Tag Archives: Konrad Marshall

17 years after getting LASIK surgery, I need glasses again, dammit. And I’m not happy. The next great Americans arrive at the Aussie Open. And an ESPN announcer with a beautiful elegy to his late father

 

I’m bummed. I’m bummed because last Saturday I got some news that I hoped I’d never have to hear again. From a freaking eye doctor.

In February, 2002, I had the best surgery of my life, and spent the best money I’d ever spent.

After 20 years of wearing glasses, from age 8 on, I finally took the plunge and got LASIK surgery. My whole life changed, for the better. I hated, hated glasses, for obvious reasons in school (I was called a nerd, made fun of, all the usual insults we vision-impaired folks deal with in adolescence) and then as an adult I felt it hampered my dating life, my social life, all of it.

LASIK was the panacea, the cure-all to my problems. OK, it didn’t solve EVERY problem, but it made me feel better, look better, and that led to a lot of great things in my life.

Anyway, LASIK was great, and I thought, OK, I’ll never have to wear glasses again, or at least, not for a very long time.

Well, that time is now. I knew my nearsighted-ness was getting a little worse; I’ve been having trouble seeing the scorebox on the TV during sporting events lately, and reading the letters on street signs in the dark while I’m driving was getting more difficult.

But still, I didn’t think I would hear, within two minutes of my annual eye exam, “Yeah, you’re going to need glasses for driving.”

Ugh. I’m only 43; I thought my re-entry into the four-eyed world was still a decade away. I wasn’t mentally prepared to have to delve back into this arena again.

I feel old. I feel like I should get a LASIK refund (kidding, of course, they never guaranteed anything.) I feel defeated.

After my diagnosis, I tried on a few frames, looked at myself in the mirror, and tried not to grimace each time. Couldn’t bring myself to buy specs yet; that’ll come this week.

Dammit, dammit, dammit. Back to glasses. Sigh.

On the positive side, maybe I’ll start to look distinguished with glasses, like Clooney. Nah, I’ll end up looking like Larry David.

**Next up today, this came out of the blue to me on Twitter and I have to say it was very, very moving. ESPN sportscaster Scott Van Pelt, normally known for his sharp, funny quips, went on the air the other night on the anniversary of his father’s death, and gave a beautiful two-minute tribute to his Dad, and the importance of seizing every moment.

I really loved this.

**Finally today, we are midway through the second week of the Australian Open, and as usual, it’s been an awesome tournament. Oh sure I was bummed when Roger Federer lost in the 4th round (not sure he’ll ever win another Slam, the men’s field is just so strong), but there have been so many terrific storylines I’ve enjoyed, including…

— The next generation of Americans is ready to do damage. Yeah, we’ve been hearing about them for a few years, all about their potential, but now they’re here. On the women’s side, Danielle Collins, the pride of UVA, is in the semifinals after never having won a match at a Grand Slam heading into last week (she is ranked in the Top 40, so it’s not like she is a total surprise). Amanda Anisimova, who was born 10 days before 9/11, got to the 4th round and showed she’s the future, and fellow teen Sofia Kenin was also terrific in Week 1.

— And on the men’s side, whoo boy. My man Reilly Opelka beat John Isner, Taylor Fritz did well to get to the third round, and the guy pictured above, all of 21 years old a few days ago, was spectacular. Frances Tiafoe, who many of us in tennis have been touting as the best U.S. hope to win a Grand Slam in the next few years, has finally had that major breakthrough we’ve all expected. He beat No. 5 seed Kevin Anderson in Round 2, survived two more brutal matches to reach the quarters, then finally succumbed to Rafa Nadal on Monday.

But in the process, Tiafoe revealed his wonderful personality, enthusiasm and talent that many have enjoyed as he’s risen up the junior ranks. Truly, a good dude and someone you should root for. He and the other young Americans are just about ready to arrive, now if that Novak/Roger/Rafa three-headed monster would retire already 🙂

— The Aussie Open is killer on my sleep cycle. I try to get to sleep earlier than I used to but it’s hard to turn off live tennis at 12:30 a.m. And this is the only sporting event I follow where I wake up at 7 a.m. and check my phone to see all the things that happened while I slept.

