how it felt it be known as "a silly cartoon character." Borgnine didn't miss a beat and said, "I love it!"

What my kids don't know (at least not yet) is that Borgnine was an accomplished actor who played a variety of roles. He made an indelible impression as the bully sergeant in From Here to Eternity, but was equally impressive as the lonely butcher in Marty, which won him his only Oscar. He played many villain roles to be sure, but that butcher is the one remembered and also it propelled him into the role of a lifetime: Lt. Commander Quinton McHale in the hit television show McHale's Navy.

I watched McHale's Navy as a kid, and I loved it. This show was in many ways the precursor of M*A*S*H, another great TV series about war with more serious tangents, but the theme was basically the same. McHale and his men got the job done but cavorted as much as possible during down time, all the while trying to pull the wool over basically clueless Captain Binghamton's (Joe Flynn) eyes. Tim Conway starred as Ensign Parker in this series, so the pairing of them as Mermaid and Barnacle Boy was pure genius later on in Spongebob.

I had seen Borgnine many times on talk shows over the years, and he always seemed affable and happy to be where he was, at times even downright humble. He recognized his good fortune to have found a niche in Hollywood despite not having the Rock Hudson or Paul Newman type of good looks. Someone who was no doubt originally seen as a good character actor by casting directors ended up being quite a fine actor.

Still, on this day, to many the world has lost the voice of a beloved character. My kids are sad and quite frankly I am too. Rest in peace, Ernest Borgnine and Mermaid Man.

Photo Credits: Borgnine-People; Mermaid Man - whotalking.com

Wimbledon 2012: Roger Is High On Grass

Article first published as Wimbledon 2012: Roger Is High On Grass on Blogcritics.

It's the grass, man. Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis great, plays better on grass. Rafael Nadal rules the clay court, and Novak Djokovic, whom Federer defeated in the semi-final at Centre Court, is the king of the hard court, but Federer is just better on grass. This was obvious in his 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over the Serbian on Friday.
Former Major League Baseball slugger Richie Allen once said, "If a horse won't eat it, I won't play on it" in reference to AstroTurf (an artificial grass surface) being used in stadiums. Federer is obviously a kindred spirit and with good reason. Tennis is a much quicker game on grass and plays to Federer's strengths, and it was the only surface on which Djokovic never defeated him. Score one for Federer before he even stepped onto the court.

Of course, tennis was conceived as a "lawn" game in Great Britain and was always played on grass. So there is the psychology of playing the game the way it was meant to be played, and perhaps Djokovic thought a little too much about the advantage his opponent had here, knowing that the Swiss star has won the final six times on this grass. Federer definitely exuded confidence throughout the match and afterwards said, "The surface obviously makes our match quite different."

Now Federer moves on to the final hoping to win number seven, which would tie him with Pete Sampras. With Federer it always comes back to Sampras. It's the shadow of greatness, of being legendary but not eclipsing the legend. Sampras can be arguably called the greatest tennis player ever, and Federer has spent a career trying to change that perception.

At 30 Federer hasn't won a big one since the Australian Open in 2010. Understandably, people started talking about it being "over" for him. In a sport measured by Grand Slam success, Federer's game seemed to be slipping and Djokovic's star was on the rise. Fans will remember how the Serbian defeated the Swiss at the U.S. Open on a match point that for all intents and purposes sealed Djokovic as the number one seed, but now Federer can regain number one ranking; it is within his grasp.

This victory against Djokovic sets him up to do just that, but there is the little matter of having to face Andy Murray (first British man to reach the final since 1938) in the final. Despite the grass court Federer loves, Murray will be the hometown favorite to be sure, and Federer owns a 7-8 record against him, so there is no free pass here. None at all but, being the competitor that he is, Federer would surely not have it any other way.

Photo Credit: federer-dailyrecord.co.uk; murray-wikipedia.com

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Celebrating Andy Griffith's Quiet Comic Genius

Article first appeared on Blogcritics.

Anyone familiar with Andy Griffith's work on his TV shows The Andy Griffith Show or Matlock will remember his vernacular and his mannerisms. As an actor he was deep and quiet like a Southern night and as deceptive too. His drawl may have fooled people into thinking he was a country bumpkin, but as you came to discover in both TV shows (and his life), Griffith was a genius (comic and otherwise).

