Thursday, July 30, 2015

Police for America

There is Teach for America to make up for some of the folks who should never have gone into teaching (either they don't have the skills, work ethic, the personality or the empathy).  In Teach for America, the best and brightest from our best universities can apply to the program.  If accepted, they undergo training (not nearly enough training, but still some training) and then they are sent into inner city schools to teach for two years.  The payoff?  Their students loans are forgiven and they are paid according to the teacher pay scale.

This has a few benefits - first, it exposes students to some of the best and brightest minds our country has to offer (as opposed to suffering "the dance of the lemons," where often cases the worst, most ineffective teachers are simply reassigned to the worst schools).  Second, it shows many young professionals, the majority of whom will go into the private sector as lawyers, investment bankers, and so on, how challenging teaching (especially in urban areas) can be.

As I see more and more stories like the ones below, I'm starting to think maybe we should have a Police for America.

I mean out of all the great police officers I know, I have never heard one threaten to "put a hole" in anyone's head.  I've been treated kindly and respectfully and am alive today thanks to the highway patrol and EMTs that took care of me after a particularly nasty car accident.

However, is there any excuse to treat someone like this?

I get this off duty detective's anger.  Yes, the kid was going down a one way the wrong way, but is that an excuse to treat a citizen (who the officer has sworn to protect and serve, by the way) this way?

Imagine if this was your son or daughter?

Or being harassed like this?  I get that this man dislikes the tone the young man is taking with him, but while he isn't being blindly obedient, the man is not being disrespectful, nor in my estimation deserving the treatment he is being given.

If the officer dislikes having every thing he is doing being criticized and scrutinized, he should spend a week teaching high school kids!  (And no, I honestly don't wish I could do this to any of my students).


I still have to think that the stories, again, like this one, that are emerging illustrate the few (okay, maybe more than a few) bad apples who should never be graced with a badge or any sort of power.  But that can be said for any profession (teachers, doctors, and so on).

I believe there are far more officers like the ones below than the two goons above.

Such as this officer.  How would the detective who threatened to "put a hole in the head" of the young man in the first video have reacted in this officer's shoes?

How awesome is this?


And this?

And my favorite example -

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The folly of policies

I just learned of an intriguing book, The Six Thousand Dollar Egg, by Todd Duncan.  To summarize his anecdote, he and his wife ate at a specific restaurant three times a week (spending around six grand there a year) because they loved their hamburgers so much (those must have been some very good burgers to eat there three times a week).

One day the waiter explained the new special: a waffle with an egg on top.

Duncan declined - stating that he and his wife loved their burgers.  But he said his wife happened to love eggs and asked if his wife's hamburger could come with an egg on it (they should have eaten at TRF's The Black Cat, which has that very burger on their menu).

This leads to the manager explaining that this cannot be done.  There is no policy.  What if they run out of eggs to go with the waffles for the special? Never mind they may have no one order the special, all the while they had regularly loyal customers willing to pay extra for an egg on their favorite menu item.

But it could not be done.  It was against the restaurant's policy.

So Duncan and his wife left and never went back.

That's the story of the $6,000 egg.

For me, there are two takeaways here -

1.  How important it is to please your loyal customers.

2.  The folly of following policies to a T.

In hindsight, one would think - if they owned the restaurant - that they would be unhappy to lose two loyal customers who spend six grand a year at their restaurant . . . when a little wisdom would have taken care of it and maybe even led to the couple being even more loyal.

This great TED Talk illustrates the loss of wisdom (which results in our obsession to follow policies, even when our instinct (or what should be our wisdom) should know better).

Mr. Schwartz highlights one example of the folly of policies - a professor takes his son to a baseball game.  His son wants lemonade.  The man tries to order some, but is told they only have Mike's Hard Lemonade.  So the man orders it (he's a professor, an intellectual, so I can see where the mistake would come) anyway and gives it to his son.

Someone sees the kid drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade and alerts the ballpark's security.  They follow policy regarding this and alert the police.

They follow policy and call the ambulance.

The man is brought before a judge who follows policy and keeps the man from returning home while his son is there since he was contributing to the corruption of a minor.

Anywhere along the way in hindsight someone could have said, the kid isn't drunk or doing keg stands or shot gunning bears in the bathroom, how about making the dad aware that his kid is drinking alcohol, not whatever he thought 'hard' lemonade was.

Policies have good intentions.  Those policies were in place to protect children and somewhere a judge released a father to return home and that father likely beat (or worse) his kids again; thus, the need for a policy to keep the man away from his own kids.

However, where is the wisdom in knowing when to stick to policy and when to refrain?

Here is another (tragic) example - Two young boys are badly sunburned when a daycare takes them to a local waterside.  Now, if this story is legit, it illustrates the problem with policies.

Many daycare providers (as ours does) state that parents are to apply suntan/sunblock lotion prior to dropping their kids off.  I can see the reason for this - allergies and personal beliefs and so on.

However, I know for a fact that if Glenda took our kids to the beach or tubing or to a water park, she would make sure that they had sunblock applied.

Yes, the kids were told to keep their clothes on, but where is the wisdom?  You're taking kids to a waterpark!  Why even take the chance of not applying sunblock to the kids?  Or make sure the kids have applied it to themselves?  Do you want to be responsible for them suffering sunburns?  

