Courage is a Muscle

What doesn’t kill us make us stronger

–old adage sung recently by Kelly Clarkson
Wrestling kids from movie Fighting with  my Family
Wrestling teenagers from Fighting with My Family, photo at Rolling Stone

There’s a temptation with sports movies to call them derivative, Rocky knock-offs, as if Rocky invented the concept of striving, training, working past obstacles, and succeeding. All good sports stories—and today’s blog is about two of them—reflect life, which is striving, working past obstacles, building courage, and succeeding. Then struggling again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The key element to well-made movies about athletics isn’t just about the success at the end, but about the development of character by the participants along the way. How they get there is really the story. Two films I recently watched, 2011’s Best Documentary Undefeated and the recently-released Fighting With My Family, both did an exceptional job of demonstrating how this works.

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Rewiring My Brain: Escucha y Repita

Despite five years of German and two years of French in middle school and high school, I retained none of it. I think I am not a “language person,” and I have often envied friends who seem to acquire languages like adding an extra car just because they can. Nevertheless, it’s been on my radar for years to learn Spanish. It is California; we are practically a bi-lingual state. I decided 2019 was the year to give it the full welly. I discovered ways to learn and not to learn, I started exercising parts of my brain that I didn’t know where there, and learned all about el hombre con seis dodos. Español, aquí voy!

Duolingo language app
The Duolingo free language app

How Not to Learn Spanish

This started three years ago when my daughter showed me the free Duolingo app, which purports to teach you a language five minutes a day. Since I enjoy a challenge, most of my focus has been to keep my streak going. (200 days in a row as of today). I have learned a decent amount of vocabulary, particularly about chicken with rice, fish burgers, and wine.

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Studying Works, Too

The coach of the Yale soccer team was paid $400,000 to recruit a wealthy student, who may or may not have even played soccer. The wealthy family paid the “admission coach,” Rick Singer, $1.2 million. Tidy little profit, there.

The admissions cheating sting reported by the FBI yesterday is sending ripples through the media today, notable in particular because 50 people were charged with bribery, including some TV personalities. Multiple parents, mostly in southern California, paid the consultant anywhere from tens of thousands to millions for his assistance in ensuring their children access to a handful of elite universities, including USC, Stanford, and Yale. Since, in the interests of full transparency, I happen to work as a college test preparation instructor, the story is resonating quite a bit with me. However, what strikes me the most in the Op Eds and sound bites, is the immediate focus on blaming the system, the test, and the colleges, rather than blaming the cheaters.

Rick Singer
Rick Singer, Key to the bribery scheme, photo by Steven Senne, AP

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Marlowe Palimpsest

How do you know which of your memories are genuine and which have been altered over time or even made up?”–Fandango’s Provocative Question, March 6, 2019

Thank you, blogger Fandango, for today’s provocative question. It was time for a nice little stroll down memory lane.

This is the house where I grew up, 15825 Marlowe in Detroit, Michigan. This is a picture that I pulled today from Trulia, a real estate site.

My childhood home from Trulia, 2019

It’s a curious picture because that is what the house I grew up in looked like. Except that about ten or fifteen years ago, it fell into disrepair–there was a Google photo at the time, which showed broken windows and the door hanging off the front–from which I inferred it had probably become a crack house, given the date and location in what is now a not great region of Detroit. Somewhere I sequestered a photo from that date, though can’t find it at the moment because I don’t remember where I put it. Continue reading “Marlowe Palimpsest”

We, the Juries

Jury in a movie
The jury in To Kill a Mockingbird, Universal Pictures

I was called for jury duty this week. Like clockwork, the postcard arrived in the mail just about 13 months to the day from the one that arrived last year, an unbroken chain of annual requests that stretches back for at least two decades. In the abstract, I welcome the idea that we the people participate in our civil processes to adjudicate the actions of our fellow citizens. In the concrete reality of the postcard, however, I would prefer not to.

This contrast of opposites—our desire for fairness and search for justice set against the practical realities of daily life plays itself out repeatedly—it has in history, it does today. I could not help but muse on the history of juries as I watched the drama of Congressional hearings and waited to find out if I would have to traipse down to the courtroom myself.

Trial of Socrates–Imagine the Jury Pool!

The use of juries—a group of potential peers—to weigh evidence in a trial has ancient roots but a far more restricted use and history than I realized. The word “jury” originally meant simply “to swear,” or “to pronounce a ritual formula,” an idea that ultimately transformed itself into the formula of law. This slightly differs from the origin of the word for “judge,” which meant “to speak about the law.” The Greeks used juries in one of the early recorded instances of the practice, although their juries were 300 to 500 men or more. Continue reading “We, the Juries”