Thursday, March 20, 2014

Day Number 18,262

It's not the years, it's the mileage.

Fifty years ago, on a cold, blustery, snowy night, a child entered the world.

This child was a girl named Nancy, who I met through my friend Brian Sowa in the early 1990s.

Nancy was born in Denver at 6:34 pm Mountain Time. The irony is, I was born the same night - in Des Moines, Iowa, at approximately 7:32 pm Central Time ... making us twins from different mothers from different time zones, born a whopping two minutes apart.

The "approximately" part is why neither of us is sure who is actually older - or if, through a stoke of fate, we were born simultaneously. My father, the soon-to-be Dr. Leonard Gaba, was in his final months of medical school, and he assisted with the delivery. (Apparently, some individuals take this "the eldest child is practice for future children" thing a bit too seriously.) And in all the excitement of the moment ... no one recorded the actual time of my birth.

So they guessed.

What a long, strange trip it's been. Half a century, filled with tons of memories retained (some of which I'd love to forget), who knows how many memories lost (some of which I'd love to have back), and plenty of Duffy's nights of dining, Detroit Tigers' games witnessed, political stories published, Tom Petty concerts attended, tables served, weddings DJ'd, college courses failed, debate tournaments administered, and one Detroit Lions playoff victory celebrated ... among other things.

Turning 50, like hitting most other milestones, I suppose, is a combination of inverse-thinking melancholy and forward-thinking excitement, with the past firmly known and future vaguely conceived. My "forward-thinking excitement" was a bit tempered last Thursday, when I received my initial birthday card of the year ... courtesy of the AARP, and complete with a membership offer inside. (You'd think the group formerly known as the "American Association of Retired Persons" would have offered me a free membership as a birthday gift, but alas, it was not to be.) Over dinner, my mother told me this was a good thing, because the AARP offers a plethora of benefits and discounts, which can be very handy for individuals such as myself who live on a teacher's salary. I told her, I understood that ... but it was a bit demoralizing anyway, since I've no plans on retiring any time soon.

So ... what does it mean to be 50? That's a damn good question. I guess I'll find out as the year progresses. But before we get there, I'd like to take a look back at 1964, the year of my entrance into the world, and 49 other amazing things that happened that year.

Fifty years ago …

1. FLOTUS Michelle Obama was born in Chicago on January 17. I wished her a happy birthday; sadly, no such reciprocal action has taken place (yet).

2. The first Ford Mustang rolled off the assembly line in Dearborn, Michigan. The Mustang was produced with a base price of $2,368; even I could afford it on my salary ... oh, wait, that's $2,368 in 1964 dollars.

3. "Lucky Charms" hit grocery shelves. (That, at least, I can still afford today.)

4. Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win an Oscar for best actor, for his role in "Lilies of the Field." (Haven't seen it - sad face!)

5. British children's author Roald Dahl published "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The early 1970s movie adaptation, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" - starring Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson - is better, IMHO.

6. Joe Frazier won an Olympic gold medal in boxing, and Peggy Fleming won the US Female Figure Skating Championship.

7. Actress Sandra Bullock was born in Arlington, Virginia.

8. Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in South Africa. (He was released in 1990.)

9. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in July.

10. Classic TV shows "Bewitched" "The Munsters" and "Gilligan's Island" all debuted in September.

11. The Beatles arrived in the U.S. and appeared live on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in February. In April, they owned the top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100 list with "Can't Buy Me Love," "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Please Please Me."

12. The Rolling Stones released their first album and their first headlining tour. And between the Stones and the Fab Four, the British Invasion was in full force.

13. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and the U.S. became fully involved in the Vietnam War.

14. E-commerce pioneer Jeff Bezos - president, CEO and chairman of Amazon.com - was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

15. In his State of the Union address, President Johnson declared a "war on poverty" that helped pave the way for Medicare and Medicaid.

16. NASA astronaut Theodore Cordy Freeman was killed in the crash of a T-38 jet on October 31 at Ellington Air Force Base - the first fatality among the American astronaut corps.