Why not change the policies to make sure wisdom is used discretely. Like at Dutch Brothers coffee, where they make it okay for their bro-istas to comp a coffee to a loyal customer if their day is rough or if they order the wrong drink or if they just want to brighten their day! Or where he encourages his employees to connect with their customers, so much so that when one worker at a Dutch Brothers coffee store found out a customer's son was ill, he and the whole team from the store went to visit the boy at the hospital and read him books and made him laugh!  Think his mother and father will ever think of buying coffee anywhere ever again?

 Or at Ramsey Solutions where their owner, Dave Ramsey, at his weekly Monday morning meetings celebrates the time his workers extend grace.  In one example I recall, a church called stating that their supply of "Financial Peace University" was lost in a hurricane.  They were seeking to order (and pay for) replacement copies.  But the worker sent them replacement copies for free.  Because it was the right thing to do.

Ramsey himself talks about a time one of his salesman - who worked on a very narrowly defined commission - managed to maneuver a huge million dollar deal for Ramsey.

The was one catch, though, it was outside of the man's narrowly defined commission area.  He still did the right thing for his boss, regardless if he got his commission or not.

And do you know what Ramsey did?  He could have said he had to follow his policy and not pay him.  But Ramsey did pay him.  Why?  It was the right thing to do.  It was the wise thing to do, after all, he wanted his worker to do more deals like that.  And not paying him his commission on a technicality wouldn't have exactly motivated him.

Or what if this man's post office had a policy about not talking to customers (it might slow their efficiency), yet this man went out of his way to do the right thing!

I'm reminded of when we lived in Red Lake Falls an our fuel oil man, Dick, refilled our tank.  He would have me sit in the cab and gave me Tootsie Rolls.  I looked forward to his visits.

This UPS man reminds of the type of service Dick used to provide.

And I don't think it's coincidence that one of Dick's sons, Jason, now a school bus driver, so engages and inspires the kids on his bus that he is able to give them homework!  Other bus drivers find a way to develop new policies to cut down engagement and connections.

Let's seek to find the right thing to do instead of resorting to blindly following policies.


Thanks to a former student of mine who I saw this morning while refueling my car, I have learned a new word.

Clickbait, apparently, is when you have a status on Facebook that is inflammatory (guilty as charged with my previous post where I used a quote from Gary Paulson) to get people to click on your link, which, in this case, took you to my previous post which was a playful jab at the MN dentist who killed a popular lion on safari.

The more I think about this term, clickbait, the more I realize I have to use this in my composition classes next year.

There are many things in the world of education that I am passionate about:

1.  Helping students find their elements.

2.  Helping students realize that failure is essential.

3.  Trying to show students that not all literature is boring nor impenetrable.

4.  Declaring war on boring slideshows and Powerpoints.

5.  Using social media and smart phones to engage students.

6.  Showing students that the five paragraph theme is a write-by-the-numbers shallow way of writing.

7.  Declaring all out war on generic leads.

This last one is where 'clickbait' applies.

I want my students to make the leads to their essays 'clickbait' worthy.

That is, I never ever ever ever ever want to read anything resembling these -

There are many problems in the world today, one of which is toxic waste.  (Whenever I read one of these, I always state that another major problem is boring, unoriginal leads to research papers).

I am going to write about the time I shot my first buck.  (Whenever I read one of these, I always state how I know that they're writing about this because well, they are writing about it, and I assigned the topic!  So they don't need to tell me what they are actually going to write about).

Summer is my favorite time of year. (I simply scribble - "Then show me" next to this one).

The game was intense.  (Again, "Then show me.")

In the beginning . . . (Just kidding about that one!)

These are all terrible ways to begin essays (except my last example from Genesis 1:1).  Just think about your favorite movie.  Peter Jackson doesn't begin his Lord of the Rings trilogy by stating "this is going to be a very long movie about a ring and two hobbits who spend the whole three films walking toward a volcano to destroy it."

No.  He has a brief intro showing how the ring was created to enslave the folk of Middle Earth and then he cuts to an epic battle scene.

Steven Spielberg doesn't begin his epic, Saving Private Ryan, by stating "Our great nation has experienced many wars, but what the Allies were able to do at Omaha beach was one of the greatest challenges in our history."  No!  Spielberg actually begins the movie at the end of the movie, with an elderly private Ryan visiting the graves of some of the soldiers who died saving him.  Then it flashes back to horrors of the invasion.

We are intrigued by the juxtaposition from the old man visiting the graves to the young man about to have the most grueling day of his entire life.

There are actually many ways to begin an essay in an engaging fashion -

A snapshot lead (where you paint a picture for the reader) - The sun painted the horizon in broad strokes of pink, yellow, and red.

Dialogue (two of my favorite examples from last year - "Excuse me, sir, but can you help me find the rest of my finger?"  and "Bitch, get your hands off my Louis Vuitton purse."

Set up lead (set the action up in a few short words) - That was my house the flames were roaring through.

Shocking lead (shock the reader with a statement) - Lon has to be the only kid in the history of St. Joseph's to get his ass whooped by a nun.

