Objectives/Resolutions – How did I do?

I set three goals for myself this year.  I put them in my blog as a way of having them out in public so that I would have to live up to them – or be willing to write about how I did.  So now that 2012 is coming to a close, here is how I did.

Goal #1 – Resolution: Run three half-marathons.  I completed two half-marathons.  One was in Fredericksburg, Va and the other was the Air Force Half Marathon in Dayton.  I decided that my training was not strong enough this year to get a third half marathon in.  Not wanting to run a third half marathon simply to achieve this goal, I decided to continue my running by focus on speed work to see if I could get faster.  My time dropped for a 3 mile race from the start of the year to the end (December 1).  And I got over 1,000 miles in this year for the 11th straight year.  I am healthy and my legs feel good.  So I feel like I did a good job keeping my running going.

Goal #2 – Resolution: Publish 100 blog posts. This blog is #100!!! (applause, bowing).  I have had a great time doing this blog.  I have amazed myself that I have come up with something to write about all year.  I do not feel like I ever just did a blog post to fill in space.  I have tried to write about a variety of subjects.  I really enjoy the blog.  On an average day I get about 5-10 readers.  Since I don’t “advertise” a lot, that is about the best I can expect for a while.

On top of this, I have been active on Twitter.  I have over 300 tweets (although most of them are pretty mundane things).  I am following a little over 30 people and have gotten some good ideas from them.

Goal #3 – Resolution: Spend five minutes a day in self-reflection. This one is a little tricky to really judge – what really is “self-reflection”?  I found that when I go to bed is the best time to do this reflection. I do my best to relax and do a little thinking. I try not to force my mind to think about anything in particular – just let it go. I’ve also tried to incorporate some relaxed breathing to help myself.  Have I done it every day?  Probably not.  Am I able to point to some profound things that came of this?  Probably not.  But I’ll keep trying.

Overall, I did not do too badly.  Probably compared to most people’s resolutions, I did well.  But I did not do 100%.  I hope you all give it a try in 2013

I’ll have a blog post on my 2013 objectives coming up soon.  I am sure you cannot wait!  Ha Ha

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Gerrymandering

One of the most interesting people I have discovered lately (through Twitter) is Nate Silver.  He is an author and a columnist for the New York Times.  In a recent column http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/in-house-of-representatives-an-arithmetic-problem/ he brought up a really interesting point.  One of the biggest problems with the House of Representatives is the lack of “centrist” politicians.  In the article he indicates that about 12% of the House is made up of Tea Party Caucus members  – those on the extreme right.  I will be the first to admit – and I did in an earlier blog post – that I have little respect for those politicians who are in the party of “never”.  The Tea Party fit there.  But was more astonishing to me was Mr. Silver identifying 186 (93%) of all democrats as being “Liberals”.  These liberals are pretty much just as extreme as the Tea Party Republicans.  The liberals are generally unyielding in their “never” beliefs.  I guess because they have been around for so long, their profile is less newsworthy than the Tea Party.  This article put our Congressional problems – inaction being the #1 problem – into focus for me.

But the real cause of the problem is “gerrymandering”.  In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a “practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan or incumbent-protected districts”.

Let me provide an example of gerrymandering in use.   In Ohio, the total 2012 vote for our representatives to Congress was approximately 52% Republican and 48% Democrat.  Based on that overall vote, you would expect about the same split in the number of Republican and Democratic Congressmen from Ohio.  But Ohio’s group to the House of Representatives is 75% Republican and 25% Democratic.  That is because the process used to create districts is so politically skewed.  The House of Representatives is supposed to “be of the people” – represent the needs of the people of their area.  By creating districts that are Democrat-dominated or Republican-dominated, they create districts for a particular party – not for the people.

This leads to a situation where the person running for office need not worry about losing to a person from the other party.  Therefore, they often feel compelled to move farther to the extreme (far left liberal for a Democrat or Tea Party right for Republicans) in order to win their party primary.   So you end up with crazy looking districts – like District 5 that goes across parts of 17 counties and district 9 which covers 125 miles East to West but is only a few miles North to South in some places.  Those districts, in fact most of Ohio’s districts, do not represent a clear part of the State.  They represent someone’s mapping of a territory that guarantees one party wins every time.Ohio House Districts

Ohio tried to change the way districts are created but the initiative failed in the last election.  I am sure the idea was flawed and an informed voter group turned it down (dripping sarcasm).  But let’s face it, the current system is corrupt and ridiculous.  But of course, that is the way the political parties like it.  Why change something that is good for them?

