Monthly Archives: January 2012

I survive my 1st day of student-teaching. Legitimate progress from stem cell research. And a 7-year-old’s letter to the 49ers’ goat.

I took another big step toward my new career of being a teacher Monday, when I started student-teaching.
For those unfamiliar with it, student-teaching is basically as close as they let you get to being a real “teacher,” without you actually being licensed. From Monday until the end of May, I’ll be spending five days a week, five hours a day working with an experienced teacher in one of New York City’s fine junior high schools.

I’ll be actually “teaching” the classes twice a day, giving me ample opportunity to  screw up, and then fix it. (And tell all of you people my horror stories.)
Couple of quick thoughts from Day 1, when I don’t think I permanently scarred any of the kids for life:
— I love the school I’m at, but how bizarre is this? There are no clocks in any of the classrooms. I asked if that was intentional, so as to not allow the kids to stare at the clock and whine, “Is the period almost over yet?” Nobody seemed to know. It was kinda weird, like studying in a casino or supermarket.
— Gotta admire the way kids love their teacher. In both classes I met today, as students walked in at least two or three ran up to me excitedly asking “Are you our sub today?” They were so disappointed when they realized that no, now they had two teachers at a time.
It’s tough being 12.
— Kids’ memories never fail to surprise me. When I was doing my student observing at a high school last fall, it took most of those kids weeks to bother to learn and remember my name. Yet today on my way to the faculty lunchroom, I heard “Hi there Mr. Lewis!” from a student who passed me.
It was a boy I’d met only an hour ago. Made me feel good that at least one kid was paying attention today.

**I’m a huge believer in stem cell research, as myself and millions of others believe they could prove enormously useful in curing diseases and illness. So it made me smile to hear this story on NPR the other day, about legit progress being made. Two women who have lost their sight may have regained some of their vision thanks to treatment involving stem cells. Check out the fantastic story here.

**Finally today, here’s a feel-good story for your Tuesday. A guy named Brandon Sneed has started a cool website called heygoodcall.com, about good news stories involving athletes. I think it’s a great idea. Anyway, found this on his site recently. A 7-year-old boy named Owen Shure is a big 49ers fan, and after watching his team lose to the Giants in the NFC Championship game, he decided to write a letter to the San Francisco player who was the goat of the game, punt returner Kyle Williams.

The letter is above. What a beautiful gesture from a kid who’s being raised right.

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The South African government gets really mad at weather forecasters. A hilarious spoof of what New Yorkers say. And a 6-hour Aussie Open final goes to Djokovic.

You think you get upset when your local weather forecaster says it’ll be sunny and then you get drenched on your way into work? You’ve got nothing on the government of South Africa. They’re wayyy more annoyed than you.

A new law in South Africa would punish “anyone who makes a prediction about severe weather or air pollution with heavy fines or jail time if they did not first receive written permission from the government-funded South African Weather Service (SAWS).”

OK, so it’s not exactly going to be a crime if the Johannesburg version of Storm Field (remember him?) or Al Roker gets the forecast wrong. But still, people are gonna be pretty angry…

**Native New Yorkers, this one is especially for you. I laughed and laughed at least 10 times during this. Definitely NSFW; cursing aplenty in this video, so if you’re watching at work, I recommend headphones.

**Finally, a few words about one of the greatest tennis matches of all time. It was started in the wee hours of Sunday morning, then just kept going, and going, and going.
Rafael Nadal, one of the Top 10 players of all time, played Novak Djokovic, the best in the world today. They played for seven minutes short of SIX hours. Six hours! It was a breathtakingly wonderful match, filled with great shotmaking, unbelievable energy and spirit, and some of the best defense you’ll see this side of a Catholic schoolgirl on a date. (here’s 1 of the best points of the match, just to give you an idea.)

Djokovic, who two years ago was mocked for his lack of stamina and fight, outlasted the toughest fighter in the sport. Again. For the 7th time in a row that these two have hooked up, Djokovic was just a little better. He won 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5, in a truly splendid advertisement for the sport.

