Seussical the Musical, Villanova Style

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I guess there’s just something about someone with a beautiful voice sharing that talent with the world that brings me to tears.” from “I’m in Tears, Again“.

Well it happened again last night. My wife, son, aunt, and I went to see Seussical the Musical put on by the Villanova Student Musical Theater (VSMT) group.

According to its web site, VSMT is an entirely undergraduate run organization that produces at least two musicals per year. The goal of the organization is to provide students a means to unleash their theatrical abilities on the stage. Besides performing, there are also members in VSMT who simply enjoy set building, sound and lighting, or other aspects of theater. VSMT welcomes all students with the desire to express themselves creatively.

As it turned out, three of my current/former students had major parts in the play. I felt like a proud parent watching the Cat in the Hat, Horton, and the Mayor’s Wife sing their hearts out. It was also hard to reconcile what I was watching on stage with the way I usually see them, sitting in class taking notes.

In case you are not familiar with the play (I certainly wasn’t before last night), here is a blurb from Broadway Musical Home:

Horton hears a noise coming from a speck of dust on a clover and commits himself to protecting it and the Whos who live on it; Jojo, a misfit Who who “doesn’t Think normal Thinks,” struggles to find his place in the tiny Who society; Gertrude McFuzz tries to catch the attention of her love – the kind and compassionate Horton. Through mishaps and adventures, these unique characters finally find what they seek – their places in their world.

The play is an homage to Dr. Seuss’s books, cleverly weaving a variety of his books into one cohesive story. It’s a fun, upbeat play with an uplifting message.

I can’t remember which songs got to me, but I did notice a couple of times I had to wipe the tears that were sliding down my face. As noted above, there’s something about someone with a beautiful voice singing a song with a message that resonates with me.

It was made even more poignant by the fact that I knew several of the students up on the stage. Students who had put in long hours to get ready for the multiple shows they would be performing, while still balancing schoolwork, job interviews, and the myriad of other activities that make up the life of today’s college students.

It was clear from watching them perform that they absolutely loved what they were doing, While there is no external reward that any of the students receive for their performance, I am guessing the intrinsic rewards must be incredible.

I also saw a few of my students in the audience. In fact, there was one sitting right in front of us. While I was talking with him he asked me if I remembered that he had told me that I had actually taught his parents 20 plus years ago. When I said I did, he then proceeded to introduce me to them, since they were sitting right in front of us also. Talk about a small world … and clear confirmation that I am getting old. I’ll know it’s time to retire if I find out that I’ve taught the grandparents of a current student.

So thank you to the cast and crew of Seussical the Musical for sharing your time and talents with the Villanova community. It was obvious the show was well received by the audience, and I look forward to many more outstanding performances in the future.

If you want to get a little sense of the play, here is a clip of one of the more popular songs from the Broadway show. Enjoy!

The Paradox of Choice, Oreo Cookies, and Malcolm Gladwell

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In 2004, American psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote a book titled “Paradox of Choice, Why More is Less“. In the book, Schwartz argued that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. He believes that choice has made us more dissatisfied and paralyzed, not happier or freer.

Schwartz gave  an intriguing TED talk on this topic back in 2005.

What I find interesting is that 10 years later, the number of choices we have for many products and services has not decreased, as it seems Schwartz would have preferred, but has in fact exploded.

Here are some examples:

And these are just examples of the variety within one product line for each company. When you think about the numbers of cookie, toothpaste, or shampoo types across all brands, it is simply mind boggling, and could lead to paralysis by analysis.

The Onion even did a satire piece on this recently, “Pope Francis Reverses Position On Capitalism After Seeing Wide Variety Of American Oreos“.

So if Schwartz’s work shows that too much choice creates stress for the consumer, why do we continue to have more and more choices?

Malcolm Gladwell addresses this in a classic Ted talk, also from 2004.