I always watched The Andy Griffith Show with my family as a kid, and the thing I recall right away is the music and iconic whistling from the opening credits. The most important part of that few seconds was seeing Andy and his son Opie (played by Ron Howard) walking with their poles toward the fishing hole. It set the tone for the entire series, for it always came down to Andy playing a decent, hard-working widower and father who loved his son more than anything. That came through in every episode, and I still feel the strength that relationship projected to me as a kid, and I knew I was lucky to have the same kind of relationship with my own Dad.

Of course, the show was a comedy and Andy played the sheriff of Mayberry, a small North Carolina town. In many ways Andy was the straight man, especially in relation to his wacky deputy Barney Fife, played to perfection by Don Knotts. Andy never wore a gun, but he allowed Barney to wear one unloaded (with one bullet in his shirt pocket). This proved to be the basis of many funny situations to be sure.

The rest of the characters were colorful and perfectly cast: Francis Bavier as Andy's Aunt Bea (who helps him raise Opie), Howard McNear as the odd barber Floyd, Jim Nabors as town mechanic Gomer Pyle (later replaced by George Lindsay as cousin Goober), town drunk Otis (Hal Smith), and Howard the goofy town clerk (Jack Dodson). Much of the fun centered on problems in the town that Andy would eventually solve. Many times it was Opie who had a conflict, and you knew that his father would be there to help him even before Opie decided to let him know about it.

That show ran for eight seasons and ended in 1968, and Griffith dropped out of public view for a long time after that, but in 1986 his career was resurrected when he played lawyer Ben Matlock on Matlock. Here again his genius and timing was as strong as ever. His adversaries would underestimate him or think he was a dumb country lawyer, but Matlock (a Harvard Law grad) was a sly Southern fox who outwitted them again and again.

After Matlock ended in 1995, Griffith seemed to disappear again, but he turned up in occasional guest appearances on TV shows. In recent years he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 from George W. Bush, and in 2008 he campaigned for President Obama. He lived out his remaining years in Roanoke Island, North Carolina, in a small town much like Mayberry, and he died at age 86 on July 3, 2012.

Griffith never won an Emmy for his roles, and that had more to do with those voting than his performances. While many current actors seem to play themselves again and again (think Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston, Adam Sandler and so on) back in those days it had more to do with the method of acting. Actors invested time and energy inhabiting a part, manifesting roles with intensity and grit. Griffith just sauntered around the screen as if he was standing in his living room. Perhaps he made it look too easy, but that's the whole point. His acting was effortless, and it was pure joy to watch him.

I will always remember Andy Griffith's gentle comic genius and the lesson he taught about fatherhood in his first TV show. Andy is off to that great fishing hole once again, whistling all the way. Perhaps he will be joined there by his good friend Don Knotts and other old friends.  Rest in peace, Andy Griffith.

Photo credit: wikipedia

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Born on the Fourth of July: An Ideal Worth Celebrating

Article first published as Born on the Fourth of July: An Ideal Worth Celebrating on Blogcritics.

As we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, I am sure everyone is stocking up on the traditional holiday fare: hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, and perhaps an apple pie or two to end the festivities. People will wash down this food with gallons of soda, beer, and other libations. They will watch parades, fireworks, and patriotic concerts in parks. All of this is in the spirit of the biggest birthday party ever, celebrated once a year and alternately known as Independence Day. It is something worth marking and marking well, but sometimes (as with all holidays) the true meaning is forgotten or lost.

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted for independence from Great Britain, and two days later it adopted Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, formally making the break with old King George. This is the official reason why we celebrate our freedom on the Fourth of July, but the deeper reasons are found within the document itself, the essence of which is a sacred trust, a scripture for the American people.

The first paragraph is rather prosaic, but beautiful nonetheless. Here Jefferson indicates that he will "declare the causes" that are the reason for the "separation" from England. It is in the second paragraph that we get the poetry of language that all the world remembers and recognizes as the inherent truth concerning human existence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Is there a more beautiful sentence ever written in English?

The rest of the document powerfully demonstrates the tyranny of the King and his minions and the necessary and compelling reasons for the declaration. Jefferson makes all the salient arguments why King George was a tyrant "unfit to be the ruler of a free people." It is required reading for every American,  those who aspire to be citizens, and people everywhere who believe in human dignity.