Action lead (begin at the most intense moment of the narrative) - I closed my eyes and then lead with my right hand, fist clenched, as hard as my 130 pounds would let me.

Thinking lead (show us what is going on in your mind) - I knew I had to score on fourth and goal no matter how many linebackers they blitzed.

Misleading lead (set the readers up expecting one thing and give them something else) - one of my favorite past examples was an essay a UND student read about her farm.  After a few lines it became apparent she was just a child playing with her Fisher Price farm set (you know the one with the barn that opened and had an automatic moooooo).

Question lead (just ask your readers a question) - Ever think you were totally going to get away with something only to get caught red handed?  (cone on, who wouldn't want to read that essay).

Quotation lead (use a quote to engage or intrigue the reader) - "No adult male should enjoy hunting" or "The worst punishment is getting away with it."

Any of those are superior to "I am going to write about . . ."

So come fall I am going to tell my comp students if the lead doesn't make me want to click on it and read more if it were a FB post, I don't want it turned in.  It must be "clickbait worthy!"

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"No adult man should enjoy hunting"

That is a quote from Gary Paulson via the podcast Barnes and Noble: Meet the Authors.

(Here is a link to the interview by the way, which is really, really good as it dishes on Paulson's early life growing up in TRF and his dear friend/father figure, Nuts Myers, whose death was the inspiration for his book (now out of print) Winterkill.  The podcast is #103).

He is talking about how hunting - as he sees it - is a rite of passage for young people, up to age 13 or so.  Then you should "hunt" with a camera and seek to preserve wildlife.

Personally, as someone who has relatives and friends who hunt deer, fowl, and maybe a bear once in awhile, I don't see the harm in hunting "small" game, but killing large game?  Especially of the endangered (or soon to be endangered) kind?  Well, I find that pathetic.

I think that is done because the hunter has a small penis and is trying to compensate.  Well, I'm taking that from Freud.

When I read that a dentist from Minnesota was responsible to killing a lion simply for its head, well, I think he is trying to compensate for other issues . . .

The sad part is, this lion brought in far more money via tourism to the park than the rich dentist paid to "hunt" it ($50,000).  Unfortunately, he is not the only coward.

This guy makes Francis Macomber (of the Hemingway classic "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber") seem like a downright hero.

I see now that I'm not the only one to make the Freudian link.

The Big Dogs on KJ108 had a bit on it recently.

Here is Kimmel on it too.

And, of course, the jester of all things old, white, redneck and pissed off, Ted Nugent has to sound off.

Hunting is essential.  I wouldn't argue that point.  But endangered animals?  Maybe when all of the stories about the overpopulations of rhinos and lions and all the savaging of the population that they cause, then they could be hunted as we hunt deer.

If you want to hunt a legit lion in the wild with a bow and arrow.  Awesome. Just don't bait it and lure it out of its sanctuary.   If you want to try and reel in a great white from surf board - or at most a canoe - I'm all for it.  But don't chum for them and then kill them from the safety of your boat.  I wouldn't call that sport.

There are two sides to every story.  Here is one that looks at the negative aspects of big game hunts.

And now I just found this wonderful quote -

“Our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity’.”

-Pope Francis

What Would Your Kids Say?

"When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?

The generations interviewed are the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Generation Z (they skip over the millennials for some reason).

Inevitably, the response is supposed to be (or at least that tends to be the overwhelming take based on the FB comments) that this younger generation never goes outside (I type this as my kids are playing outside right now) and just spends their time binge watching TV or playing on their iPads.

The truth is a bit more complicated.

The truth is that no generation in the world watched more TV (boring and pointless TV, by the way, like Three's CompanyThe Brady Bunch,  or Leave it to Beaver, just to name a few) than Gen X (my generation).

When I was 10 we moved to the country.  As soon as the bus dropped me off, I binge watched TV (KVRR was just new then and it was our fourth channel - PBS didn't count, unless it was showing Faulty Towers) until 5:30 when I had to do chores (as quickly as possible by the way).  Then I ate supper (again, watching TV with my mom) and then back up to my room to watch more TV.  This lasted until I fell in love with reading after my freshman year of high school.

I am reminded of my daughter, Kenzie, several years ago when she was three and we were sitting outside McDondalds eating.  She said nonchalantly, "There is an octagon."

"A what?" I said, shocked.

She grinned over her Chicken Nuggets and said, "an octagon."

Sure enough, she was pointing at a stop sign.

She had been watching Dora the Explorer or Blue's Clues and picked the tip up.

You want to know what I picked up from Tom and Jerry or Woody Woodpecker or Loony Tunes?  Nothing.

And my generation grew up playing hours upon hours of Atari then Nintendo then Sega Genesis.  I played hundreds of hours of Pac Man and  Defender and River Raid.  Then I played hours of Super Mario and Blades of Steel and Tecmo.  Then I played hundreds upon hundreds of hours of Madden and College Football.

So who is any Gen Xer (or millennial) to condemn this newest generation (we will call them Gen Z)?

Truth be told, regardless of the newest electronic device or digital distraction, I've never seen a kid not want to go outside!  All I have to mention are the words "pool," "park," or "beach" and my kids are out the door.

I think the older generation that played outside simply did so because their mothers were inside cooking and cleaning and wanted them out . . . out of their way.

