Open House Tip for Elementary School Parents (Part I): How to Reduce the Odds Your Child Will Be Bullied in High School (and Middle School)

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A Surprise Gambit Leads to Victory and Yet Another Surprise – This Time for the Victor

It was the summer between second and third grade when it happened. We were visiting my parents’ friends.

They were a nice couple. About the same age as my parents. They had a couple of boys around the age of my younger brother Kenny and me.

They had a nice house. It had a covered open porch in the back. Beyond this was an expansive backyard. I remember it being much larger than our backyard. But maybe not. Things always seem a lot bigger when you’re small.

As the adults had a pleasant visit sipping cocktails and chatting on the porch that warm summer night, their boys did what little boys usually do. Chased each other in the spacious backyard. Yelled about who knows what. In addition, and this shouldn’t surprise you, the Continue Reading “Open House Tip for Elementary School Parents (Part I): How to Reduce the Odds Your Child Will Be Bullied in High School (and Middle School)”

Cuomo’s Albany Red Flags New York

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Imagine a knock on your front door in the middle of the night amid urgent screams from the other side. Half-asleep, you stretch yourself out of your comfortable bed and stumble your way to your foyer.

More awake now, you’re curious as to where all that light is coming from through the small sidelight windows that sandwich the entrance to your home. The knock at the door suddenly turns into a rapid pounding as your hands fumble around the door knob. “I’m right here!” you shout back. The bellows on the other side get only louder, and deeper.

After a moment, you can feel the lock disengage. You twist the knob and slowly begin to open the door. Perhaps a crack to see what’s going on, you tell yourself.

Only you never get the chance. The moment the bolt is released, the door bursts open and Continue Reading “Cuomo’s Albany Red Flags New York”

There’s Something Pleasantly Relaxing About a Steady Summer Rain

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What is it about a steady summer rain that so soothes the soul?

It’s a lazy summer Saturday. Tiny droplets gently pitter-patter on the skylight in the family room. Too soft to be called a “drumbeat,” it’s a beat nonetheless. A stable beat. A mesmerizing beat.

A beat the has you closing your eyes and relaxing. You snuggle a bit as you sink into the comfortably cozy couch cushions. It’s a reclining couch, triggered by a small button strategically placed within easy reach of your left arm. An electric whir compliments the soft thud of the continuing wet beat overhead as you lean back into your leisurely morning.

What is it about a steady summer rain that so soothes the soul?

You open your eyes again, but only for a moment. The dark grayness of the cloudy skies only encourages the pleasant idleness.

You snuggle once more into the cushions. Even though you softly lay within the dry indoor confines, your body feels the warmth of the summer humidity that blankets your surroundings.

You rest easy, knowing all is well…

In a far, far, distant past I recall the joys of watching the summer rain. Not a care in the world. My brother and father beside me. My mother… What was my mother doing? Probably reading. More likely worried my father would take his young boys on a muddy wet hike, leaving her to deal with the consequences.

Ha! The joke was on her. It would take another decade when, as teenagers, we’d frolic in the summer rain, splashing in backyard puddles, tempting the distant rumble of thunder.

At least then we were smart enough to wear our swim trunks. In our younger years, we were smart enough to stay out of the rain… and especially the mud.

That joy, however, never left. In our more mature versions, we continued to appreciate a good summer rain. Only now, we didn’t want too much lest the grass grow too high before we could cut it. And, worst of all possible worsts, we didn’t want it during those days-long campouts and their associated hikes through nowhere.

But, inside, within the walls of our own home, the tip-tapping of small globes of water against our windows still sends us back to those placid times. The times of carefree nothingness. When the only concern was to find that last baseball card to complete our set. Before there was school. Before there was work. Before there was the worry too familiar to adulthood.

Yet in the warm of that seasonal precipitation, all else evaporates.

What is it about a steady summer rain that so soothes the soul?

Is it the gentle pitter-patter that softly touches all around you?

It is the warm humidity that blankets your entire atmosphere?

Is it the knowledge that the rain prevents you from doing outside chores, forcing you into the cozy environs of your home?