17. Diet Pepsi was introduced to the beverage market. (But Coke products - well, except for Mountain Dew - are still superior.)

18. Cassius Clay knocked out Sonny Liston to win the world heavyweight title; two days later, Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

19. Comedian Stephen Colbert was born in Washington, D.C.

20. The original GI Joe action figure (with the kung-fu grip!) was manufactured by Hasbro Inc. GI Joe remains the most popular toy for American boys.

21. Smoking was determined to be a health hazard by the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service.

22. "Jeopardy!" began on television with Art Fleming as the host.

23. Elizabeth Taylor divorced for the 4th time with Eddie Fisher and married Richard Burton 10 days later.

24. Shel Silverstein published his classic children's book "The Giving Tree." (My debate students have competed with a parody called "The Taking Tree.")

25. Chef Bobby Flay was born in New York City.

26. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize.

27. Arby's opened.

28. The film "Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (one of my favorites), directed by Stanley Kubrick, was released.

29. You've no need to fear - "Underdog" appeared for the first time on television.

30. Actor Rob Lowe was born in Charlottesville, Virginia.

31. Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, was arrested on a rape charge.

32. New York City hosted the World's Fair; Isaac Asimov made some predictions about what the world would look like today.

33. South Africa was barred from the Olympic Games in Tokyo because of its apartheid policies.

34. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the stop-motion classic, aired on TV for the first time.

35. Retired professional baseball player Barry Bonds (no steroids needed) was born in Riverside, California.

36. "Mary Poppins," "My Fair Lady," the James Bond film "Goldfinger" and the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" premiered at the movies. ("Goldfinger" is the first movie I remember seeing.)

37. "The Dick Van Dyke Show" swept the Emmys in the comedy category for best comedy, best actor (Van Dyke), best actress (Mary Tyler Moore), best director and best writing.

38. An earthquake at a magnitude of 9.2, the largest ever in U.S. history, struck south central Alaska on Good Friday.

39. The Palestinian Liberation Organization was established.

40. Teamster James Hoffa was found guilty and sentenced to eight years on jury-tampering charges.

41. The Star of India sapphire was stolen from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (Note: I had nothing to do with this.)

42. Jack Ruby was convicted of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. (Note: I had nothing to do with this, either.)

43. The Warren Commission report on the assassination of President John Kennedy concluded Oswald acted alone. (See? Told you I had nothing to do with this!)

44. The first buffalo wings were made at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York.

45. Three young civil rights activists - James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner - were slain in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer movement to register black voters.

46. The Twenty-Fourth Amendment was ratified, which prohibited the federal government or states from making voters pay a poll tax before they voted in a national election.

47. "Funny Girl," "Hello, Dolly!" and "Fiddler on the Roof" premiered on Broadway.

48. Pop-Tarts debuted on supermarket shelves.

49. Singer Courtney Love was born in San Francisco.

(Sidebar: Politician, author and batshit-crazy Tea Party darling Sarah Palin was born in Sandpoint, Idaho. How fucking depressing.)

Then there's the March 20th-specific events of years gone by, such as when Sarin gas was released in a Tokyo subway, killing a dozen and injuring 4,700 (1995), the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1920), or John Lennon marrying Yoko Ono (1969).

There have been plenty of personal highlights - and lowlights - during the journey thus far. Holiday celebrations, road trips, student successes, personal and professional achievements, hospital stays, relationship starts and finishes, family activities, sporting events, radio broadcasts ... these, and many more, which are the composite of anyone's life. Like Christmas lights strewn across the Festivus tree, they are easy to identify and if laid out end-to-end, would look much like a Dow Jones graphic, with dates assigned to each of the notable moments. I cherish all of them, even those ugly moments, because in the words of Admiral James T. Kirk in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, "Pain and guilt can't be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They're the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain!"