There was no redeeming purpose other than to get them out of their way.  This, of course, is if the child wasn't working in a factory or on a farm at the time.

So this youthful bliss that the Baby Boomers reminisce about isn't quite as altruistic as it may seem.

Is it Gen Z's fault that their parents, who would also like to get their kids out of their hair too, send them to their digital devices instead?

And let's not forget that the world was much different in the 1940's where kids could wonder all over town with little care or worry.  Even in the early 1980's I remember on a trip to Texas, walking down the street and meeting another little boy who then brought me into his room where we played for at least an hour.  Then I wandered back to my aunt's house where my parents were visiting, totally neglectful of me.

Could you imagine that happening today?

Police would have been alerted!

The video has one inherent flaw - illustrated in this excellent quote from William Faulkner regarding one's perspective as one grows old: "and the very old men - some in their brushed Confederate uniforms - on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottleneck of the most recent decade of years."

That quote perfectly illustrates the hideous myth of nostalgia - that we don't accurately remember the past.  I now look back fondly on days spent baling hay with my father.  I do that because my father is gone, and I miss him.  When I think of our time together, I am often reminded of baling hay.  But if I were to go back and adopt my 15 year old mind frame of 1988 again, I would certainly loathe every second of baling hay.  There is no way I would ever consider that this was precious bonding time with my father and that the hard work was actually paying off in helping me shed my baby fat.  It was torture, and I'd have gladly turned dad in if I would have had the option!

But now that I'm 42, looking back on those summer days, I remember them fondly.  Even though I never lived them fondly.

I think that's what the older generations are doing here.  Yes, those memories are great.  But they are skewed by time.

I would like to know, even though it's impossible, what these Baby Boomers would have said if their 8 or 9 year old selves could have been interviewed.  Would they remember fishing, berry picking, and sledding so fondly?  Or would they remember screaming over the Beatles (as my mother did) or talking on a telephone for the first time or watching the Ed Sullivan show.

So interviewing the Generation Z kids and contrasting it with adult responses is, of course, totally unfair.

Had they interviewed me at that age, I would have talked about watching Star Wars over and over and over on HBO, so much so that I could act it out line for line (and often did on Mrs. Millers front porch) or how much I longed for the game Space Invaders on Atari or how I would watch Solid Gold to see Van Halen, Def Leppard, or Quiet Riot songs (don't even get me going on how late I stayed up watching Friday Night Videos or Night Tracks.

Now, though, I have a much different perspective, thanks to my age. I would reflect on playing ball down in the park with Dad (which I did maybe a dozen times total) or exploring the abandoned depot and grain elevator (talk about safe!  And several boys vandalized it, so it's not like simply playing outside taught us just virtuous traits) or riding my bike all over town pretending to be riding a Harley (in fact, one of my fondest memories was taping my Soundesign speakers (which I got at the old Larson's Music in TRF) to the handlebars of my bike (which I got at Ace Hardware) and cranked up my Soundesign Walk-man cassette player (which I got from Kmart) as I blasted Def Leppard's Pyromania (which I got from Kmart as well) as loud as I could).

But let's not simply condemn all Gen Zers because of cherry picked responses from a couple of 8 year olds.  After all, like it or not, Gen Zers are involved in more activities than any generation in American history could ever hope to have access to (T-ball, swimming lessons, baseball, basketball camps, wrestling camps, flag football and Pop Warner leagues, and dozens of community ed and ECFE programs and classes . . .  to just name a few off the top of my head).

And, if these lazy, technology addicted Gen Zers just spend their youth watching TV and playing video games, how come I see dozens upon dozens of pictures of them fishing, swimming, biking, playing sports, hunting, and so on Facebook?

I think the video has good intentions: be cognizant of what your kids are doing and have a balance between digital activities and good old outdoor activities.

But let's not condemn the entire generation based off this video.  Nor should the older generations pat themselves on the back too firmly.  After all, Brokaw's Greatest Generation did a great job of getting us in to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, as well as Desert Storm . . . not to mention ushering in the Cold War!

If I could offer one activity that would be far more useful than bashing today's youth it would be this - sit down with your kid and ask them to come up with their top five happiest moments of the time you spent with them.  Then you do the same.

Then share them and see if they overlap.

My mother and I did this often and we often had the same moments (getting my first dirt bike at Target in Grand Forks, going out for lunch at Country Kitchen on my birthday, going fishing in the Red Lake River, watching V and The Night Stalker on TV together (my mom and I were sci fi and suspense/horror junkies), and lighting off fire works out at our farm).

If your child can't come up with five things you've done together, that's your fault as a parent, not theirs as a kid.

Would your kids respond in the same way as these kids? Raises an interesting point...
Posted by Mike Hosking Breakfast on Sunday, July 19, 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

The best Werewolf Stories of all Time

In honor of my Sci Fi II class where this week we leave zombies behind and begin to study werewolves, I'm counting down my all time favorite lycanthropy stories of all time.

Here they are -

10.  "Twilight at the Towers" - Clive Barker.  Barker is one of the most talented writers in all of horror.  If you doubt this, check out his seminal The Books of Blood.