Gladwell notes that “the great revolution in science of the last 10, 15 years is the movement from the search for universals to the understanding of variability. Now in medical science, we don’t want to know, necessarily, just how cancer works, we want to know how my cancer is different from your cancer. Genetics has opened the door to the study of human variability. (Psychophysicist) Howard Moskowitz stated, ‘This same revolution needs to happen in the world of tomato sauce’,” and he made that happen. The result is that we went from one variety of tomato sauce to the world of Ragu, where there are now 36 different sauces.

And that is what we see happening everywhere – with cookies, toothpaste, shampoo, and soda, etc.

So it appears that despite Schwartz’s belief that too much variety creates stress and unhappiness, it may actually be just the opposite.

Gladwell concludes that “in embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a surer way to true happiness.”

So excuse me while I finish this plate of S’mores Oreos; I’ll be sure to brush my teeth with Crest’s Baking Soda & Peroxide Whitening Toothpaste with Tartar Protection when I’m finished.

Thank you, Waze!

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My son Pat and I were at the amazing Pop Shop in Collingswood, NJ today where we met my niece/Pat’s cousin for lunch. It was great catching up with her, plus there’s not many places that have vegan pancakes, and these are the best pancakes, vegan or otherwise, I’ve ever had. So it was well worth the trip across the river to New Jersey.

When it was time to head home, I opened up Waze on my phone, and noticed that it was taking me off the main highway and using the back roads to get me home.

As it turned out, I couldn’t be more grateful to Waze for doing so.

I was on some roads that I am not that familiar with, and I’m not sure I could remember how to take the same route again. But what I will remember is just how beautiful a drive it was.

I was driving down roads that were lined with trees that were at their height of fall colors; I can’t imagine anywhere in New England looking any nicer. Perhaps the only thing that would have made it better is if “Fall in Philadelphia” by Hall & Oates was playing on the radio (see end of post for a video of the song set to Fall Foliage in the Philly area).

As we got closer to home, Waze had us driving past Bryn Mawr College, which is less than five minutes from our house. The campus looked beautiful, but as we drove past it struck me that despite having lived in our current house for close to 30 years, I had never been on Bryn Mawr’s campus.

So when we got home, I asked my wife if she felt like taking a walk around Bryn Mawr’s campus, and she quickly agreed to doing so.

Within two minutes of being on the campus, one of my first thoughts was one of regret. Regret that this was our first time to walk around one of the most beautiful college campuses I have ever stepped foot on. The picture at the top does not do justice to just how spectacular the campus looked.

We took our time exploring the campus, and the combination of the stone buildings and the colorful trees just brought a wonderful sense of tranquility, and gratitude for the beauty of nature. My wife and I already have a date planned for this weekend to walk around the campus again.

In addition to its beauty, I have never felt such a sense of safety and security on a college campus. If you had a daughter, Bryn Mawr seems to be the type of campus where she would be quite safe. I also noticed several bikes parked next to the dorms, and I just couldn’t imagine those bikes ever being stolen.

And like I said earlier, all of this beauty and serenity is less than five minutes from our house, and I might never have discovered it without the help of Waze.

So thank you Waze, I hope you continue to send me on the roads less traveled.

And now some Hall & Oates…

 

 

In Defense of Lego

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Danish toymaker Lego is receiving a fair amount of criticism recently for refusing to sell its blocks at a discounted rate to a Chinese artist/activist.

Lego refused to do so on the grounds that doing so would represent a political statement, something the company has always avoided.

Lego has said that Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is free to use Lego blocks in his project, it’s just that he would have to buy those blocks like everyone else, at the normal retail rate.

Critics say that by refusing to sell at a bulk rate to Chinese artist Mr. Ai, Lego was in fact making a political statement.

I just don’t see the logic of the critic’s argument.

While it is not known what type of exhibit Mr. Ai is planning with the Legos, much of his previous work has been banned in his home country due to his outspoken criticism of China’s government. In fact, last year he created a massive Lego carpet featuring portraits of prisoners of conscience from China and other countries.