Of course, there are many reasons I should be grateful and happy. I've never been chased by a swarm of bees. I'm reasonably healthy. I've not been stalked by a student (current or former). I have a job that, for the most part, I love on a daily basis (and it would be so much nicer if the USFG and Florida State Legislature would kindly step the fuck back and let me do my job!). The NSA hasn't busted down my condo door. Nor has the crew of 60 Minutes.

One of the things I've tried to maintain, especially the past decade or so, is a positive focus on the future. It hasn't always been easy, and there have been a few moments where I lost the focus altogether. Noam Chomsky once said, “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.” And I firmly believe this, and through my profession and my personal life try daily to not only step up to the proverbial plate, but take responsibility.

So I head into the next half-century with a positive attitude about life, liberty, and the pursuit of logical reasoning and action in Washington, D.C. I look at those who share the same candle-blowing date on the calendar, such as band leader Ozzie Nelson (1906), producer/director Carl Reiner and comedian Ray Goulding (both 1922), The Rev. Fred "Mr." Rogers (1928), actor Hal Linden (1931), singer Jerry Reed (1937), former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1939), father of the aforementioned "Brian Sowa" Roman Sowa (1940), hockey legend Bobby Orr (1948), actor William Hurt and singer Carl Palmer (both 1950), movie director Spike Lee (1957), actress Holly Hunter (1958), and supermodel Kathy Ireland (1963), and reflect that, not only do we share the same birthday, but it's also the Spring Equinox, and while the NCAA's March Madness basketball tournament is starting today, someone should really be watching The Wizard of Oz ... because when I was growing up in the 1970s, that movie was the standard to watch on the first day of spring. (And yes, I still remember March 20, 1976, when a tornado whipped through West Bloomfield Township, just a few miles from our home.)

To the more than 300 of you from across the US and world who have sent me a birthday greeting today - whether via snail mail, in person, on the phone, through the Twittersphere, via text message, on Facebook, by carrier pigeon, or through some other form of communication process - I thank you for your friendship and involvement in my life. My world would be a much colder place without your presence. (And Michelle, I'm still waiting … still waiting … stiiiiiiiiill waiting …)

Here's to another 18,000+ positive days on Mother Earth.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mason Mentors

This past weekend was the 10th Annual Patriot Games Classic on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. It was the sixth consecutive year Wellington Debate was in attendance, and to understand why this is my favorite tournament of the year, you need to understand what happened the first time we attended (December 2008), and how GMU Director of Forensics Peter Pober positively and drastically influenced my life in one fell swoop.

During our first visit to GMU, one of my juniors was paired up in Public Forum Debate with a student from another area school (a hybrid entry). Because of an incident that took place that Friday (the day before the tournament), my student decided to quit the competition and head back to Florida ... with his mother's approval (she booked his flight and limo ride to the airport) ... while at the same time refusing to give the partner he ditched any of the research or cases he had on his computer. (He refused to give this information up despite my insistence he do so.)

With the non-Wellington debater in tears, I told her I would talk to Peter and we would try to come up with some sort of solution. I had never met him, but knew his reputation as a student-first debate coach from his days in the School District of Palm Beach County 30+ years before. When final registration opened that night, I approached Peter and explained the situation. Without hesitation, he offered a variety of options to solve the problem, including letting her switch events, allowing another student to partner with her from a different event, finding another partner for her if we couldn't find her one, or even letting her "maverick" (debate solo) in PFD.

"She will compete," he told me.

This last-minute flexibility, to ensure a student who dropped around $400 for a weekend in the nation's capital would participate, blew me away. At that point, I had been coaching maybe half a dozen years, and had never encountered a more pro-student coach. I was just hoping some sort of resolve could be achieved; after all, it would have been real easy for him (or anyone trying to finalize a major national tournament) to say, "Look, the tourney starts in 10 hours, there's no way we can accommodate such changes last-minute."

But he didn't do that. Instead, he bent over backwards to ensure she would have as positive an experience as possible.

I looked at Peter after we had resolved the issue and told him, "You have me for life."