Is it the dark grayness of the cloudy skies that encourages a pleasant idleness that has you relaxing in your favorite cushioned seat?

It matters not, for in this moment, all is tranquil. All is divine.

The Liberty of the Ad Lib

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Did you see what I did there?

“Liberty”…

“Ad Lib”…

Get it?

OK. I have to admit. It is a bit of a stretch. At least from a literal standpoint. The “lib” of “ad lib” doesn’t stand for “liberty.” It’s actually the short form of the Latin phrase ad libitum.

Ad libitum literally translates to “at one’s pleasure.” There’s no “liberty” in it at all. Our word “liberty” derives from the Latin word liber. In Latin, liber and libitum mean two different, albeit not wholly unrelated, things.

The Latin liber means “free” or “unrestricted.” You can easily see how we get “liberty” from this word. Just to confuse you – as if all the different decinations aren’t enough, the Latin liber (from the genitive of libri), also means “book” or – get this – “the inner bark of a tree,” from which we get the word “library.” But we’ll skip this branch of the Latin tree.

The Latin libitum, (the perfect passive participle of libet, which means “it is pleasing”), on the other hand, translates to “pleased” or “one’s pleasure.”

I know what you’re thinking: “Won’t you derive pleasure from being free and unrestricted? So, aren’t liber and libitum really the same thing?”

Believe me, this is the kind of question that has vexed libertarians from before our country’s founding. Indeed, the libertarian philosophy seems to have two competing heads.

The first can be traced back to 17th century England and the writings of John Locke, who has been called the Father of Liberalism. Locke’s work (primarily his Natural Rights philosophy of “life, liberty, and property”) attracted the attention of America’s Founding Fathers. You may recognize Thomas Jefferson’s adulation of Locke in the phrasing he used within the body of the Declaration of Independence (“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”). (For Founding Father aficionados, Jefferson’s change of the third item represents an homage to Aristotle.) Let’s call this the liber part of libertarianism.

The second head of libertarianism – perhaps you might refer to it as “The Dark Side” – seems to have its roots in the French Revolution. (For those with a scorecard, Thomas Paine represents a key link between the American and French Revolutions.) Many cite Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s thoughts on the intersection of morality and freedom and the springboard to the part of libertarianism that speaks to anarchism. Let’s call this the libitum part of libertarianism.

But we don’t want to judge the word libitum too harshly. After all, it’s a critical part of the phrase ad libitum, which, in turn, gave us the term “ad lib.”

And “ad lib” is a good thing.

Ad lib gives us the personal freedom that defines liberty.

But that might represent too great a leap for the casual reader. Let’s start where many of us experience ad lib to our great delight: the arts.

If you like jazz (or the Grateful Dead), then you’ve experienced the joys of ad lib. These musical journeys often allow free ranging instrumentation. While at least a single band member is tasked with keeping the tempo, one or more of the musicians have the freedom to play at their pleasure. (There you go, again. A combination of liber and libitum.)

Still, with skilled players, the average concert-goer might not recognize when the music veers from the score. There’s another stage, however, where the audience knows for sure they’re experiencing a purely unscripted event: improv theatre.

Here, comedians will ask the audience to throw out a few random nouns and verbs. The troupe then makes a coherent (and hopefully humorous) story out of those words and phrases. In this case, the audience derives pleasure (libitum) from the comic’s unrestricted use of the elements presented them (liber).

The beauty of ad lib is often captured for all to see in major cinematic releases. This requires very talented actors who are well-versed in improvisational comedy. In fact, when you place several qualified actors like this in the same movie, you have the recipe for a comedy classic… or a complete dud.

You don’t remember the duds, but you do remember the classics. I had the pleasure (libitum)to attend “An Evening with Chevy Chase” at the Kodak Center last Friday. They brought the 75-year-old comedian on the stage for an hour of, well, an old Chevy Chase. There were snippets of his wit, but, when the audience had to finish his sentences for him, well, you know, you’re free (liber) to interpret that any way you’d like.

Except for one thing. Before ol’ Chevy sauntered onto the stage, attendees laughed through a full presentation of the uncut version of the movie Caddyshack.