I see no problem with a company wanting to be apolitical, and perhaps it’s best that companies do remain politically neutral.

If Lego had agreed to sell to Mr. Ai at a discounted rate,  one could quite reasonably argue that the company was implicitly endorsing his political commentary by supporting his efforts through special pricing of its products. In effect, it would be making a political donation.

If Lego wanted to express its disagreement with Mr. Ai’s work, then it could have commented publicly that Lego did not want to be associated with his works, and would prefer that Mr. Ai no longer use its products.

Lego appears to be uninterested in either scenario, since its company policy is to not get involved in such politics.

So to me, that just left one solution for Lego. Don’t allow the discounted pricing (which would be an implicit endorsement), but also do not ask him to stop using Legos (which would be an implicit disagreement with his work). In other words, stay out of the situation.

This is exactly what Lego did, while also stating that Mr. Ai was free to buy Lego bricks and use them as he sees fit.

Here’s another way of looking at it.

What if Hillary Clinton’s campaign started building Lego models that made fun of Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border, and prominently displayed these at her campaign stops around the country. If Clinton’s campaign then approached Lego and asked for a discount on acquiring more bricks, giving such a discount, to me, would be an implicit endorsement of those Lego models. At the same time, if Lego released a press statement asking the Clinton campaign to stop using its blocks, that could then be viewed as anti-Clinton.

So what should Lego do in this case if it wants to remain neutral? Simply stay out of the fight.

That’s what it did with Mr. Ai, and I applaud Lego’s decision.

This does not mean I am against what Mr. Ai is doing; if anything, I am a supporter of his work and what he is trying to accomplish. I just don’t think he has the right to try and force someone, or some company, to support his work. I think it’s fine for an individual to be political, but it’s better when companies remain apolitical.

So I wish both Lego and Mr. Ai success, by continuing to focus on what each of you do best.

Meat Is Linked to Higher Cancer Risk, World Health Organization Report Finds

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The odds are quite high that you’ve heard about this report which came out yesterday, so I’m not going to discuss the contents of the report here. There are several places where you can read about, such as the New York Times and the Wall Street JournalIf you would like to go the original source of the report, here is the link to the Lancet web site (to read the full report requires you to register, but it is free.)

What I would like to highlight is the reaction of the meat industry.

The report comes from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), and involved the work of 22 scientists from ten countries. According to the Wall Street Journal, the IARC is considered an authority in evaluating evidence on cancer causation. While some may claim that the IARC and/or WHO may have a biased agenda that led to such a report, such a claim seems almost fantastical.

However, it seems clear to me that the groups protesting the findings have a clear bias. Just look at the names of some of the groups that have spoken out against the IARC report::

  • North American Meat Institute
  • National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
  • National Pork Board
  • Iowa Bacon Board
  • Northwest Food Processors Association
  • Oregon Cattlemen’s Association
  • British Meat Advisory Panel

And what are these groups saying about the report?

They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome.”

Cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods.”

When people cut back on a food they don’t necessarily replace it with broccoli.” (are you serious, that’s part of your argument in support of eating red meat?!)

We’re calling this a majority opinion as opposed to a consensus or unanimous opinion.” (again, that’s the best you can do?).

Do you think these groups have a vested interest in trying to discredit the findings of this report?

Of course they do, which to me immediately discredits their opinions.

In my mind, case closed.

Go vegan.

The Power of Parents

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This is the 31st in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.


Last month we ran a pledge for students to sign and said it would be a great day for America if every one of our students signed it. It would be an even better day if every parent signed this one.