(Sidebar: she did compete, with a student from a third school, and both represented Wellington on stage to receive recognition for advancing to tournament break rounds ... despite having to put together research and cases from scratch between midnight and 3 am in my hotel room ... and despite her new partner having never done PFD before that tournament.)

So for six years now, Wellington has attended GMU. We've had many successes, peppered with a few moments that made me question whether to remain in teaching, let alone coaching, let alone my sanity ... but for the most part, it's been a good run.

In 2012, Peter invited me to assist in the debate/congress tabulation room, which I accepted. This year, with a virtually novice crew, I was excited about the experience our students would receive, helping to bridge a vibrant past with a solid-looking future. But even I was not prepared for what would be, for me, one of the most amazing highlights of my 14+ year debate coaching career.

At the end of the GMU tournament awards ceremony Sunday night, Peter recognized five new Patriot Games "Mason Mentors," an honor bestowed upon by him to debate coaches he respects for their work ethic, their dedication to debate and student achievement, and their positive impact on the forensic community as a whole. The list of past recipients reads like a "who's who" of debate coaching: Tony Figliola (Holy Ghost Prep, PA), Tom Durkin (Loyola-Blakefield, MD), David Yastremski (Ridge, NJ), Steve Medoff (Pennsbury, PA), Harry Strong (Des Moines Roosevelt, IA), Mary Schick (Krop, FL), Beth Goldman (Taravella, FL), Michael Vigars (Trinity Prep, FL), Alexandra Sencer (Lake Mary Prep, FL), Steve Meadows (Danville, KY), Robert Sheard (Durham Academy, NC), Bro. Kevin Tidd (Delbarton School, NJ), and Kristie Taylor (Jupiter, FL), are just a few of the amazing coaches who have been recognized as Mason Mentors. Many are individuals Peter has known for decades; all are known nationally as coaches who put student needs and achievements above their own interests.

On Sunday night, I was honored to have my name added to the impressive list of coaches past and present who are Mason Mentors.

I am humbled beyond belief by the accolade. Writing this commentary is extremely difficult for me, because i have never been one to tout my professional or personal successes. When I was recognized as Florida Forensic League Coach of the Year in 2012, I think I included the honor as a pseudo-afterthought in my email about that year's FFL Varsity State results. Because it's never been about me, it's about the students, and how to ensure they have the best possible positive opportunities for knowledge and success.

In Peter's comments to the large audience leading into the announcement (and I wish I had a video recording of it!), he spoke of his experiences in Palm Beach with former Twin Lakes/Wellington coach Dale McCall, and the close association they had in the local debate community. He spoke of her building a nationally-recognized program, and how difficult it is to maintain that program after a successful coach leaves that leadership position. And that since taking over the Wellington program in 2002, I have strived to provide a successful learning opportunity for my students, both locally and nationally. He described me as "modest" (which I am) and "quiet" (which implies he may need to get to know me a bit better).

I now have a nice miniature bust of George Mason in my classroom, next to my engraved 2012 FFLCOY vase. But more importantly, this represents a total team effort. While I may have received recognition for my dedication to the forensic arts, I could never have achieved this without the proactive involvement of current and former debaters, their families, administration, and fellow debate coaches. Thank you for believing in me, as I believe in you :)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Live Long and Prosper

Forty-seven years ago today, mankind boldly went where it had never gone before. And a whole new iconic genre was born. It could be argued Star Trek has become the most successful and recognized media spectacle of the past 50 years - yes, even bigger than the James Bond empire. Tech Republic certainly thinks so, listing it at the top of its "Top 10 Geek Media Franchises of All Time" (topping Star Wars and Doctor Who, among others). When you combine the initial TV series plus its various reincarnations, movies, parodies, books, video games, greeting cards, ComicCon tributes, and so much more, Star Trek has had a major impact on today's society, and will do so in the future.

The series' immense box office haul has been about quantity, rather than quality, to be honest. There have been amazing moments - "Khaaaaaaaaaaan!" comes to mind, as does the meeting of captains Kirk and Picard in Star Trek: Generations - but the Gene Roddenberry-inspired space saga's accomplishment is really about staying power.

