Monday, March 29, 2010

Garden/Game On

What you see in these pics are the first sproutings of seeds I planted in my garden.

The picture above is a close up of one of the two rows of spinach I planted. It sure in heck doesn't look like spinach to me, but I have no idea because I've never grown it before.

The pic below comes from row of Concept lettuce (a Summer Crisp variety). It's good stuff. After eating varieties of Greenleaf, Butterhead, Romaine, and Summer Crisp since I've had my garden here in Chucktown, I've become a lettuce snoot. I sneer in the general direction of that crud called Iceberg.

I plan to plant two more rows of lettuce this week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Music Friday: "Working for a Living"

My son and I ate at a new restaurant yesterday, one that is meat and potatoes joint all the way. It's the kind of place that offers chicken fried steak, t-bone dinners for $12, fried chicken dinners, a smattering of "seafood" here in central Illinois, liver and onions, etc.

Anyway, the music that they had playing in the restaurant played the two types of music--Country and Western. As we ate, a song that played was a countrified cover of Huey Lewis and News' "Working for a Living," and I kind of liked it because of the pure cheese of it all. In fact, I think there should be an album of bluegrass musicians who do cover versions of songs by Huey Lewis and the News & Hall & Oates--both early Mtv icons.

Just think about it: " I Want a New Drug," "Private Eyes," "She's Gone," "Hip to Be Square," "Rich Girl" and "Maneater" played in bluegrass. Fun stuff.

Regardless of my idle dreaming, click HERE to watch Huey Lewis and the News perform with the Tower of Power Horns in 1982.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A New Jobless Era and Its Effects

While this article is a little old, Don Peck in the The Atlantic provides a bleak but interesting look on how the high rate of unemployment will affect Americans for a long, long time.

The article attempts to go beyond the unemployment statistics and make readers think about the widespread effect of what he calls the "new jobless era."

Since I'm a teacher, the section where Peck talks about the Millennials interested me. Using a number of sources, the author discusses how the focus on building self esteem might have set up young adults for a wicked fall. One of the authors that Peck paraphrases, Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, relates the interesting point that the focus on self esteem has created people in their 20s who are "more confident and individualistic. But that may not benefit them in adulthood, particularly in this economic environment."

Twenge also offers her perspective on the Millennials: "You'd think if people are more individualistic, they'd be more independent. But it's not really true. There's an element of entitlement--they expect people to figure things out for them."

Another source Peck uses is Ron Alsop, who notes that today's youth "need almost constant direction," and "[m]any flounder without precise guidelines but thrive in structured situations that provide clearly defined rules."

And even more interesting from a teaching perspective is Peck's own thoughts on the situation: "Trained throughout childhood to disconnect performance from reward, and told repeatedly that they are destined for great things, many are quick to place blame elsewhere when something goes wrong, and inclined to believe that bad situations will sort themselves out--or will be sorted out by parents or other helpers."

While this is only a section of the article, many of the points hit home with me. In particular, I find that independent problem solving is a skill most students need to seriously develop, and it's a skill and habit of mind I try to instill by prodding them to be active learners by making them work hard when drafting and revising their writing while also putting the onus on them in class, not using passive learning, lecture-style foolishness that might simply enable their desire to have their heads filled and not work for meaning and connections on their own.

As Twenge opines in the article, "self-esteem without basis encourages laziness rather than hard work."

Okay, I'll step down from my soapbox now.

Click HERE if you're interested in reading "How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America," and it's about a lot more that what I've just prattled on about. Much more.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Music Friday: "Ghost of Tom Joad"

I'm linking one great song with two excellent versions.

Click HERE for the original by Springsteen

Click HERE for the cover by Rage Against the Machine.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Louisville Slugger

Since I arrived in Louisville a little early for my conference, I've been walking about this city, enjoying the mid-60s weather, and admiring this Louisville's Main Street. And the room I have here at the Galt House Hotel has a great view overlooking the Ohio River.

As if I haven't been anticipating baseball season enough, this afternoon I toured the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.

It's a tour about bats and baseball, so it's mainly of interest for true believers. I found it striking that 53 employees (if I remember the figure correctly) churn out 1.82 million bats a year. Of course, computer-mediated machinery do most of the hard work nowadays, but it was interesting how bats have changed with the game, moving from thick-handled and heavy models to the thinner handled and lighter models.

In what lurched me back toward boyhood man-love, visitors get to check out and hold the bats of baseball stars. During my tour we got to grasp the balance and heft of bats made for Alfonso Soriano, Yogi Berra, Ryan Theriot, and Alex Rodriguez. And of course Hall-of-Famers' bats are on display too--Ruth, Wagner, Hornsby, DiMaggio, Aaron, Cobb, and many others.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Evansville ... Hello?

This past weekend we took a short trek to Evansville, Indiana because my daughter had a dance competition there.

While we had fun in the hotel's pool and the Victory Theatre downtown is a really nice 1920s era theatre, I found downtown Evansville bizarre. After my daughter's dance team finished their performances in the morning, we went out with other parents and their kids to have lunch.