I’ve said it before, and my man Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal says it here more eloquently: We are in the Golden Age of men’s tennis. Three of the all-time greats are beating each other up at every Grand Slam event, and raising each other’s game to ridiculous heights. (Diane Pucin of the L.A. Times also nailed it with her column here.

So lucky to be a tennis fan right now. The storylines, the quality of the players, just so fabulous.If you want to see the highlights of the match, click here.

Lessons learned from a 7-year-old’s karate lesson. Stephen Colbert chats with Maurice Sendak. And a teacher who changed a life.

A little slice of life story from my life this week. Due to circumstances involving my sister’s cat, I ended up taking my 7-year-old nephew to his tae kwan do lesson on Tuesday.
It was a 30-minute lesson for him and eight other kids. But it was I who learned a lot.
Master Joe was the instructor, and at first glance he seemed like a typical karate teacher. Which is to say, he yelled a lot. But then I started listening to what he was telling the tykes.
He went on about respect for family, respect for teachers, respect for classmates. And one by one the kids repeated it, and as I saw a few of their faces when they turned around, it seemed like they really got it.
We talk about all the bad influences around kids these days, and how teachers are powerless to change  behavior, etc.
But this simple class, with 7-year-old kids getting discipline and respect instilled into them by a stranger who they have grown to respect, was nice to see.
When my nephew and I left class, he said “Goodbye sir!” to Master Joe. And Joe nodded and smiled.
Shaping lives, along with kicks and punches, is his mission.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

**And now, a few minutes with Stephen Colbert and beloved children’s author Maurice Sendak, who is also your crotchety Grandpa. When Colbert meets his match in a guest, it’s brilliant television. Cracked me up. Here’s part 1 below; part 2 can be seen here.

**Finally, a very uplifting story  from Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times about one teacher, and how she made a difference in the life of a human being in such an important way.  Olly Neal had no interest in school as a kid; in fact, you could say he was on his way to a life of crime. Instead, a woman named Mrs. Mildred Grady decided to try to stoke Olly’s interest in reading in a most unusual way.

Teachers make so much difference in the life of a child. I wish more politicians would remember that. I salute you, Mrs. Grady.

The historic Mass. inn that gives new meaning to Paul Revere’s “ride.” A violinist turns a cellphone ring into music. And the Facebook app that lets you update from the grave.

My posts have been rather lengthy this week, and I know you people have busy lives (well, at least I figure you’re busier than Brad Pitt in “True Romance.”)  So a couple of quick-hitting thoughts as I savor Duke’s win over the hated Maryland Terps last night…

First, yet another news story brought to my attention by my good friend (and loyal blog reader) Will Springstead, esteemed sportswriter for the Glens Falls (N.Y.) Post-Star. It seems that a famous inn in Lee, Massachusetts called The Inn at Laurel Lake has been charged with running a prostitution ring. (Insert your own “Paul Revere’s ride” joke here).

You know, I can guarantee you this kind of stuff never went on under Dick and Joanna’s noses on “Newhart.”

**Next up we have a beautiful small clip of Slovakian violinist Lukas Kmit, who, in the middle of a performance, was interrupted by a cell phone ringing. After pausing for a moment, he did this. Awesome.

**Finally, I know we’re all afraid of death. But we’re even more afraid of dying and having no one update our Facebook status letting the world know we’ve stopped breathing.
But stepping in and solving this HUGE problem are the makers of the IF I DIE app. It works like this: You create a final video or “last words” file, and you appoint three “trustees” among your Facebook friends. When each of them has verified that you have kicked the bucket, your last words are posted to your Facebook page.

Because you know, being dead and all, you’ll really be concerned at keeping people up to date.

The Oscar nominees bring some surprises. Obama’s State of the Union leaves me uninspired. And Federer-Nadal at the Aussie Open, set your DVR.