"Twilight at the Towers," written at the tale end of the Cold War, examines how lycanthropes might be used as assassins and secret agents.  Plus, the ending is amazing.

9.  "The Werewolf"- Tanith Lee.  I've only read one other story by Lee, her epic science fiction tale, "The Thaw," which is amazing.  Given the uninspiring title of this tale, I wasn't eager to read it.  But when I did I was in awe.  I've easily read it 10 times, and it keeps getting better (in very subtle ways) each time.  The suspense is a very slow buildup, but it works brilliantly.  And the scene where one of our main characters uses a motorcycle to outrace the werewolf (after taking picture of it once it transforms) is wonderful.

8.  "War Pig" - Carlton Mellick III.  This has a bit of sci fi twist, but at the heart of this tale is what a father will do to provide for his son.  And what a son will do to protect his father.

7.  "The White Wolf" - Frederick Marryat.  This is a classic.  It involves a grieving husband who lost his wife.  He takes his three children into the Hartz mountains where he inexplicably meets a beautiful, bewitching young woman who he quickly weds.  There is only one problem.  But you already know what is.  What happens to the man's daughter is one of the most horrific things I have ever read.  I read this tale in the old Lafayette library.  And it scared the hell out of me. What a way to spend a study hall!

6.  "The Wovles of St. August" - Mike Mignola.  Okay, this one is actually a comic, part of the Hellboy graphic novel: A Chained Coffin and Others.  But the art is excellent, as is the story.  This is a remarkable experience.

5.  "The Lame Priest" - S. Carlton.  This is another older tale, but one that is just as eerie as any on here.  This tale, set on the frontier, involves a proud trapper and his refusal to follow the advice of his Indian friend to leave the lands because a bad wolf has come.  Instead he stays and faces the lame priest, who is suffering something far worse than his lame foot.

4.  "The Cell" - David Case.  This story is a classic because it is both traditional yet wildly original.  It is the tale of a family descendent who inherits a house from his crazy aunt whose husband disappeared years ago.  He discovers a journal.  This is where the story shifts to the point of view of his long lost uncle, who was becoming a werewolf.

Finally, to deal with his transformations, the family has a cell constructed in the basement.  This works for awhile, until the uncle begins to try and wait longer and longer to enter the cell.  Finally, distraught, his wife hires someone to drill a hole in the wall of the cement cell.  This way she can see exactly what her husband turns into.

When the husband - about to undergo his monthly transformation - discovers the hole - and his wife peeking in at him - he becomes more savage than ever before.

And his wife decides to leave him in the cell.  Forever.

3.  "The Were-Wolf" by Clemence Housman.  I read this while holed up in the old A.C. Clark library at BSU.  Just like I did years before when I read "The White Wolf" in my old high school library, this one scared the crap out of me, especially as it was late in the evening, with heavy snow falling, and I would have to trek several blocks back to Tamarack.

This has one of the greatest chase scenes I have read anywhere.

2.  "The Gentleman's Hotel" - Joe R. Lansdale.  I've been a fan of Lansdale since I was in 8th grade and read his excellent horror novel, The Nightrunners.

This tale features one of Lansdale's consistent heroes - Reverend Jebediah Mercer who is a tool of God's to battle the minions of Satan.  Mercer happens upon a ghost town that is a ghost town because werewolves have descended upon it.  Since it's his calling, Mercer spends the night in the town to face the wolves.

1.  The Skin Trade - George R. R. Martin

It is also a graphic novel.  When researching it, I found this image from the graphic novel.  If this doesn't rattle you (as a werewolf or horror fan), I don't know what will.

This is an amazing story.  And not just because if focuses on my favorite type of monster.  It doubles as an excellent crime story too.  This is exactly what horror fiction should be: tense, filled with vivid details, smart dialogue, real characters, and perfectly timed thrills and gore.

This epic tale is so good, the distance between #2 and #1 is about between here and Pluto.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

My Top Ten Favorite Movies

In honor of watching one of my all time favorite films in Literature today, Sleepy Hollow, I thought I'd devise a list of my top ten favorite films as I don't think I've ever thought of that before.

So here we go.  No judging!

10. Jaws

How can't you not love Jaws?

It's Steven Spielberg's big screen debut.  And though he's saddled with a huge, totally fake looking shark, he masterfully uses the power of suggestion to terrify the audience as few movies ever have.

I still remember watching this for the first time over at my friend's house on HBO.  I watched it from the hallway as I was too scared to actually enter the living room.  I wanted to stay close enough to the door so I could run home quickly if I needed to.

It wasn't until years later that I was having my hair cut and explained to my barber that I was showing this class during summer school.  He explained to me that he saw it when it first came out (1975) at the Galaxy Twin in Thief River Falls.

He said that it had rained while they were inside, so when they came out, the parking lot had a sheen of water across it as if it were open water.

His date at the time - who would eventually become his wife - refused to walk to the car.  He had to get it and pick her up right by the front door!

What I love about this film is that it still holds up today.  The effect are no longer state of the art and some of the action sequences are outlandish, but Spielberg makes us care about these characters.

This summer it was actually re-released to the big screen.  This theatre had the right idea.