Unfortunately, some Americans have sometimes ignored the ideals established by this document. We can fairly ask how any man could write such a powerful edict for freedom and have also been a slave owner (as was Jefferson). We can ask how the very essence of these sacred words could be warped by so many in government over the years, and it is impossible to not feel betrayal of the trust these words originally inspired in Americans.

Still, despite all of our stumbling and those wayward individuals who have deliberately ignored this eloquent argument for freedom, its words remain a beacon of hope for all people. We should never disparage the ideals set forth in it, even if it sometime seems we have not lived up to the challenge of its mandate. As scripture it sets the bar rather high, and we are fallible human beings after all. 

So this Fourth of July, as you eat that hotdog, drink that beer, and watch the rockets red glare, remember the reason for this party held every summer. It is all about those eloquent words sent to a king to let him know his dominion had ended. It's call for freedom is a universal cry over the centuries for the rights of the individual, and its power has not diminished and the ideals set forth in it are indeed worth celebrating now and forever. 

Photo Credit: 21stcenturywaves.com

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why Do Students Cheat? Look in the Mirror

Article first published as Why Do Students Cheat? Look in the Mirror on Blogcritics.

The question for today, class, is "Why do students cheat?" I have posed this to my students in my college freshman writing classes over the years as a writing assignment, and you would be amazed at the responses I have gotten. I have taught in a college, a university, and a community college at various times in my career, and believe it or not the essays came back with very similar responses. The number one reason was because thay could do it and mostly get away with it. The second was because they wanted that "A" on their transcripts.

Recently here in New York City a cheating scandal at the elite Stuyvesant High School shocked people, but I was not surprised. It is extremely difficult to get accepted by the school, and once enrolled the expectations are enormously high for students. The pressure to excel is there from the moment a student enters the front door, and this comes from teachers, administrators, fellow students, and parents.

A former student of mine who attended "Stuy" told me, "The competition is fierce. Everyone, and I mean everyone, expects you to be a genius, and you better be." At the time he never spoke about cheating, but it is no wonder why it would happen in that kind of environment because it happens in regular high schools, elementary schools, and colleges everywhere. If we think it doesn't we are kidding ourselves, and if you are outraged please take a good look in the mirror: we only have ourselves to blame.


You may remember the old way of cheating. Kids used to call it "crib" notes, and they devised all sorts of ways to write answers on slips of paper, desks, the backs of the kids in front of them, on their arms, and even on the palms of their hands. This decidedly low tech means of cheating was around forever, and kids did get caught, but it never stopped them because even then pressure was high.

In this case at Stuyvesant it was high tech and sophisticated all the way. Would you expect anything less from a school filled with brainiacs? The cheaters (about 100 of them) used their cell phones to get the answers for Regents exams. Here in New York getting a Regents diploma is essential, and this high stake exam is part of the problem. So is the "elite school" mentality at Stuyvesant. Put it all together and you have a fecund environment for cheating.

Cheating is rampant today and most educators know it, and students will admit to it in private and off the record. Cheating can be anything from copying someone else's homework to having someone else write a term paper or even take your exam. On Long Island earlier this year in wealthy Great Neck, some high school students (children of prominent parents) paid college students to take their SAT exams. When this story broke a colleague of mine and I talked about the parental pressure being sometimes so unreal, and that kids will go to great lengths to please them and be successful, even if it is illegal as in this case.

When I was a college instructor, I saw simple and complex cheating. Much of it had to do with plagiarism, much of it intentional, where whole papers had been cut and pasted from an Internet source. Other times I would receive the same paper in two different classes from different students. I guess they thought if they changed the name I wouldn't notice. Shame on them but more than anything shame on a system that encourages cheating because of unreal expectations.

We know that even teachers and administrators are not above cheating. Because of the unreal pressure to excel on state testing, educators have been caught coaching kids beyond acceptable means, giving answers, and even changing answers to improve test scores. This whole No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth, because to secure federal funds it seems some people will do almost anything. How can we expect the kids to do the right thing if adults do not?

I have also seen parents drive kids too hard in so many ways. Besides living vicariously through their progeny by having them play all kinds of sports, join all sorts of clubs, and make certain that they have not even one free second in any given day, they also drive them too hard to excel in school. Kids with perfectly good test papers with scores of 90 or above are ridiculed. One kid told me, "Mom said don't show me another test unless it is a 100." Multiply this by thousands and you get an idea of what's happening and why kids will cheat if they feel there is no other way.

