A new year spurs new observations


I had a couple of personal firsts in 2007. I competed in my first triathlon, and my participation reconfirmed something I have always known. I am a terrible swimmer. Will I enter the Salty Dog in Hutchinson again this year? Probably. Will my swimming improve? Probably not much. I grew up in Goessel, and we had to travel at least 15 minutes to a pool. So, I never learned the proper way to swim.

In fact, despite my parents’ persistence in enrolling my siblings and me in lessons, we didn’t get serious about being able to survive in water until my dad bought a ski boat. He told us we couldn’t go out on the lake until we had learned to swim. Not surprisingly, we suddenly had a new focus. I was a teenager by that point.

Hillsboro kids, by contrast, learn to swim when they are wee babes. I don’t think I will ever catch up.

My other first was a maiden voyage outside the United States. My quick journey to Paris and back was a real eye-opener. I learned that Wichita does not hold a candle to France in terms of secondhand smoke. I learned that the French are not stuck up; they just don’t like to speak English. Now that their Euro is worth a buck and a half of U.S. money, they have the last laugh. At least for the moment.

How important is a strong offensive line in football? Just ask Larry Johnson or Herm Edwards of the Kansas City Chiefs. The loss of a couple of key linemen resulted in the loss of more than a couple of games—12 to be exact. That’s only 12 more than the New England Patriots suffered in the regular season.

And speaking of sports, is there a funner team to watch on the basketball court this year than the KU Jayhawks? Is there a worser word for an English teacher to use than “funner”? These guys had 10 dunks in their win over Boston College last Saturday. They have brought a positive meaning to the word “oops,” as in “alley oops.”

At the end of the semester, talk always turns to the high grading scale in the Hillsboro school system. This year was no exception. The USD 410 students can only be wrong 6 percent of the time and still earn an “A” on their report cards.

Some other schools, students point out, assign an “A” at 90 percent and above. In the competitive world of college scholarships, they argue, they are losing out.

While it may be true that a lower grade-point average could hurt a student in the short-term hunt for post-secondary cash, we teachers believe in challenging our students, and in the long run, they will be better college students.

I also believe that, at least when it comes to local institutes of higher learning, an “A” from Hillsboro means more to college recruiters. I also believe that if we lowered our standards, the same percentage of students would continue to earn top marks. The cream would still continue to rise to the top.

When it comes to the best of the home theater, the cream is blue, as in Blu-ray discs, a technology that allows for a huge increase in data storage for video.

I recently previewed a demonstration on a 1080i TV with a Blu-ray player attached. I have no idea what all this means, but I’m telling you, the picture was more real than real life. The colors are eye-popping, and so are the prices. They are still too high for me to be able to justify making the leap to high-definition television. But, the costs for entry-level sets and Blu-ray players are dropping, and the clarity of the pictures on some of these is jaw dropping.

So, what’s on tap for 2008? I am looking forward to another interesting year. Though, obviously, I don’t have much of a choice but to participate, I embrace the changes that might come our way.

Though we will likely see $4 per gallon gas sometime this year, the supplies are still plentiful. Economists will continue to try to convince us that fuel is no more expensive than it was in the 1980s when compared to our incomes. And, to some extent, that is true. I make more money per day than I did per week in 1980. Still, when gas prices sneak over $3 per gallon, I cut down on extra driving.

I doubt I will be any better at golf this summer, but I once again optimistically look forward to trying. I also plan to compete in my third Oklahoma City Marathon after taking a year off last year. I only ran half-marathons in 2007, and I felt like half as good a runner. So, I’m coming out of retirement for at least one more 26.2 miler, good Lord willing and the knees don’t give out.

I can’t wait for the trees to green out in the spring and hide the ugly scars from the ice storm of 2007. This would be a great year to cut down those elms and plant new saplings that are more resistant to the weight of winter weather. Because they take so long to grow, trees are definitely symbols of optimism.

I look ahead with anticipation of seeing how many more personal electronic gadgets a teenager can use at one time. The other day I witnessed two young men at the bowling alley using their iPods, texting on their cell phones and trying to compete on the lanes. And, they were doing OK.

Perhaps 2008 will bring a rejection by our teens of the imposition of devices on their personal spaces.

Finally, who can forget that 2008 is a presidential election year? Contrary to major media, I don’t think our leader was decided in Iowa or New Hampshire. If we permit our stores to start peddling Christmas in September, why shouldn’t we prefer to be told who is allegedly leading the race every step of the way for a full two years prior to the election?

Listen folks, there is hope that change is coming. Conservatives are sitting down with liberals. More and more pundits are talking about too much partisanship in politics. If you read the small articles and columns buried deep in the newspapers and magazines, you will sense that the political winds are changing.

And, if you need to buy some property, I have a beautiful section of swampland in Arizona….

Actually, I see evidence that there is a new attitude. I’m just not sure I will see it come to fruition in my lifetime.


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