The comedy, an acclaimed classic, started as a completely scripted coming-of-age movie. Most of that script, however, ended up on the cutting room floor. (After filming, the first edit of the movie clocked in at 4½ hours long.) When the editors finished, what was left was mostly a series of ad lib performances by Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield. These were just too good to cut. Audiences agreed.

The final cut (a run time of only 98 minutes) features a story that was created in post-production. In a sense, these ad lib comedians represented such a powerful force that only an ad lib final edit could do it justice.

And it did.

But at a cost.

While Caddyshack boosted the careers of its well-known stars, it soured the career aspirations of its younger actors. Quite a few quit the business as a result of the anarchy that ruled the set. In fact, the movie was filmed in Florida just to avoid the watchful eyes of its Hollywood overseers. (It was pitched to the studio as Animal House on the golf course. Little did they know…)

The production set was less about making a movie and more about having a party – for some. When the set broke, half the crew didn’t want to leave while the other half couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

It’s been said freedom isn’t free. The actors who created such an iconic movie had the freedom to do so. Our cinematic canon is all the more valuable for their efforts. While not originally scripted, some of the lines have found their way into our language, etched into the culture of (at least) the generation that grew up with Caddyshack.

Yet, there was collateral damage. Most of us will never see it, and it does take a certain amount of energy to dig up evidence of this damage. And why should we? The trade-off we derive as a society for this masterpiece – how it has enriched our lives (it morphed from a coming of age story to a Marx Brothers morality tale) – makes it worthwhile.

After all, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Wow. That doesn’t sound very liberating at all. How about this:

After all, without the ad lib, you’d never be able to realize your own Cinderella Story.

The Stormy Beginning When the Erie County Fair First Waded Into The Rock and Roll Craze

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On the subject of Pat Boone. It’s really interesting. It’s so interesting I thought readers might have a fun time with it.

I found this out while researching the history of my grandfather’s pizzeria in Blasdell, New York. Specifically, I discovered this little factoid when I began reading about my grandparents various marketing efforts. One of those ventures turned into a wholly separate business. To promote their new pizzeria, they accepted an invitation to operate a pizza stand at the Erie County Fair.

The first year they were at the Fair (1956) featured the Erie County Fair’s first ever Rock and Roll concert on its first two nights (Saturday, August 18th, 1956 and Sunday August 19th, 1956). Box seats for the concert were $1.50; grandstand and front row bleacher seats were $1; and other bleacher seats were 50 cents.

Remember, Rock and Roll was a relatively new phenomenon at the time. Elvis had his first big hit in 1954 and Little Richard (“Tutti Frutti”) and Chuck Berry (“Maybellene”) had big hits in 1955. In many ways, though, 1956 was to become a breakout year for Rock and Roll. It Continue Reading “The Stormy Beginning When the Erie County Fair First Waded Into The Rock and Roll Craze”

A Salute to My Greatest (and Most Favorite) Teacher

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What’s the difference between a mentor and a teacher? Dictionary enthusiasts will quickly point out a teacher imparts broad knowledge while mentors provide advice and guidance. Teachers offer lessons you can apply generally to all aspects of life. Mentors show us how to live a very specific aspect of our lives. Teachers educate. Mentors demonstrate.

These are very universal terms. Certainly, teachers give advice and mentors instruct. Since I’ve had great teachers and great mentors (not to mention great coaches, a wholly different creature), I want to make the distinction as stark as possible.

By their very nature, it’s likely you experienced your greatest teacher as a young child. There’s a number of good reasons for this. Youth represents your most formative – your most impressionable – years. Elementary school teachers therefore occupy the greatest Continue Reading “A Salute to My Greatest (and Most Favorite) Teacher”

Was This Written 50 Years Too Early or 50 Years Too Late?

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I‘ve always been puzzled by this thought: Was I born 50 years too early or 50 years too late? This thought resurfaced this week as I rode the train back and forth to Chicago while the rest of the world dazzled itself with remembering the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

It reminds me of a skit I once did as Cubmaster for Peter’s pack. We had our meetings in the cavernous Mendon Firehall. It was always filled to capacity. Filled with boys, their parents, and their siblings.