9.  Sleepy Hollow

What a great example of a gothic film.  I think this is Burton's most under-rated work.  I used to show this in class because it's such a great example of realism (represented by Johnny Depp's Ichabod Crane and his devotion to science and logic) vs. romanticism (represented by the superstitious town of Sleepy Hollow).

The sets are amazing.  Watching these makes me feel like I'm transported back to 1799.

8. Se7en

Maybe the greatest horror film of all time.  And what a cast - Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwenyth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey.

When I saw this on DirecTV, I was absolutely consumed by this film.  I was wrapped up in equal parts awe and revulsion as Freeman and Pitt struggled to catch the elusive serial killer, John Doe (Spacey).  I had no idea what would come next and never ever saw the ending coming.

7. American Beauty

I love this film because it's a re-telling of one of my favorite Hemingway stories: "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber."

The movie is beautiful and haunting and, ultimately, tragic.

This is one of my all time favorite scenes -

Before Lincoln was remodeled, there was an empty lot adjacent to the cafeteria and our media center. Once there was a plastic bag there that danced just like this one.  I watched it for ten minutes.

6.  Friday

I know, I know, I know.  This is mindless humor, but it was my introduction to Chris Tucker, and he's brilliant in here as a stoner who, whether he believes it or not, learns a valuable lesson.

Here is the film's climax, and one of my all time favorite scenes

5.  Crash

This film totally snuck up on us as my wife and I watched in on DVD and we left in complete awe at the power.  If you haven't seen it, there are at least two scenes that I promise you that you will never forget.  When I show this in class, usually as an example of Steven Johnson's theory of multiple plot thread complexity, I always watch the students during these two scenes and they are absolutely spellbound.

4.  Inception

My students had raved about this for quite some time, but I held off watching it until last summer in my Science Fiction II class.  I watched it right along with my students and tried to decipher it.  I still don't know if I have it all figured out, but I do know that for the two class periods we watched this, it felt like I was trapped in a dream where I just couldn't get enough air.

In fact, we ran out of time on the second day.  I had to stop it with about 10 minutes left.  I couldn't leave.  I had to watch the rest of it, even if I was the only one in the room.

You tell me, does the top stop spinning?  Does it even matter to Cobb?

3.  The Empire Strikes Back

This was the first movie I ever saw in a theatre.  My sister and her boyfriend (and future husband) brought his youngest brother and me to it.  It was amazing.  Though we got there just as the empire discovered the rebels on Hoth, I was totally caught up in the film the entire time.  I am so glad this was my first film.  It also happens to be best of the Star Wars films, though Return of the Jedi will always be my sentimental favorite.

This scene riveted me and made me sit next to my sister.

And this scene was a paradigm shift for me.  If Vadar could be Luke's father, what other horrible facts did the world hold for me?

And who would ever imagine that 30 years later the lightsaber Luke loses here will be vital in the follow up film, The Force Awakens?

2.  Pulp Fiction

Probably the greatest film I've ever seen, though not my personal favorite.  This was my introduction to Quintin Tarantino and it would forever change me.

I simply had never seen anything like this ever before (or since, really . . . Maybe No Country for Old Men comes close).

I had no idea what to expect.  I sat eating my popcorn throughout the trailers.  Then that insane music began and Samuel Jackson and John Travolta began debating what a Quarterpounder with cheese would be called in Amsterdam . . . and I was gone.  I was in the movie.  I don't remember sitting there finishing my popcorn.  I was totally absorbed.

I raved about this film for days.  I know it's not for everyone, but I had never seen subjects like this explored in this way (I mean our heroes are a couple of hit men) with such a pivotal soundtrack (every time I hear "Son of a Preacher Man" I'm transported back to this film) with dialogue that most directors wouldn't touch.  I mean for some of the scenes, the characters are just talking, but the dialogue so good it just reels you in.

Here are a couple of my favorite scenes -

Samuel L. Jackson's character is the definition of Bad Ass.

And what a cameo by Christopher Walken.  See what I mean about amazing dialogue?

1.  The Shawshank Redemption

Finally, a great adaptation of a Stephen King novel (actually, a novella).

I saw this right a few months after Pulp Fiction.  Both of those films actually lost (sadly) to Forest Gump, but these two films are head and shoulders above that film.

This film captures what has made King the best selling author in the history of our planet - his ability to tell a story.  You just get sucked into Defrane's narrative and adventures at Shawshank.  And how can you have a soft spot for Morgan Freeman's character.

And how can't you feel for Andy, a bad husband wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover . . . and the lengths he will go to make life better for others.

But it's also the story of the men there in that prison and how they adapt and fail to adapt.

 The final 20 minutes of the film are flawless.  This is one of those few films that whenever I see it on TV, I put off everything else that I'm doing and watch it.  It's that amazing.

