There is a celebrity educator renowned among teachers for his bestselling books and the extraordinary commitment he has made to fostering the success of disadvantaged students. His achievements and advice are laudable, as is his practice of funding his school with the honorariums he earns as a popular speaker. Anyone would be thrilled to have him looking after the learning of their child. And yet, despite my admiration for all that he has done for children and teachers alike, there is one quirky aspect of his personality that makes me cringe. He is known for spontaneously mounting desks and tables and proceeding to dance.
Now, I have nothing against people dancing. For all I care, the whole of my community can shimmy about as a choreographed flash mob the next time I’m out and about town. I will smile charitably and perhaps even enjoy the display. Just don’t ask me to boogie along. Primal as the urge to dance supposedly is, I have never felt the compulsion to bust a move. Just the opposite, in fact. Never am I happier to remain seated than when a group of revelers is dancing. My reluctance to dance is little different than, say, your dismissal of foods you do not like. It’s just not for me. I simply do not enjoy it.
But the dancing celebrity educator sees it differently. Not only does he literally put himself on a pedestal and shake his groove thing, he expects everyone else to follow his lead. Whether he is addressing his student body or a convention hall full of teachers, he expects every last soul to clap along. Read More
I love music, and I have a special affection for cleverly written, expertly performed, lovingly produced tunes that not only deliver the musical goods but also take a satirical jab at convention with a dry sense of humor. Fitting that bill perfectly are the songs on four very different albums that never fail to amuse me.
The Rutles was released in 1978 as the soundtrack album for Eric Idle’s All You Need Is Cash, a television mockumentary that parodies the rise and fall of The Beatles. The show itself is uneven, but its incredible attention to detail is mirrored in 14 songs written and produced by Neil Innes, a founding member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Monty Python collaborator. Innes and a group of session musicians manage to emulate the Beatles as faithfully as any tribute band while slyly stretching a variety of Fab Four styles into the absurd without so much as a wink or a nod. Read More
My ten-year-old self would have died at the revelation that this was coming one day.
If this letter reaches you sometime around the summer of 1979, then you have already wondered what it would be like to receive a letter from your future self. Well, wonder no further, because this is it. That’s right, Bob – I am you in 2011, thirty-two years in the future. As I recall, your summer days consist of reading a lot of MAD Magazine, listening to Alice Cooper, and watching as many Brady Bunch episodes as you can find on TV. They say the child is the father of the man, and in our case it’s true. You’ll still be enjoying those same interests in 2011. But you won’t believe how things have changed.
Some of what I say may be hard for you to understand, because the technology you use is going to change so fast that whatever dazzles you in ten years will be obsolete a decade or two after that. For example, take your record collection. By the time you’re in high school, most people will listen to their records less and less, preferring instead to take their music with them on portable cassette players. In college, you’ll see your first compact disc, a little silver record smaller than a 45 that is read by a laser instead of a needle. The sound will be incredible, and you won’t need to flip a disc over to hear the whole album anymore. What could be better than that, right? But that’s nothing. In 2011, I hardly use compact discs anymore. I have an mp3 player, a little box about the size of a wallet, and it has far more music on it than you currently have in your entire collection. Read More
I consider myself an Anglophile. I have an inherent fascination with English life, from its customs to its colloquialisms. I like listening to BBC Radio. My pop culture preferences warmly embrace The Beatles, ELP, Pink Floyd, and all things Python. I’m charmed by E.F. Benson’s Lucia novels and captivated by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I have ancestral ties to Cornwall (my maternal grandfather was born and raised in Truro). Nothing would please me more than to spend a lengthy sabbatical exploring Britain. Yet for all my natural interest in England, I cannot muster so much as a dollop of enthusiasm for today’s royal wedding.
Apparently that puts me in good standing with two-thirds of the British population, the demographic block identified by pollsters as those who will not be watching the ceremony. According to CBS News, half of the United Kingdom claims to be “actively uninterested” in the whole affair, and I share their passionate apathy. The relentless news coverage is bad enough here; I can only imagine how unavoidable it must be in England. Read More
You have to be good to grab the attention of renowned puzzlemaster Will Shortz.
SPOILER ALERT! This week’s post is about a crossword puzzle that I created and submitted to The New York Times. For the most satisfactory reading experience, I advise you to attempt to solve the puzzle first. To do so, you will need to download the free Across Lite crossword application. If you’re a fan of the NYT Crossword, you’ve probably already done this. Next, download my crossword puzzle in Across Lite format. You’ll be able to tackle my puzzle on your computer, or you can print it out and have at it with a pencil. Either way, good luck!
The summer of 2009 became the Summer of the Crossword Puzzle for me. As a teacher who works according to the traditional school calendar, I have the luxury of indulging my interests every June, July and August. What’s more, as the father of two active girls who participate in a variety of summer activities, I am often sitting poolside during a swim practice or waiting for the morning’s cross country training to end. Short of good conversation with a fellow human being, I have found that a decent crossword puzzle is an ideal way to pass idle time. It’s also a wonderfully engaging distraction from the dull concerns of everyday life. That summer, the crossword puzzle rose in my estimation from a mere diversion to a worthwhile pursuit.
Key to my conversion from a casual solver to an enthusiast was the understanding that not all crossword puzzles are created equal. There was a good reason why certain puzzles had been exasperating to me: they were filled with crosswordese, the arcane vocabulary of obsolete little words that are used almost exclusively by struggling puzzle constructors simply to make a crossword work. Even the most esteemed crossword of them all, that of The New York Times, was once guilty of this under the stewardship of former puzzle editor Eugene T. Maleska. His legacy of impenetrable obscurities was quashed by current Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, whose philosophy leans toward making crossword puzzle solutions more dependent on wordplay than trivia, and what trivia there is should be universal rather than local. In shortz (I apologize for that), a good crossword puzzle is challenging yet accessible.