What should be done about the case at Stuyvesant? Or the one in Great Neck? Should those students be expelled? Should metal detectors be installed and cell phones collected every morning and returned at the end of the day? How far should we go to stop cheating?

Perhaps the easy answer is to cut off this cancer at its blood supply. Adults should reassess their expectations for their children. Yes, we all want the best for our kids, but not at the expense of their emotional and physical well being. Unrealistic expectations fuel kids' fears and at Stuyvesant (where you know from the start that you are going on to Harvard, Yale, or Columbia) kids are in an academic pressure cooker. It does not help that standardized and state testing, inferior instruments to be sure, are always looming and success will be determined by their performance on these exams.

Cheating is an age old tradition. Plato no doubt caught Aristotle once or twice, and it has been happening ever since. You can be sure Plato did not give up on his brilliant student for a transgression or two, and we cannot as well. We should understand that cheating will always be part of the equation as long as the solution is too difficult to attain. Perhaps we can create learning environments that will eventually be less about achievement and more about accomplishments measured in various ways (such as portfolios and presentations) that make cheating unnecessary.

I think that we should go back to the Socratic Method and appreciate that students do not have to get the answer right the first time, or even the next time, as long as they are learning and eventually come to awareness themselves. Something needs to be done to let students know that schools are about them and not about us. Student centered learning is at the heart of the new Common Core, and it is time we start thinking about what that means for education. It certainly doesn't mean testing them to death and expecting them to do the impossible and then nailing them to the wall if they try to find any means possible to do what we expect of them.

In the old Star Trek series, it was noted a number of times how Captain Kirk (played by William Shatner) was the only student in the Star Fleet Academy history to pass a test involving a no-win battle scenario. Kirk became a legend because he reprogrammed the computer to make it possible to beat the odds. I bring this up here because maybe this is what the kids at Stuyvesant were doing in their own way.

Do we want a system that forces kids into no-win situations? Or do we want a system that is about truly educating children and not about test scores and administrators patting each other on the back for high stakes assessments that mean nothing in the real world? It is time for the adults (parents, teachers, administrators, politicians) to take a long look in the mirror and find the answers. Oh, and no cheating, please.


Photo Credit: crib notes - main.nc.us; Shatner - wikipedia.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Wimbeldon 2012: Andy Roddick - The Greatest Player That Never Was

Article first published as Wimbledon 2012: Andy Roddick - The Greatest Tennis Player That Never Was on Blogcritics.

As a fan of tennis for a long time, I remember seeing the great American tennis players like Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, and John McEnroe always put on a wonderful show in the main events. They made it interesting and they rose to the challenges of the Grand Slam tournaments. Then there was Pete Sampras, the greatest American tennis player of all time, and it was just a joy to watch him on the court. At this time of year during Wimbledon, I wish there was an American player like this on the court. Sadly, there is not.

I am not sure what happened to Andy Roddick along the way, but for a guy who has made over $20 million in his career, he has left little impression in the moments that count over the last nine years. Take his last match at Wimbledon 2012. The 30th seed lost to Spaniard David Ferrer 6-2, 6-7 (8-10), 4-6, 3-6 in what was a classic case of a Roddick meltdown. After dominating in the first set, the turnaround came after he lost a hard fought second set. The third and fourth sets saw Roddick fade away and Ferrer won easily.

This is the same Andy Roddick who boasts the 150+ miles per hour serve, the one who won at the U.S. Open in 2003 and became ranked #1 shortly thereafter. He was one of People's sexiest men alive (there seems to be too many guys formerly in this category these days) and he is, of course, married to Brooklyn Decker, certainly one of the most beautiful women on the planet. His life would seem to be charmed in many ways, but success in the matches that count has been elusive.

He can win (and win decisively) as recently displayed last month at the AEGON International in England. It does seem though that when he gets on the big stage (meaning one of the Grand Slams) he falters and does so precipitously, as seen in the match against Ferrer. It is obvious that he is a well-conditioned and talented athlete, so what is happening to him?

After this last match Roddick sort of told the press that he could be done. "I don't have a definitive answer, I can't give you much else," he said. In a symbolic gesture that only confirmed that this was his last Wimbledon in the minds of many, he blew a kiss to the fans and the stadium, looking more than anything like a final farewell. We tennis fans can only scratch our heads and wonder why.