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

Inevitably, some excellent films have been left off - here are some others that I love and could have found spots for on this list -

Remember the Titans (I cried my eyes out), The Incredibles (my favorite Pixar film), Pan's Labyrinth (del Toro is brilliant), Dead Poets Society (saw it in Mr. Sorenson's class, tenth grade. Made me sure I wanted to be an English teacher),  The Return of the King (totally lived up to its billing), The Matrix (brilliant sci fi tale.  The other two films are clunkers, though) The Silence of the Lambs (the ultimate horror film), Good 'Fellas (the ultimate mobster film), The Untouchables (Sean Connery's character is my favorite), Training Day (a re-telling of my favorite short story, "Young Goodman Bronw"), Little Miss Sunshine (Olive is the definition of beauty), Good Will Hunting (Robin Williams' best work), The Usual Suspects (the biggest plot twist ever . . . ), The Sixth Sense (until this plot twist), Toy Story 3 (Lotso is an underrated villain, the film's climax in the garbage dump is reminiscent of the holocaust and the ending totally gets me every time), No Country for Old Men (Anton Chigurh literally made me nervous every time he came on screen so much so that I watched his scenes through my fingers over my eyes), There's Something About Mary (the funniest movie I have ever seen.  My friend, Lon, fell out of his seat in the theatre and rolled down the aisle) . . .

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The 2015 Fair

Okay, summer is officially over now.  The Fourth is gone, as is the fair.  We just got an email that said our rooms have all been cleaned and we can start setting them up at any time.  The back-to-school displays are even up in Wal-Mart and Target!

So what if there is roughly a month and a half of summer left?

As usual, Kenz and Cash had a blast at the fair.

This year we met up with my friend Lance and his son, Levi.

Boy did Levi and Cash hit it off.  After we finished checking out the 4H exhibits, we headed over the rides.  After Levi and Cash took a ride on the small roller coaster, we suggested that they go for a ride on the swing.  It was at that moment that the two grabbed hands and began running together toward it.

I missed the photo op as I had grabbed Lance's hand and tried to run with him over to the ride too.  But he wasn't quite as eager.  At least Kristie got a chuckle out of it!

Kenz found the calves on display that she got to see when the kindergarten class took a trip out to a farm this spring.

They both liked the cows, but their favorites by far were the sheep and goats.  Boy, would Grandpa Tex have loved that!!

The kids had an absolute blast on the rides.  Cash's favorite last year, the Lego Indiana Jones obstacle course was out of the question this year.  Last year he spent 45 minutes going through it.  This year, however, the height requirements were so strict I hardly saw a kid go on it.  You could only enter if you between 42 to 46 inches.  And that carnie was a size Nazi too.

But Cash, Kenz, and Levi did have a blast running through the fun house.  I even was dragged along for the initial run through.

Unfortunately, Mr. Skjerven, with whom I used to coach, was watching the whole time and documented the adventure.

(Two things to note here: how fast Kenzie is tearing off heading back into the fun house and my fists, which are clenched going down the slide).

I was just happy to be done.

The fair was a lot of fun and the weather was beautiful.  Kristie even conned me into taking a ride of the dreaded Super Shot, which slowly (and I mean dreadfully slowly) takes you up three stories or so and then hovers there for a split second before dropping down two and a half stories before gently stopping.

I didn't mind the drop.  It was the slow ascent to the top that was the worst.

The rides were a hit for the kids and the games were fun too.  This fair didn't have carnies barking at us to get us to play their games.  In fact, when we saw the dart game, we happened to run into the nicest carnie in the world.

We paid for Levi, Kenz, and Cash to get 7 darts.  The more balloons they popped, the bigger the prize the received.   

Levi did great popping 5 of 7.  Kenz was a machine, hitting 6 out of 7, Cash struggled a bit and wasn't able to pop a single balloon.  However, while the carnie watched Levi and Kenz and gave them their prizes, he saw how much Cash was eyeing a blue Scooby Doo stuffed animal.  So while Cash was trying to pop the balloons, the carnie disappeared.  After Cash was done - and I was dreading the scene that would occur where he didn't get any prizes after Levi and Kenz had theirs - here came the carnie with a blue Scooby just for Cash.

"I saw you eyeing this guy up and knew you wanted him," he said handing him to Cash.  "But I was out of them so I had to run all the way down to another game and grab one for you."

Then he shook my hand and told us to enjoy the fair and then he thanked us!

What service!  Now don't tell me this guy couldn't find employment in a nano-second at any of our service industries in town!

That moment was the best part about the fair!  He didn't have to do it.  Lord knows when I was at the fair as a kid, I didn't get any free prizes (I recall having my heart set on a Pyromania mirror, but you had to pop three balloons - with five darts - and I could only manage 2.  I was heartbroken.  Though in school that fall I was able to pull off a trade, giving away a Ninja throwing star and a buck knife, for an Iron Maiden Number of the Beast mirror.  It wasn't Pyromania, but it was better than nothing!).  So that carnie left Cash with a wonderful memory and souvenir from the fair, and he made a little boy's great dray that much better.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Obligatory Bengals post for Summer 2015

Here we are again, gearing up for another NFL season.  The good news: My beloved Bengals have had four winning seasons in a row and have been to the playoffs four consecutive years.  The bad news:  My beloved Bengals haven't won a playoff game since I was junior in high school.

The Bengals open up training camp on July 31st and there is again hope of another winning season and maybe, just maybe a playoff win.  But there is also concern that the window for the Bengals is closing.

The hope -

AJ Green.  Without a doubt one of the most gifted receivers in the league.  He is a touchdown waiting to happen.