That night I donned a pair of Buzz Lightyear “wings” (actually they were my young nephew’s and I don’t know how I fit them over my shoulders without overstretching them). After strutting a few steps with those wings, I added a Woody hat on top of my head.

Maybe one of the Toy Story movies was out that year.

In either case, I asked the pack to guess who I was. Some of the boys says “Buzz” and some said “Woody.” I said “Nope” to each guess. Then I looked up to the parents in Pack 105 and said – in a distinct John Wayne kind of voice – “Well, pilgrim, some people call me a ‘The Space Cowboy.’”

And so it has been in my life. Teetering on the precipice of “born too early” while simultaneously straddling the ledge of “born too late.” Some might view this as a Continue Reading “Was This Written 50 Years Too Early or 50 Years Too Late?”

We’ll Always Have Paris… How The Business of Sequels Destroyed America’s Youth

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They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. That may be true, but it is also the greatest impediment to progress.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain business sense to imitation – and I don’t mean outright theft of intellectual property. I’m referring to the “variation on a theme” that has become a successful marketing trope since well before Beethoven, Bach, and The Beatles.

Companies use the goodwill (and good publicity) generated by a top selling product, give it a tweak here and there, then come out with a “new” product that borrows heavily from the theme of the original. Rarely, however, does this sequel product ever reach the heights of its predecessor.

Here’s an example. Following the tremendous success of Continue Reading “We’ll Always Have Paris… How The Business of Sequels Destroyed America’s Youth”

To the Moon and Back: A Personal Retrospective

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To boldly go…
The Quest…
Man’s calling…
To boldly go…

As simple as opening the door to a strange room.

As complicated as unlocking the key to a new science.

The urge impels us all to take that first step into unchartered terrain.

Some would rather give others the initial chance.

But there comes a point when human nature drives us to follow those pioneers into a new land of innovation and invention.

That’s when we undertake The Quest.

The Quest.
To discover the undiscovered.
To explore the unexplored.
To know the unknown.

*          *          *          *          *

I wanted to write something special, something personal, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of mankind’s greatest voyage of exploration since Columbus… so far. It didn’t take me long to realize I had already written it and it had already appeared in The Sentinel. This Commentary originally appeared as “The Thrill of Beyond” in the July 20, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel to mark the 20th anniversary of America’s lunar landing. Here it is in its entirety. (Click the link in the title to see the original in text form.)

 *          *          *          *          *

*          *          *          *          *

Twenty years after the publication of this piece, the United Nations declared 2009 as “The International Year of Astronomy.” It was the 400th anniversary of the Galileo telescope. The UN invited the world to submit outreach projects to promote astronomy. They accepted my proposal: AstronomyTop100.com – the 100 greatest images and imaginations in astronomy and space exploration. Thousands of professional and amateur astronomers from all over the world (at least six out of the seven continents as well as Oceania) voted to determine the “top ten.”

In December of 2009, I hosted a live internet broadcast from the Strasenburgh Planetarium in conjunction with RIT and Yale University. I revealed to the world for the first time the top ten countdown. Apollo 11’s “Man on the Moon” was ranked mankind’s greatest achievement in astronomy and space exploration.

To cap off the broadcast and announce the world’s top pick, I read what I had written and published in The Sentinel in 1989.

Betsy Ross, Quarterback Incompletions, and the Real Secret Behind How to Communicate Successfully

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It’s July and that means training camp and double sessions aren’t far behind. This makes it a great time to offer a metaphor that may just help you be a better communicator.

How many times have you been watching a football game and see a quarterback throw a perfect spiral to… no one but an empty piece of turf? He had all day to throw, was under no pressure, and seemed incredibly self-assured as he released the ball. Despite all these things going in his favor, he completely missed the nearest receiver by more than a mile.

“Stupid quarterback,” you mumble if he’s on your team.

“Ha! Ha!” you laugh if he’s not.

No matter which colors you’re wearing that day, you might be wrong. It’s very possible Continue Reading “Betsy Ross, Quarterback Incompletions, and the Real Secret Behind How to Communicate Successfully”