Nothing was open.

Even the fast food joints were closed down on a Saturday afternoon. It's mid-March obviously, and that part of the country (Midwest/Border State South) is just downright dirty from the remnants of winter, but it didn't seem like a sketchy down area to me.

But, damn, downtown was vacant. The community of Evansville seems to have written off its chances to have a vibrant downtown on the weekends.

Monday, March 15, 2010

George Brett

Although I'm a well known fan of the Cubs, I grew up liking the Royals. Willie Wilson. Frank White. Hal McCrae. And George Brett.

I remember the year when Brett flirted with hitting .400 in 1980 (he finished with .390).

While I enjoy viewing a good freak-out, I tire of the pine tar incident because fools remember him because of that weird happening.

He was a great baseball player.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Music Friday: "Just Like Old Times"

If you were to do a keyword search of this blog using "Todd Snider," you're going to find four different Music Fridays, and today is the day for number five.

"Just Like Old Times" is one of strangest love songs I've ever listened to, if you can truly call it a love song--a meeting between old friends, a pool player and a prostitute, in a hotel room.

Click HERE to watch Snider.

"Living out a different kind of American dream,
Old times,
Your goal always was the same as mine.
You didn't want to throw fishing line
In that old main stream."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


While spring brings all kinds of hope [at this moment you can now trot out your cliches and snippets of poetry], one aspect of spring some don't realize is the lead-up to people's fantasy baseball drafts. I've played in a fantasy baseball league since '01, and it's an obsession I've enjoyed and hated and been perplexed by since I've started.

The league I play in is a daily transaction league, which means that you have to have your lineup set every day. You ride the hot hitters, and you look at the match ups that favor your roster. This "nerdball," as the wife of one of my friends calls it, works nicely with some of my OCD tendencies.

Since winning in '01, I've been in a funk ~ poor season after poor season sprinkled in with a third place finish a few years ago, and that third place finish was one that I totally screwed up. Oh hubris and sketchy behavior, how I embraced you. I could have won it all if I would have kept it together.

Nevertheless, it's another season. The Grapefruit and Cactus leagues are in full swing, and I'm doing non-academic research even though I could rationalize that doing research on fantasy baseball sharpens my critical thinking skills. We humans like to rationalize such stuff. I guess our propensity to rationalize is what makes us something more than just high grade chimps with car keys and credit cards.

But if past seasons are any indication, my critical thinking skills need some work.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Harbinger of What's to Come

As much as I'm aggravated by the Democratic on Democratic rhetorical violence that has gone in Congress that has derailed health care legislation, it was just a matter of time before a politician's ad attacks a Democratic incumbent with, as describes it, a "fact-free" broadside.

If you're interested, click HERE to watch a video of the commercial by Lowden and FactCheck's analysis of her specious claims.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Music Friday: "Brighter Days"

I've been listening to J. J. Grey and Mofro quite a bit lately. So here goes the last song of Mofro's first album, Blackwater.

Click HERE to view and listen.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Over the Cedar

I don't know why I've been thinking about this lately, but I've been pondering my childhood and where I grew up. I guess it's inevitable as I make the slow lurch toward 40, but I'm pretty confident some of the reading I've been doing lately is part of the cause (see "Thoughts on the Midwest").

But when I think back to growing up in Waterloo, Iowa, one image that I come back to is going across the Cedar on the green 18th Street bridge most days when I would work at my Dad's grocery store--crossing over from the west side to the east side, the "bad part of town," a phrase that is so racially-tinged and socio-economically tangled that it deserves its own post or essay.

I made that trip over the Cedar all the time when I was much younger than working age when my Mom and I would stop in at my father's store to shop, and that was when Rath Packing Co. was still in business. When I was young, I remember it being huge--trailers stacked up waiting to unload pigs and cattle for the killing floors, the musky stench of death and dirt and diesel, the white water tower with the Rath logo on it-a red, rudimentary image of an Indian chief, the Packer's Inn bar across from the plant whetting the appetites of working folks.

Later on, once Rath went belly up in '85, the city was hurting. Bad. The 80s were not a good time to be in Waterloo with Rath closing and John Deere (the city's largest employer) with its multiple layoffs throughout the decade. Reagan espoused "Morning in America," and Waterloo's America exemplified job losses and hard times. The mornings were pretty damn dark.

While I can't describe my parents as white collar by any stretch of the imagination, I also think growing up in Waterloo gave me a certain blue collar mindset that usually serves me well but also creates crankiness since I work in academia, a place where sometimes being straightforward and at times blunt and also prone to being intolerant of bullshit are not prized characteristics.

But I'm still hung up on these questions: Why Rath? Why is that trip over the river and a now defunct packing plant so emblematic to me about my hometown? Maybe it's mere repetition because that's what I did since I made that trip across the bridge so often.

But the academic in me (damn you!) makes me think it means something more.