Jeremy Hill.  He lead the league in rushing over the final 8 games when Marvin Lewis promoted him to a starter.  He too is a touchdown waiting to happen, which is a surprise for a big back, but anyone who saw him reel off an 80 yard touchdown run verse Denver last year on Monday Night Football knows his ability.

The offensive line.  It's talented and deep (the Bengals first two picks in the draft this year are very talented tackles and probably won't see much time this year at all).

The secondary.  There are a total of five first round picks in the secondary.  Yes, some are getting long in the tooth (corners Leon Hall and Adam Jones as well as safety Reggie Nelson), but there is young talent too (Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueez Denard, and Georg Iloka).

The concern -

Andy Dalton - he has been a winner, but he has struggled in most of his prime time games and in every single playoff contest.  He can't win games on his own.  He is no Andrew Luck or Aaron Rogers, that's for sure.  But if he gets a strong defense and running game, he should be able to rack up the wins.

Geno Atkins - For two and a half years he was the most dominant defensive tackle in the NFL.  And it wasn't even close.  However, on Halloween 2013 in a Thursday night overtime loss to the Dolphins, Atkins ripped up his knee.  Last year he was average all the way around (though he did make the Pro Bowl, that was all on his past glory).  Word is that he looked great at mini-camp, but if he isn't back to his old self, the Bengals are going to face a very tough decision.  They just can't pay an average defensive tackle the kind of money they gave to Atkins before the 2013 season.

Vontaze Burfict - for his first two years he was a dominant force at linebacker for the Bengals, so much so that he earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2013 (even snagging an INT in that game).  The Bengals manned up and gave him a lucrative contract extension, and then, just their luck, Burfict struggles all season with injuries, finally missing the last 10 games.  He had micro-fracture surgery on his knee.  The recover is no-sure thing, so keep your fingers crossed.

Marvin Lewis - He has won more games than anyone in Cincy history.  He has turned around the league's worth franchise (for anyone who thinks four years of playoff losses is bad, just return to the seasons of 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994 seasons where they won (combined) a whopping total of 14 games.  They won that many in 2013 (including preseason games) alone!

Times have certainly changed, but there is a lot of talent on the Bengals' coaching staff (Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator, and Vance Joseph, cornerback coach) who would make excellent head coaches and might prove to be the shot in the arm this franchise needs to get over the hump.

Odds are if Lewis doesn't win a playoff game this year, Joseph will be promoted to head coach.  The Bengals chose to block his move to either San Fran or Denver for defensive coordinator positions, so they have to have big plans for him.  Plus, this franchise has never recovered from not promoting Bill Walsh as head coach when Paul Brown stepped down.  Joseph is a coaching star, and they need to find a way to keep him.  Of course, if our defense struggles yet again this year, Joseph could easily be promoted to defensive coordinator to keep him on staff.

Best case scenario - Jackson's offense is well balanced (they run it with Hill and Gio Bernard) and their wide receivers stay healthy (Marvin Jones missed all of the 2014 after catching 10 touchdown passes the year before) and the defense rebounds with a healthy Atkins and Burfict and the pass rush is back to its usual dominant self (thanks to the return of Michael Johnson) and the Bengals win the AFC North and manage to win a playoff game at home.

Worst case scenario - Jackson's offense struggles with injuries and Dalton has a mediocre year and is plagued my turnovers.  Likewise the defense struggles with no pass rush and the young, talented secondary is exposed and the Bengals struggle to win a handful of games.

My prediction - as a Bengals fan you can never be too optimistic - 9-7 and a wild card birth but a fifth straight playoff loss spells the end for Lewis and Dalton is released from his contract extensions and new head coach Vance Joseph promoted AJ McCarron (of the Crimson Tide) to starter while eyeing a talented QB in the middle of the draft in 2016.

TRF Parade 2015

Ever since we moved to TRF, we have been taking in the summer parade which coincides with the Pennington County fair.

Last night was our fourth time attending.

I've learned a few things since then.  First, you better set your chairs up early to reserve a spot.

Last year I was shocked to drive down the parade route after summer school was over for the day (around 12:30) and saw dozens and dozens of chairs already set up along the prime spots on the parade route.  Though we didn't set out chairs ahead of time, we were able to get an okay spot last year right on the first corner of the route.

So this year I decided to reserve that same spot, but chairs were already set up.  So I had to settle for a spot part way down the block, which turned out better anyway.

My sister, Barb, was able to join us for the fourth consecutive year too.  Kristie's mom and sister were also there for the parade too so it was a definite family affair.

Best of all, Kenz and Cash had a blast.

They get a little spoiled because they are in Latch Key they know many of the young people in the parade.  Kenz also knows many other athletes either from basketball camp or from class (several students volunteer out there), and still others know them through me.

The highlight for Kenz was easily the state champion girls hockey team float.  One of her favorite players, Juliet, spotted Kenz along the street and walked right up to her and handed her a Girls Hockey t-shirt.  Needless to say, I don't know if she'll ever take that shirt off!!!  Ha ha.

Cash didn't miss out either as Maleigh, one of the Girls Basketball team captains, spotted him and showered him with candy.

The kids also thought it was pretty cool as we were doused with water by several parents, friends, students, and school board members of various floats.

It was a blast.  Now it will have to hold us until the homecoming parade next fall!