— Down to the semis in both men’s and women’s, and I’m pretty sure Novak Djokovic will win the men’s title, though Stefanos Tsitsipas and Rafa Nadal will both give him major tests in the process. On the women’s side? I have no idea, especially after Serena’s epic collapse Tuesday night from up 5-1 in the third set.
I guess I’ll say Naomi Osaka wins it, but the way Danielle Collins is playing, it wouldn’t shock me if she broke through and shocked the world.

— Finally, I have to give a shout-out to this tremendous piece of journalism from my friend and former colleague Konrad Marshall, whose work I have featured in this space before. Konrad, a native Australian who’s a journalist there now, wrote this outstanding feature on the greatest Aussie tennis player of them all, and one of the 3 greatest men’s players ever, Rod Laver.

Laver is 80 now, was hobbled by a stroke and only recently has come out of his shell a bit and accepted the adulation he gets worldwide.

Marshall gets so many wonderful details from Laver, about his stroke, about his beloved wife Mary passing away, and how he’s so enjoying life now. Truly, this is a fantastic piece of writing I think you’ll enjoy. (I got to meet Laver a few years ago at the U.S. Open and the 10 minutes I spent with him is an absolute career highlight.)

An Australian teacher becomes a hero on airplane, doing what comes naturally. 65-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colon is just the best. And Bernie’s right about needing a left-wing Fox News

Aussieteacher.Sophie

I usually save stories like the one I’m about to share for Good News Friday’s, but this one moved me so much I kind of feel like I need to share it right away. Plus, it’s nice to start off Monday with a happy tale.

I’ve written before in this space about my buddy Konrad Marshall, a native Aussie and fantastic journalist who I worked with many moons ago. Konrad and his terrific wife, Nikki, moved back Down Under a few years back, and he’s now writing for “The Age” newspaper there.

This weekend he shared the story of Sophie Murphy, a special education teacher in Australia who was on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne a few weeks ago, when something very unusual happened.

A 14-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome was feeling unwell, and laid down in the aisle of the plane and could not be moved, not by anyone. The plane could not land, 179 other passengers were stuck, and so the pilot, with nothing else having worked, asked:

“Is there a teacher on board this flight? Is there a special needs teacher on board?”

There was. Murphy, 42, is a teacher of two decades experience, now lecturing and completing a PhD at the University of Melbourne.

And how Murphy got this boy to feel better and help him through the flight is just beautiful. Read how she did it here.

“”Teachers get such a bad rap,” she says. “I was proud to go back there, knowing I could help. This is what every single teacher does, every single day.”

What a wonderful woman. This story, by the way, has gotten huge attention in America the last few days, NPR’s Weekend Edition interviewed Murphy here.

**Next up today, this may sound crazy talking about a 42-year-old pitcher, but Bartolo Colon might be the most fun player to watch in Major League Baseball right now.

I’m at best a casual fan of the sport, but whenever Bartolo does something goofy or incredibly athletic, I can’t stop smiling.

So Saturday night, when Bartolo hit his first career home run and his teammates and the Mets announcers went nuts, it blew up Twitter and made me really happy. (OK, Gary Cohen on the call maybe got a little carried away calling it “one of the greatest moments in baseball history.”)
Colon is just a wonder. God bless him.

**Finally today, I must admit that as Bernie Sanders’ chances for winning the Democratic nomination have officially been reduced to nearly zero, I haven’t been paying as much attention to his day-to-day interviews.

But he said something to Rachel Maddow the other night that caught my attention, and it’s something more Democratic politicians and future leaders should also be talking about.

Bernie said, “I think we have got to think about ways that the Democratic Party, for a start, starts funding the equivalent of Fox television.”

This has long been a sore spot for Democrats. Fox News, over the past 20 years, has become an enormous boon to the Republican Party, parroting out talking points, helping build up stars in the party by giving them tons of air time, and, sad but true, driving so much of the debate in this country to the right.

And Fox News exists because Rupert Murdoch, who has 84 gazillion dollars, decided in 1996 that he wanted to start a political cable channel that would put his points of view out front.

And it has worked incredibly well. With Donald Trump being a rare outlier (in this and everything else, it seems), Fox News makes or breaks candidates and issues.

And the Democrats, we don’t have anything like that. We’ve got billionaires, but not as many, certainly not as many in politics. And if we ever got a true blue cable channel dedicated to putting forth liberal, progressive ideas, maybe the dialogue would change a little bit in America.