So the next time you think about our Congressional inaction, look no further than the map.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all.  I used to enjoy writing a note expressing Christmas wishes to the team that I worked with.  So I thought I would write a blog post this year.

I hope that 2012 has been a good year for you all.  I know it has been great for my family and me.   Please take time to think back over the laughs, the fun moments, and the cherished memories from the year.  We all had them, it just seems that sometimes we get overwhelmed with the noise in our life.

The Christmas season is a time of hope and promise.  Anytime there is a birth, it is a time of anticipation.  Everyone looks forward to the new life joining us.  That is what Christmas is supposed to be about. I urge everyone to adopt that feeling.  Look forward to the new day.  Be excited to embrace something new.

The new year offers us a chance to make something new for ourselves.  We can leave the baggage of 2012 behind.  Maybe it is time to reevaluate our lives, our work or our relationships.  Is there something that we have always wanted to do but never could find the time?  Is there some skill, interest or passion of yours that you have left dormant because of fear or inertia?  Are you too comfortable with your life – missing out on some challenge that awaits you?  As we grow older, it is so easy to be content with our lives – and that may be okay.  But as the saying goes, if you aren’t moving forward, you are standing still.

I just finished re-reading A Christmas Carol by Dickens.  It struck me that the story has so much to it.  The theme of Scrooge being awakened to his life by the three ghosts should resonate with all of us.  Equally important is to reflect on the joy that all people in the story – no matter how rough their lives are – experience on Christmas Day.  Spending time with loved ones – laughing and enjoying each other’s company – is important.  And we all have it within our power to enjoy the love of others.

Have a blessed holiday.  Best wishes for 2013

Let’s Overreact!

The recent school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was a huge tragedy.  It is one of America’s seminal moments, one that we will all remember.  Of course, once the mourning finishes, it is time for everyone to create solutions to the problem of mass murders in our schools.  I am not ready to propose a solution because I am sure the problems are many and varied.

As usual, some elected officials feel it is better to be first out with a dumb idea than to be last out with a measured, comprehensive idea.  Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine earned his way to bw my highlighted person.  Mr. DeWine wants first-responder training for teachers and school workers throughout the state.  Sounds okay.

But Dewine wants to take that further.  He thinks we should seriously consider having an ex police officer or someone with significant gun training have access to a gun in school.

This is such a bad idea that I am not sure where to start.  First of all, most schools are being forced to eliminate teachers, staff and programs because of budget cuts.  Music and arts programs are eliminated or stripped to bare bones.  Sports have been eliminated.  Tutors dropped. Busing curtailed.  The cuts are seemingly endless.  Yet we want to somehow take money and hire an armed guard.  Who can afford a non-teaching person in the school?

Better yet, we’ll just find someone with “significant gun training” who can teach in every school in Ohio.  This at a time when the requirements for being a teacher are increasing and teacher assessment is undergoing a huge overhaul.  Does the person with “significant gun training” not get evaluated?  What if they are the worst teacher in the school?  Do we have to find a replacement before we can let them go?

Let’s get back to the “first-responder training”.  I am not sure what that is, but it sounds like a good idea.  We all need basic CPR and some advanced training in how to deal with traumatic injuries.  But you get into time and cost issues.  Who pays for the training?  Schools don’t have the money.  The State budget is really tight.  Is it fair to ask teachers to pay?  And then you have to question the long-term benefit of it.  I know if I don’t use a skill after a while I forget how to use it.  Is the training sustainable?

And guns in the school.  I’ve read where the politicians want someone in school to have a gun “locked” in their “office”.  Most schools I have been in do not have many offices.  Certainly 90% of the teachers do not have offices.  And don’t you think curious – or mischievous – kids would try to find the locked cabinet with the gun?  What if they did?

In addition, someone with “significant gun training” is different from someone in the military or police force.  Police and military are trained to shoot a person – very different from shooting a target.  Are we going to have to provide them additional training?

Perhaps most importantly, will this person really be effective?  What happens if they accidentally shoot a child in trying to kill the intruder?  Police and military have “friendly fire” happen – and they are trained extensively.  How will they feel is they are unable to kill the intruder until the intruder has killed a number of people?  What if the designated person is on the other side of the building?  What would schools have to do if the designated person is not in the building – on a field trip, sick, etc.?  Would we require schools to have a back up or two person?

I am not trying to shoot all these ideas down.  But as the title indicaets, there is no thinking – just overreacting.