My father is a bigger tennis fan than I am, and he jokingly blames the beautiful women in tennis players lives. He will note what Brooke Shields did to Andre Agassi's game and that Bridgette Wilson did the same thing to Sampras, and now Brooklyn is having the negative effect on Andy. Dad even notes that Agassi became a better player once he and Shields parted ways, but I wonder if that had more to do with him having a love match with Steffi Graf (arguably the greatest female tennis player ever) who understood the nature of the game better than Shields and could provide the support he needed.

Whatever the case, it seems to me that Andy Roddick is the greatest tennis player that never was. He had shown such amazing potential, but as he is turning 30 this August, the chances are that he will never ascend to the level that once seemed to be within his grasp. If his comments and actions after the loss to Ferrer are any indication, Roddick may have come to terms with the end being near. Now it is time for the rest of us to do so as well.

Photo Credits: roddick-getty images; decker-imbd.com

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Demise of Tom and Katie: Cruise or Damage Control to Follow?

Article first published as The Demise of Tom and Katie: Cruise or Damage Control? on Blogcritics.
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are breaking up. Is there nothing sacred anymore? The couple known as TomKat are divorcing after five years of marriage. I heard this as I listened to the radio during breakfast this morning. Since this was "entertainment" news, the next report involved the singer Adele confirming rumors that she is pregnant by divorced boyfriend Simon Konecki. Ah, isn't love grand?


After I heard this news and finished my Cheerios, I kept seeing the image of Tom jumping on Oprah's couch on her program when he professed he was madly in love with Katie back in 2005. This rather incredulous moment had me wondering even back then about Tom's emotional maturity. I mean, the last time I jumped up and down on the couch the Mets had won the World Series (and I was 10).

I feel like I have a connection to Mr. Cruise in what had been a rather bizarre incident. I was in Australia in 1999 and out to dinner with friends in Sydney. One of my mates got a phone call from a friend, saying that Tom and Nicole were having dinner around the corner in an upscale place and were leaving. My friends ran to see the stars and I followed, and a few moments later they were coming out the door, smiling for the cameras, and I took out my camera and yelled, "Hey, Tom!" Mr. Cruise, no doubt hearing the lone American voice, turned to me and I snapped the photo. Even now I think about it because they looked really happy, and we know how that turned out.

Anyway, in this case there is a child to be considered. I have my guilty weekly read of People (I swear it's my wife's subscription), and I have seen various incarnations of young Suri. She is always dolled up or conversely rolling around in the grass or eating an ice cream cone. My impression has been she is probably fairly normal, at least as much as she could be having two film stars as parents. In those pictures there was always her mother holding her hand and looking grim. I even joked to my wife that Katie doesn't know how to smile. Maybe now we know why.

There will be many rumors about the break up. Was there another woman or man? Or was it the pressures of Tom's chosen faith? The Church of Scientology (which boasts John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Anne Archer and other celebrities as members) seems to have caused problems for Cruise before. Ex-wife Nicole Kidman was raised Catholic, as was Katie Holmes, and both may have been worried about the toll it would take on a child as he or she grew in the faith (Kidman and Cruise adopted a boy and girl together).

Later in the day I heard more news on the radio (as I was driving). It seems there was a prenuptial agreement (Tom isn't as dumb as he looks) but that Katie could still get lots of dough for Suri's support. There is also the matter of Suri's upbringing, and it was mentioned that Katie wants sole custody, so Papa Tom is probably going to fight that. The word "ugly" comes to mind here, even though Tom and Katie are so beautiful looking.

As the days pass I am sure that Tom will seek his own brand of control (damage or otherwise). Perhaps (mind) control has been the problem all along. I know little about Scientology except that founder L. Ron Hubbard was a few cards short of a full deck. I know he believed in aliens being here long ago, and strange practices pevail to this day; however, some people tell me they think confession is a strange practice, and as a Catholic I think it's perfectly normal, so who knows?

Whatever the facts are we will find out, but for now we know that TomKat is no more. The one we should worry about here is little Suri. She is probably in for a bumpy ride for the rest of her life. Her parents should know better, but in the world of Hollywood it seems no one ever does.

Photo Credits: Tom Cruise-oprah.com; Suri-fanpop.com