Tuesday was almost a national holiday for me, with two of my favorite topics (movies and politics) taking center stage.
First, the Oscar nominations came out. Was a little surprised “Bridesmaids” didn’t get a Best Picture nod. Was more than a little surprised the excellent Leo DiCaprio didn’t get a nomination for Best Actor for “J. Edgar.” He was phenomenal in that.
Happy to see “Midnight in Paris,” do well for Woody Allen, though I don’t see it winning anything. Would love to see Melissa McCarthy win just so someone from “Gilmore Girls” wins an Oscar. (I bet Michel is somewhere quietly fuming).

Overall, I think the Academy did a pretty good job. I’ve got some movies to see between now and Feb. 26. First up: “Moneyball.”

**Watched the State of the Union with great anticipation Tuesday night. I was ready for some fire and brimstone out of Mr. Barack Obama.
And what I got was … meh. A so-so speech, I thought, with enough tax credit proposals to choke a horse and very few of what I thought are “do-able” this year in Congress.
A couple things I didn’t like, followed by a couple things I liked:
— Really got rubbed the wrong way by all of Obama’s “America is awesome, yeah!” rhetoric. Reminded me WAY too much of the last guy we had in office, some fella named W. Why do our presidents have to treat us like we’re high school kids at a pep rally?
— A couple of Obama’s challenges really puzzled me. Requiring states to make kids stay in high school until they’re 18? I know I’m new in the education game but I can guarantee 99 percent of high school teachers out there would groan at that proposal. Because as I saw this fall while quasi-student teaching, there are quite a few 17-year-0ld freshmen out there with no interest in doing anything but being disruptive.
And Obama threatening colleges to keep tuition low? How, exactly, is he going to get them to do that?

— I did like his proposal to have AG Eric Holder investigate illegal lending and packaging of risky mortgages that helped get us into the housing crisis. Course, I’m still pissed he didn’t let Holder investigate John Yoo and Dick Cheney, among others, for war crimes a few years ago, but hey, I’m not one to hold a grudge.
— I’m glad Obama started and ended with bin Laden and how much he’s gotten accomplished overseas. He did end the war in Iraq, as promised.
— And I really liked Obama’s combative tone toward Republicans. Enough of this stalling and delaying bullshit, he seemed to say. I’m going to keep reminding Americans for the next nine months that’s it’s you guys who are stopping my bills and ideas that could help Americans get jobs and pay lower taxes.
My man Pearlman had the line of the night, I thought:  “John Boehner: Has any man who has done less for the rights of minorities done more to intentionally darken his own skin?”
Still, I wanted more from Obama. I’m sure a lot of my liberal friends (like my Mom, who loved the speech) will disagree with me. But it felt like a lot of Obama pandering to everyone he could in the speech, and that’s not the guy I voted for.

**Finally, the greatest individual rivalry in sports resumes in the wee hours of the morning tonight, about 3:30 a.m.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play in the semifinals of the Australian Open.I don’t expect you to stay up and watch, even a hardcore tennis lunatic like me is going to watch it on DVR.
Like a rare delicacy or a trip to your favorite city, every Federer-Nadal match should be treasured and warmly embraced, since we may not have many of them left. These two class acts, whose primes have almost overlapped, have battled through some of the most classic matches in tennis history.
I have no idea who’ll win this one. Federer is playing outstandingly well so far this tournament, and seems completely relaxed. Rafa has had to work hard in his last couple of matches and, as usual, is battling injuries.

I of course am pulling for my man Federer, but I hope it’s a five-set classic.  When Federer and Nadal meet, that’s not usually too much to ask for.