PARENT’S PLEDGE

  1. I want my child to have the best possible education and I realize that strong school systems are essential.
  2. I will provide a home environment that will encourage my child to learn.
  3. I will help my child build a small but meaningful home library.
  4. I will insist that all homework assignments are done each night.
  5. I will discuss at dinnertime what my child has learned at school each day.
  6. I will include stimulating books among the presents I give my child.
  7. I will review newspaper stories and TV newscasts with my child and discuss how the news may affect our lives.
  8. I will meet regularly with my child’s teachers.
  9. I will remind my child of the necessity of discipline in the classroom – especially self-discipline.
  10. I will help my child appreciate and enjoy the excitement and the thrill of an inquiring mind.

Parent (signed with love and responsibility) __________________________________

Child (signed with love and appreciation) _____________________________________

Teacher (signed with great expectations) ______________________________________


First, here is the link to the student pledge that is referred to at the beginning of the ad, which I wrote about last week.

I had noted at the time that I thought the student pledge could be applied to anybody, since it was essentially a guide to how to live a good life.

The pledge above is more specific, focusing on the critical role that parents play in their child’s education.

But what about once all of your children are finished with school? Can you rip up the pledge at that point?

I don’t think you’re off the hook that easily; I’m a big believer in the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Even if your own kids are out of school, there’s a good chance that you have nieces, nephews, grandchildren, or kids in your neighborhood who would benefit from the surprise gift of a book, asking their opinion about the upcoming presidential election, a random question about multiplication (my favorite!), or a simple word of encouragement.

And if none of those ideas appeal to you, there’s always my favorite charity, DonorsChoose.org.

I’ve written about DonorsChoose.org before – actually twice, but in case you are not familiar with it, here is a brief blurb from its web site:

DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone to help students in need. Public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on our site, and you can give any amount to the project that most inspires you.

When a project reaches its funding goal, we ship the materials to the school. You’ll get photos of the project taking place, a letter from the teacher, and insight into how every dollar was spent. Give over $50 and you’ll also receive hand-written thank-yous from the students.

My favorite part about the whole process is the hand-written thank-you notes from the students; reading them makes you feel like you are making a difference in the lives of those children. So I encourage you to check it out; there is likely a school near you that could use your donation, and you never know what the lasting impact of such a gift might be.

 

 

Live from the Tower Theater: It’s Sebastian Maniscalco!

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Last night, my wife, son, and I hopped on the Norristown High Speed Line (part of Philly’s public transit system) and 15 minutes later we were walking into the venerable Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA.

The reason for the journey was to see the hilarious, high-energy comedian Sebastian Maniscaclo. I’ve written about Sebastian before, proclaiming him as my favorite comedian, but last night was our first chance to see him love, and he did not disappoint.

I thought I would know most of his routine, since I’ve watched both his TV specials, What’s Wrong With People?“ and “Aren’t You Embarrassed?”. However, that was not the case, as the vast majority of his show was new material, with a few of his classic bits mixed in.

There was also an opening act, local comedian Pat House, who we all agreed was quite funny and whose lines we were repeating on our ride home. Here’s an older clip of Pat doing his standup routine:

Once Pat had warmed up the audience, it was time for Sebastian to take the stage, and he had the 3,000 members of the audience laughing out loud in less than 10 seconds. He then continued to do so for the next 90 minutes.

In many ways I consider comedians the ultimate entertainer. To take an empty stage all by yourself with nothing more than a mike, and to then get the audience to laugh at your jokes takes equal amounts of talent, confidence, and hard work.

When Sebastian thanked the audience at the end of his show, we were amazed that 90 minutes had flown by, and that he was just as energetic at the end as he was at the start, especially since he incorporates a decent amount of physical humor into his act. He also noted that he was willing to stay afterwards and get his photo with every single person that wanted to – that’s dedication to your fans.

So thank you Sebastian and Pat for sharing your talents, I wish you continued success.

By the way, Sebastian will be featured on an upcoming episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld.

My first post about Sebastian had a few clips of his routine, here are a couple more. Enjoy!

*photo at top is of the Tower Theater stage, 30 minutes before show time

 

What a Day to be a Tech Titan

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The word billion seems to figure prominently in my writings this week.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the 10 music videos that have accumulated more than one billion views on YouTube, and today I’m writing about the incredible increase in wealth that many tech titans experienced yesterday as a result of a rally in the market for tech stocks.