I had the opportunity to meet George Takei (yes, Sulu) this past July as the Florida Supercon in Miami. It was an honor and a privilege to meet Takei, who has (like William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy) remained visible in the media eye and voiced his opinion about political issues (in particular orbiting around gay rights). We had a chance to chat, albeit briefly, about his position on the Boy Scouts of America and gay rights issues whilst in Miami, and I even had the opportunity to bring our own "six degrees" moment to light. (The actress who played his daughter in the aforementioned Star Trek: Generations, Jacqui Kim, graduated a year after me from Bloomfield Hills Lahser High School). He thought that was pretty cool.

So here I present five (or more) of my favorite Star Trek movie moments, because ... seriously, why not?

(1) "Khaaaaaaaaaaan!" I mean, hell, I even mentioned it in my comments a few paragraphs ago, so how could I neglect it here? A classic moment from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:

(2) Who else but Kirk would have the balls to question God's existence openly? NO ONE, that's who! Not a great movie, to be honest, but one of my favorite scenes in the series is from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, where Kirk - in all his Kirkiness - addresses the elephant in the room: What does God need with a starship?

It’s no secret that The Final Frontier is 100% Shatner's baby, baby! Not only is the movie heavily Kirkcentric, it also features him doing more action-adventure oriented things than in the previous films. But when asked to share his pain with Sybok, Kirk becomes the Kirk of old, yelling, "I don’t want my pain taken away, I need my pain!" This is classic Kirk - a bit over the top, and a bit cartoony ... just like our protagonist.

(3) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home landed the Star Trek crew in San Francisco ... a place extremely foreign to a gang used to visiting numerous foreign societies. Nuclear wessles, indeed ...

(4) Spock's death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was as riveting and tear-jerking a moment that ever existed in cinematic history. I've connected his farewell commentary into many a Lincoln Douglas Debate speech for my students: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."

Leonard Nimoy discusses that specific scene in his book "I Am Spock":

This, of course, ties in to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, when the crew of the USS Enterprise need to get Spock's body back from Genesis, and Kirk sacrifices the ship to save the crew. Because sometimes, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many ...

(5) Passing the torch from the original Star Trek to the Star Trek: The Next Generation world involved bringing Kirk and Piccard together in a time travel paradigm ... something the space aces were more than capable of doing on a regular basis.

Live long and prosper for another half-century (and beyond) ...

Weird News of the Day

From CNN: "107-year-old man killed in police shootout in Arkansas, authorities say'" - Committing aggravated assault, getting involved in a standoff with SWAT officers who send in camera, gas, and a "distraction device" (whatever that is), getting killed in a shootout after negotiations fail is no way to go through life, son. But it's one hell of a way to end your life!

Stupid News of the Day

From USA Today: "Iowa grants gun permits to the blind'" - Who says justice turns a blind eye? I bet they never saw this one coming, though ...

Florida News of the Day

From The South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Cops: Man, 83, nabbed in sex sting said he wanted 'everything'" - Apparently, he didn't realize "everything" included a complimentary ride to the local jail ...

Video of the Day

I'm hoopnitized!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

No Underwear Required

The Fine Five - September 7, 2013

(1) FIRE UP CHIPS! My Central Michigan Chippewas looked pathetic at the start of today's game against New Hampshire (fucking NEW HAMPSHIRE!!!), trailing 13-0 early. But the Fighting Chips fought back and won on a field goal as time expired, 24-21. Play of the game: a 97-yard touchdown connection from QB Cooper Rush to receiver Titus Davis to tie the game in the fourth quarter.

(2) I'm still not very optimistic about the Chippewas' chances this year. Blown out by 50 at Michigan last week was painful, but - hey - it was Michigan. Barely surviving against New Hampshire this week? Sigh ... it's gonna be a long season.

(3) Joined David Traill and a slew of others on welcoming World War II veterans back from a day in the nation's capital as part of the Southeast Florida Honor Flight at Palm Beach International Airport. Honor Flight is a national nonprofit that sponsors free visits to Washington, D.C., war memorials for aging veterans.