I know MSNBC sorta half tried the last few years, and Air America radio almost kinda worked. But I’m talking about a huge investment, long-term, in a channel that would do for progressives what Fox News has done for conservatives.

Since so many people get their news only from TV, and since so many of our “mainstream” networks refuse to call out GOP politicians on outright falsehoods, I think a progressive TV channel it would go a long way toward giving Democratic issues the kind of “equal time” they don’t get elsewhere.

I know, I know, I’m dreaming again. But it really is a good idea.

Fascinating new book looks at countries with higher achieving students than U.S. A fantastic graduation speech you’ve never heard. A beautiful love story from my friend in Australia

SmartestKidsintheWorldRipley9.12

As many of us search for answers as to why America’s students and schools aren’t performing as well as we think they should, journalist Amanda Ripley did something a little different, and wrote a book about it.

Ripley noticed that countries like South Korea, Finland and even Poland had students with much higher test scores on the international PISA test (a general knowledge exam that’s been given for decades to kids in a dozens of nations) than America’s kids did, and instead of just wringing her hands like so many did, she did a little investigating.

Ripley followed three U.S. exchange students, one studying in each of the trio of countries I listed above, during their year abroad, and used those kids as a jumping off point to see exactly why those nations are educating their kids so much better than we are.

The result is “The Smartest Kids in the World,” a book I just finished reading. I have to say, it was surprising, extremely interesting, and really well-written.

As a former journalist and current teacher I came into the book with some biases, and Ripley confirmed many of them. But she also opened my eyes to so much, including…

— students in South Korea do so well academically because, literally, all they do is study. Twelve hours a day, six days a week, year-round, South Korean students are pushed, pushed and pushed some more. As a result, their suicide rate is high and most of the kids are miserable.

— In Finland, it’s much more laid-back, but the standards have been steadily raised, teachers have gotten better and better, and students seem to enjoy learning.

— Of all the points Ripley makes in the book (I think some of her swipes at U.S. schools are unfair, but most are on point), what I found most intriguing was her argument for more difficult teacher training, and stricter standards for letting young people into college education programs.
She states that in other countries, only students in the top 10 percent, or top third, in their class get admitted to teaching “colleges,” and that they’re often subject to years of training. Why, she asks, do we let average or mediocre students throughout their scholastic careers do a few hours of student teaching, take a few classes on education, and then let them loose to educate our young for 30 years? Shouldn’t we make teaching a profession millions strive for, have to work really hard to attain, then train them strenuously for it? Then we should also make salaries for teachers high too, showing people how much we value them.

Dirty little secret: I think she’s 100 percent right. It is too easy to become a teacher in America (I should know, I became one in less than one year’s time). We should narrow the eligibility pool, and make it harder. Teaching shouldn’t be a fall-back career, as it is for so many; it should be as prestigious as being a doctor or lawyer, and until it is, maybe our schools are destined to be mediocre.

Look, I’m 100 percent NOT blaming teachers for the failures of so many schools; I know how hard teachers work and the insane level of pressure put on them. But Ripley’s point is a very fair one.

Whether you agree or not, her book is full of insights into other worlds; the chapter on the “secret police” that cracks down on South Korean after-hours study schools (called hagwons) is fantastic.

Check out Ripley’s book on Amazon.com here.

**Next up, I found this on Andrew Sullivan’s blog today and was fairly stunned by it, and quite surprised I never saw it given that it’s several months old.

Ted Chalfen, a senior at Boulder, Colo.’s Fairview High School, confirms during his graduation speech that he is gay, and then goes on to talk movingly about how well he’s been treated during his four years of high school, as a gay teen.

Really great stuff.

Konrad.Nikki

**Finally today, my friend Konrad Marshall is a wildly talented writer who I met back when I was working in Glens Falls, N.Y. Konrad is a native Australian who’d moved to upstate N.Y. because he’d fallen in love with a girl from there named Nikki. They got married, stayed in America for several years while Konrad chased his journalism dreams, then moved back to Australia about five years ago.

Konrad is a wonderful storyteller with a huge heart, which is why I feel strongly that you’ll enjoy this beautiful piece he wrote for The Age newspaper in Melbourne, about the devotion and love of his wife, who gave up everything she knew to go Down Under and start a new life with him.

It’s eloquent and sweet, and something any woman would love to read about herself from her husband or boyfriend. Take a few minutes and look it over; I practically guarantee you’ll feel better afterwards.