Newt Gingrich is about to blow up the Republican party. “The Descendants” is well worth your time. And a few final words on Joe Paterno

Newt, Newt, Newt. So much to say, so much time to say it, now that the biggest windbag this side of George Steinbrenner has won the South Carolina primary, and once again looks like he might, improbably, be the GOP nominee for President.
I’ve had a few days to digest the Rise of Newt, and a few quick thoughts on the last week of his rise:
— There’s no possible way Newt can sustain this; the man has nine eruptions a week, from his past and his present. Then again, nobody likes Mitt Romney. That’s been proven over and over again. So there’s that.
— Andrew Sullivan and other conservatives keep saying this: There’s no way Newt can win a general election. He’d be paying Delta hundreds of dollars in baggage fees, put it that way. So do the Florida voters, and the other primary states, feel so strongly about beating Obama that they’d hold their nose and vote for Mitt? Or are they so Tea Party-infused and blinded that they actually think Newt can beat that “black fella” in the Oval Office?
— Putting politics aside, it is wildly entertaining watching Gingrich at these debates. He’s just SO pompous and so disdainful of everyone else on stage, it’s hilarious.
— Finally, I’ll let a Twitterer named Jesse Taylor have the last word; he filed this right after Saturday’s debate.
“Given what South Carolina did tonight to keep a black man in office, I think they’ve atoned for any previous racism.”

**And now, as a palette-cleanser from King Newt, the beautiful farewell from Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who is resigning from Congress one year after her near-fatal shooting.

**Finally saw “The Descendants” last weekend. Every good thing I’d heard about it was true. George Clooney, who I see having a Paul Newman-like acting career (meaning he gets better and better with age; I could totally see Clooney starring in movies in his 70’s) was terrific as a father and a husband dealing with an unfaithful wife, a mouthy and unhappy teenage daughter, and an extended family counting on him to make a sound financial decision.

The cinematography is gorgeous (hey, it’s Hawaii, how ugly could they make it?), the acting is top-notch (Clooney’s teenage daughter, Shailene Woodley, is superb), and the movie never treats its audience with anything else than charm, wit, and emotion.

Go see “The Descendants.” It’ll be up for lots of Oscars, and will deserve more than a few.

**Finally today, think about this: What if Joe Paterno had died four months ago? What if the legendary Penn State football coach, maybe the greatest college coach of all time, passed away in mid-October, during another outstanding Nittany Lions season?
The obits that flowed like wins to Paterno’s program over the last four decades would’ve been universally positive. “Great coach, great man, philanthropic, stoic, won the right way,” etc.
But because this 85-year-old man didn’t die then, but after four months of absolutely image-shattering headlines, his obits all had caveats and references to his unspeakable silence while an assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, molested boy after boy.

It’s a very complicated legacy, Joe Pa leaves. Too many will vilify him and all the good work he did in his life (read this beautiful story for a small slice of what Paterno was like) for what he didn’t do in the Sandusky case. And I don’t in any way absolve him of his sins in that matter.

But he was a giant among football coaches, maybe one of the greatest of all time. He gave so much money and time, and shaped so many men’s lives, and I’d hate to think any of that will be forgotten now.

One final thought: It’s incredible how fast Paterno’s life went downhill. From being fired, to the lung cancer diagnosis, to breaking his pelvis, to death, all in a little more than three months.

I know the wounds are still fresh over his inaction with Jerry Sandusky. But Paterno’s is a life that should be mourned, and (mostly) celebrated.

Two amazing football games put Giants, Pats into Super Bowl. A creepy PSA about teen sex. And the mixtapes live on in San Francisco.

So much to get to today, I’m gonna save my thoughts on the irrepressible Newt Gingrich (our next President) and Joe Paterno until tomorrow. Plus a review of a great movie I saw last weekend starring George Clooney.

Wow. Sakes alive, those were two fantastic, thrilling, heart-stopping NFL playoff games Sunday.
To use the old cliche that’s so true in this situation: This is why we watch. This is why live, televised sports will always beat stupid “reality” TV, scripted programming, and anything else you can throw on the tube.

Sunday, the four NFL teams playing for the Super Bowl played a pair of fantastic games. First, the Patriots hung on to beat the Ravens, 23-20, and then in an even better contest, the Giants and 49ers played a four-hour epic, with the Giants winning in overtime, 20-17.