$118,500 for one month’s “work”

That amount – more than double the median household income in the USA FOR A YEAR – is how much money Barry Alvarez is being paid to coach the Wisconsin Badgers college football team for one month.  He is taking over for the former coach who left to go to Arkansas.  Mr. Alvarez needs to coach the month of December in order to get Wisconsin ready for the New Years Day Rose Bowl.

Mr. Alvarez was the head coach previously.  He retired a number of seasons ago to become the athletic director.  I am sure that as athletic director his total compensation package is VERY good (he gets paid over $600,000 a year in salary). So this guy is already a highly paid executive of a state institution.  But for some reason the state’s citizens have to pay him a lot more money

I also believe that most, if not all, of the assistant coaches for the team are staying with the team through the Rose Bowl.  They have ten assistant coaches and three “graduate assistants” listed.  So the amount of true coaching Mr. Alvarez needs to do is relatively small.  And he knows he will not be a candidate for the job permanently.  In fact, it is his real job to go find a new coach.

I love college athletics.  I follow them relatively closely.  But they have become so much of a big business that they have lost all reality.  If this was your own business and you lost a key officer, would you automatically pay yourself a ton more money to wear an “interim” assignment hat?  No you would not.

Oh, by the way, if Wisconsin wins the game, he gets an additional $50,000 bonus.  It is so easy to spend money when it is not your own.

True Christmas Spirit – My Door Decoratons

Every year at school there is a contest for the best decorated room door.  Last year, your’s truly and his first period class took first place honors in a stunning, unexpected win.  We created the traditional fireplace with stockings hung for each of the students in the class.  We also had a 1970’s-era light up 5 foot Santa.  But the item that sent us over the top I believe was a mounted deer with antlers that we made into a reindeer.  I am sure that this win was unprecedented for a first-year teacher, let alone a male teacher.

This year I decide I was not going to defend my crown with a traditional effort.  First of all, there was not much enthusiasm from my class to do anything.  Second of all, we are too busy in class right now.  So I was going to let it go.  Then one of my students, Dusty, decided to take matters into his own hands.  He started taping to the door discarded things – an empty tissue box, a pen, an empty water bottle, some tissues.  Other students added more things like that.

And that got me thinking.  So much is written about Christmas becoming overwhelmingly commercialized.  Everyone has to try to outdo the next person.  Elaborate decorations – many of them now timed to music – are the norm.  I decided I needed to strike back at the elaborate decorations.  Got retro – almost Charlie Brown Christmas tree style.  We’d embrace Dusty’s idea of a simple Christmas defined by more than the most expensive gifts and the most elaborate decorations.

I came up with the phrase “Christmas is about the simple gifts, Faith, Love and Hope.”  I had a couple of students cut those words out in letters and tape them to my door.  I invited students to add other simple decorations (a pop tart wrapper, a used coffee cup, etc.).  Now we have added one more item –  a large poster that I invited any student to sign.  The poster simply says “Season’s Greetings from Wag’s family”.Christmas Door 2012

I may not have the prettiest decorations. My door may not win any art club prize.  But it is the most unique, the most sincere, the most spirited decoration of the Christmas season.  And that is the most important thing to me.

More Death of Innocence

How do we put into words the dread, the revulsion we all feel over the senseless murders in Newtown, Connecticut?  It is unfathomable to think that such an event could occur.

Does this happen more in the USA than in other countries?  I honestly do not know.  With today’s 24-hour, “always looking for the sensational story” news situation, it seems to me we would hear about it similar situations like this in other parts of the world.  I can’t remember any cases other than the one in Norway a couple of years back.  But right now, that is not important.

The painful truth is that if some person wishes to do it, there is really little to stop it.  Preparation can minimize it, but in the end, we could not stop a determined person.  Inevitably, an event such as this gets people to want to debate about all kinds of things.  Unfortunately, people on both sides of the second amendment argument come to the fore.  That needs to wait

I choose not to think about that right now.  To me, the most important thing is to think about the families who lost children or parents.  How would we all feel to lose a family member or a favorite teacher or a neighbor or a friend to a senseless tragedy?  Wouldn’t we want everyone to pray for the deceased?  Wouldn’t we want everyone to focus on the loss of life?  Wouldn’t we want the precious years of those people remembered?  There will be plenty of time to argue about the laws.  Let’s focus our efforts for a little while on the most important fact.  More than two dozen innocent lives, some of them stuck down at 5 or 6 years old, have been lost.  That is the issue that needs all of our attention.  And our prayers.