In case you haven’t heard about this, here’s a breakdown of how much the wealth of the following individuals increased in just one day (yesterday):

  • Jeff Bezos, Amazon – $2.9 billion
  • Sergey Brin, Google (Alphabet) – $2.4 billion
  • Larry Page, Google (Alphabet) – $2.5 billion
  • Steve Ballmer, Microsoft – $1.6 billion
  • Bill Gates, Microsoft – $1.1 billion
  • Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook – $1.1 billion

Jeff Bezos is now the third richest American, behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

The boon in tech stocks yesterday also means that five of the largest firms by market capitalization are now tech firms – Apple (1), Alphabet/Google (2), Microsoft (3), Facebook (7), and Amazon (8).

So yesterday was a good day to be part of the tech sector, particularly if you were lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of one these firms, or even better, if you were the one that started such a firm.

Villanova Students Lead Protest Against Arming Campus Police

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Earlier this week I wrote about the decision made by Villanova University to create an armed police force on campus.

As you might expect, such a decision invoked strong opinions on each side of the issue, and it did not take long to find out what those opinions were.

Several students who were against the decision planned a protest, which took place today. Numbering about 150 students, the protest started off with a prayer on the steps of the church (this is a Catholic University after all), followed by a silent march across campus.

Several of the protesters were interviewed afterwards.

One student was quoted as saying, “”I think it’s a response in fear, I don’t think guns are a solution to guns, and I don’t think it aligns with the Catholic values of this university.”

Other students seemed to be concerned about the lack of transparency and lack of student input into the decision making process, and were asking that the decision be reversed. They also asked for a meeting with the administration to discuss the issue.

To be fair, I should point out that not everyone is against the decision to arm the public safety officers. I have heard from a few faculty, and students, who believe that such a move will lead to a safer campus.

What I found most interesting while watching the news coverage of the event (see the end of this blog for the video) was that one of the people marching was a priest, a member of the Theology department. I say interesting because the decision to create the armed police force was ultimately made by the President of the University, who is also a priest.

When interviewed, the protesting priest said, “Rather than offer the principles of the NRA – more guns, less violence – we need to affirm the Catholic principles of peace and justice”, and he believed that the decision-making process was “rigged,” and that the conclusions of a two-year task force that studied the issue were kept secret.

Beyond the fact that the protest march took place, what I liked most about it was the fact that the students were willing to stand up for something they believed in, and did so in a peaceful manner.

It was great seeing the idealism of youth in action; they haven’t yet, and hopefully never will, become cynical.

So who knows what the outcome of their protest will be.

Perhaps they will find out that speaking out can lead to changes.

Or perhaps they will learn that despite your best efforts, you don’t always get what you want.

Either way, it’s a lesson learned, and that’s what college is all about.

So I applaud those who protested, and encourage you to keep standing up for your convictions.

YouTube’s One Billion Views Club

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I was watching a YouTube video the other day (for research purposes) and I noticed in the listing of videos on the right side of the screen that there was a video that had over one billion views.

So I decided to check to see if there were any other videos with that many views, and as it turns out, there are 10 such videos, and they are all music videos.

At the top of the list, as many of you may know, is Gangnam Style by Psy. In fact, the Gangnam Style video has almost twice as many views as the second most viewed music video! Another interesting fact – Taylor Swift and Katy Perry each have two videos with over one billion views.

If you would like to see the list of the members of the billion views club, along with the rest of the top 30 videos of all time, here is the link.

In case you were curious, the song I was watching while doing my research was Fireworks by Katy Perry. Since this video is not a member of the billion views club, I thought I would share the video that I saw on the right side of the screen while playing Fireworks that does have over a billion views, Roar by Katy Perry. It’s a catchy tune, and an entertaining video.

Now it’s back to doing more research…