Many, many thoughts on these two fabulous games that I watched with my Dad on my couch. I’ll try to be somewhat brief (but with me, you know, that’s hard to do:)

— First on the Pats game. Everyone’s going to blame the Baltimore kicker, Billy Cundiff, and for sure he deserves a lot of blame for blowing a 32-yard field goal that would’ve tied it at the end of the fourth quarter. But Ravens wideout Lee Evans deserves some blame, too, for letting the game-winning TD get stripped in the end zone by someone on the New England D named Sterling Moore. I’m not sure that that wasn’t a touchdown, by the way; can’t believe they didn’t review it with instant replay. Looked to me like Evans caught the ball and took 2 steps before the ball was stripped.

— Ravens QB Joe Flacco (from Delaware) can’t be blamed on this one. After a shaky start, he played a great game.
— Anyone else find it weird to see Steven Tyler sitting in the owner’s box?
— Best line of the day came from former SI writer Steve Rushin, who Tweeted after the game: “Delighted for Tom Brady. About time life went his way.”

Now on to the other game…

I’ve been laughing and mocking the people who’ve been comparing Eli Manning to his brother. I’m not laughing anymore. What a gutsy, terrific performance by Eli Sunday night. He got hit, and hit again, and hit some more. And he kept getting up and making great throws. One more win and he’s got more Super Bowl trophies than Peyton, one of the greatest to ever play.

— Victor Cruz, you are an absolute stud. Everyone knew he was getting the ball, and he just kept making plays.
— I think the “real” Alex Smith showed up for the Niners Sunday. Or at least, the “old” Alex Smith. He looked terrible after the first quarter, though the ferocious Giants pass rush didn’t help.
— Kinda had a feeling it would take a major turnover for someone to score in overtime. Both defenses were just playing so, so well.
— If you’re counting at home, that’s 5 Giants Super Bowl appearances in my lifetime. For my beloved Jets, ZERO. Not that I’m bitter.
— Giants-Patriots Super Bowl. The rematch from four years ago. David Tyree, call your agent. I have a feeling a whole lot of media outlets are gonna want to talk about this…

Two great games. God, I love sports.

**So if you’re a child of the 80s like me, you’ll appreciate this the most.  I’ve just discovered something called the San Francisco Mixtape Society, and I love it. It’s a group from the Bay Area that holds parties once a month where people come and exchange mixtapes (not CDs, they have to be cassettes) based on the theme of the night.

I used to spend hours making mixtapes, mostly for myself, occasionally for others. Kids today won’t understand this, but in the 80s, if you really liked a girl and had just started dating, you made her a mix of your favorite songs. It was, like, a huge show of affection.

I miss mix tapes. I may have to fly to San Fran and show them my “Awesome Slow Mix No. 6” that’s in the back of my closet.

**Finally, I wish I could say this was a parody or a joke. But nope, it’s real. Kids, listen up and learn why waiting for sex is the right way to go!

Two feel-good basketball stories for your Friday. And how “Words with Friends” saved a man’s life

Since it’s Good News Friday, I’m restraining myself from making comments about last night’s wildly entertaining GOP presidential debate. But if you want to see the ultimate example of chutzpah and gall, watch a twice-divorced man, who left his first wife after she was diagnosed with cancer, get all righteous and indignant and shit over being asked about his second wife’s recent comments. Newt, nobody does chutzpah like you, pal.

Aquille Carr, a 5-foot-7 high school junior basketball star from Baltimore, may have the best nickname I’ve heard in a long, long time.

They call him “The Crimestopper.” Why? Because people say that when his games at Patterson High are going on, crime decreases in the tough Baltimore neighborhood he lives in.

Check out for yourself how good the little fella is; He’s got Harlem Globetrotter-quality dribbling moves; how can you not root for him to make it?

**Elena DelleDonne is a superstar women’s basketball player I’ve written about a few times, so I’ll just briefly recount her story here: No. 1 women’s high school recruit a few years ago out of a high school in Delaware, committed to play at UConn, then was homesick and moved back closer to her family. Elena is incredibly close with her older sister Lizzie, who was born deaf, blind and with cerebral palsy.