This was my second time joining Traill, currently a history teacher at Suncoast High School and a former coworker of mine when I started teaching at South Fork High School in Stuart in 1999. The last time I went with him was two years ago, when the program was much smaller in nature. There were hundreds in attendance tonight, including students from Suncoast and Cardinal Newman high schools, and Will and Simone Hoover, former debate parents of mine whose sons have both served in the United States Armed Forces. It was their first time at an Honor Flight celebration, and I doubt it will be their last.

(4) I don't eat fast food any more, but if I did, I'd still stay away from the new Burger King conception:

(5) There's days I wonder why I do my job. Education is under attack by political factions, we're underfunded and overstressed, and the amount of testing we need to put our students through is over-the-top stressful. But at least I don't have to deal with draconian district mandates about what I can wear on the job ... oh, wait. FUCK YOU, LITTLE ROCK!

Weird News of the Day

From Opposing Views: "Patient Sues After Anesthesiologist Puts Moustache, Tear Stickers On Her Face During Surgery'" - I'd sue, too ... I mean, it doesn't even LOOK like a real tattoo of a moustache and tears!

Stupid News of the Day

From Komo News: "On-duty detective allegedly caught with prostitute in bushes has resigned" - QUOTE OF THE STORY: "Narvaez was on duty but not in uniform." Duh!

Florida News of the Day

From The Orlando Sentinel: "Fashion police? Florida AG targets edgy L.A. store over 'Xanax' T-shirts" - The Florida AG should go after The Orlando Sentinel for embedding autoplay video stories with annoying commercials into their online stories instead ... or as well ...

Video of the Day

Has it really been 10 years today since Warren Zevon died? Sadly, yes.

Friday, September 6, 2013

202 Seconds of Ecstasy

The Fine Five - September 6, 2013

(1) Debate season is officially kicking in to gear; I know this because the legislative dockets for both varsity and novice chambers for our September 28 PBCFL Congressional were released Wednesday and distributed/discussed in class today. And the first weekend Congressional Debate workshop is this Sunday at Panera Bread.

(2) Booooooooooo! Shame on you, Sportservice, for firing the Detroit Tigers' long-time singing hot dog man, Charley Marcuse! Booooooooooo!

(3) Memo to Tim Tebow (who I really do like, despite what I'm about to write): WAKE UP ALREADY! Your many accomplishments at the University of Florida were amazing. Yes, you managed to lead Denver to an NFL playoff victory a few years ago. And yes, the New York Jets fucked you over six times over last year. But you apparently couldn't cut it as a backup to Tom Brady in New England, and maybe you need to reconsider your employment future. I realize you really, really want to be an NFL quarterback ... and I respect your dreams ... but unless there's a huge paradigm shift in the league, that ain't gonna happen. Guess what - you aren't any more special than the rest of us in the grand scheme. Stop being so stubborn and realize you may need to make personal adjustments in your career choices. Like Billy Beane said (at the 1:11 mark), adapt or die ...

(4) For the record, I really like Moneyball ... which is really more of a stat geek movie than a baseball movie. Nerd heaven!

(5) Thanks, Peyton Manning. You and your seven goddamn touchdown thrown have totally fucked up my opening week of fantasy football. You couldn't wait until next week?

Weird News of the Day

From The Daily Mail: "Rihanna and Lady Gaga's bodyguard is tasered to death by police 'after breaking into neighbor's mansion naked while high on cocaine'" - Good times, yeah ...

Stupid News of the Day

From International Business Times: "NASA Joins Instagram. Get Ready For Cosmic Selfies" - Instagram has now officially jumped the shark.

Florida News of the Day

From South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Pair caught having sex at abandoned site charged with trespassing, police say" - Lord, forgive us our trespasses ... because we suspect the legal system own't!

Video of the Day

How to make a a paper Lamborghini Aventador A-E2. A whopping 202 seconds of ecstasy!