After taking a year off from basketball, DelleDonne returned, not to a national powerhouse but to her local school, University of Delaware (my proud alma mater! Well, I hope they’re proud of me). And now in three years she has made my Blue Hens one of the top teams in the nation, and DelleDonne was the subject of this great Sports Illustrated article this week.

She seems like a wonderful kid and I’m glad she’s bringing positive attention to my school.

**Finally today, just about everyone I know seems to play “Words with Friends,” which unless you’ve been living under a rock for a while, is a Scrabble-like game you play with multiple friends on your cellphone.

Well, except for being a giant time-waster and also helping people expand their vocabularies, it turns out the game can actually save lives. Check out this remarkable story about two couples, one in Australia and the other in Missouri, and how their friendship and bond over the game, saved the Australian husband’s life.

It’s a cliche but it’s true: With the Internet, our world gets smaller and smaller every day, doesn’t it?

The guy who walked into court with a crack recipe on his jacket. The refrigerator that watches your diet. And for football weekend, my fave 5 minutes on YouTube

Once again, I bring you one of the stupidest criminals found in America. A Florida man decided it’d be a really good idea to walk into court, while facing drug charges, wearing a jacket that had a recipe for making crack cocaine on it.

Stunningly, this didn’t help the defendant with the judge.
Now this dude’s in trouble with the real police AND the Fashion Police.

**Now here’s something we all could use after putting on some pounds during the holidays. LG has announced the totally-awesome, yet a little bit creepy, Think Smart refrigerator.

This baby has a built-in dietician, an Internet screen to show you what’s inside it without having to open the door. You can also input your body mass index, what your target weight loss is, and the fridge will tell you whether you’ve made the healthiest choice available. Or if there’s a better one.

Of course, if all you’ve got is leftover pizza, a case of Bud Light and some strange cheese that’s been there for a few months, the smartest damn fridge in the world probably won’t help you too much.

**I think I put this up once before, but with many sports fans fired up about this Sunday’s NFL conference championship games, I got to thinking about “Friday Night Lights.” And of course, this fantastic five-minute video of what the show’s all about.
ESPN Classic is running the re-runs, and it’s available on Netflix. Truly no reason you shouldn’t be watching one of the all-time classics.

A woman confronts her rapist on Facebook. A hilarious spoof of Lionel Richie. And the joy of Michigan State hoops

Sometimes the ripples of social media still stuns me, even 15 years into this Internet Web thingy.

This story showed up on the N.Y. Times website the other day, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since. A woman named Dorri Olds was raped by a man when she was 13 years old. Recently, 38 years after the brutal attack, Facebook recommended she be friends with her rapist.

Stunned, she clicked “Add Friend.” And then… well, read this short but powerful essay. What would you have done in the situation? Friend him so you could unload, electronically, all the anger and vitriol you feel toward him? Or ignore him and get on with your life?

That’s the thing about Facebook: Everyone in your past is on there, good and bad. Sometimes it’s great. Other times, you find the sexual abuser you tried so hard to forget.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

**Yet another example of someone with WAY too much time on their hands: Someone took the time and effort to splice a whole bunch of movie clips together so that they speak the lyrics to Lionel Richie’s “Hello.”

I laughed.

**Unlike many Duke basketball fans, my second favorite college team isn’t “Whoever’s playing North Carolina (although I did enjoy hearing about that FSU beatdown of the Heels last week). No, my second favorite team, for the past 13 years, has been Michigan State.

Let me count the ways I love Tom Izzo and his program: 1, They don’t cheat. 2, Every year his team plays hard to the last second of the game. 3, They are always a ferocious rebounding team. 4, They rarely have blue-chip talent (Oh I know, they’ve had great players like Mateen Cleaves and Zack Randolph over the years) but Izzo squeezes every ounce of ability out of each kid, it seems. And finally, 5, they play the game the right way, fundamentally.

There are more reasons, but you get the idea. I just love watching the Spartans play, like I did Tuesday night in a one-point loss to Michigan. If you’re a college hoops purist, I think you have to like them, because they stand for all that’s good about the sport, and the college game.

OK, climbing down off the soapbox. But man they are fun to watch.