There's nothing quite so quintessentially American as a Western movie. I'm a baby boomer and I can remember Westerns for as long as I can remember. Little boys back in the day (and many today still I'm sure) spent hours pretending to be cowboys as they imitated their Western movie idols.

The thought of a strong, handsome cowboy packing a six-shooter while straddling his gallant steed is a virile image we all know and admire. I guess that's one reason Western movies, books, clothing, and music are still so popular today.

So I've enjoyed plenty of Western movies, no doubt about it, but I've always wondered about some things when I've watched them over the years. For example, in every Western movie I've ever seen, when the bad guys ride into town, the first thing they do is find the local saloon and order shots of whiskey.

Now whiskey is a wonderful thing — in moderation of course — but if I'd come into a place all dusty, dirty, and dry like those banditos, the first thing I'd do is order three big glasses of water to rehydrate myself. I know Sports Nutrition wasn't a big thing in the time period of the Western movies, but humans are humans. Who wouldn't want a big glass of water after being out in the boonies with the rolling tumbleweeds all day before having that first glass of hooch? Never could figure that one out.

Then, of course, as they start drinking more and more, the guys in all the Westerns get all loosey goosey and want to have a good old time. That's when the music and the women come into the picture.

There always seems to be a guy just waiting at a piano to play some honky-tonk at a moment’s notice. I guess being there were no stereos back then they'd like you to think the piano player was a fixture in the saloons and bars, always available to get the cowboys drinking and spending their money.

I wonder if it really was like that. You'd think if you could play that well you'd open a piano studio where you could give lessons in peace and not have to worry about getting shot or punched out. Seems obvious to me, though I suppose the tips in the saloon would be pretty good — if you could live long enough to spend them.

Then you had the women. Without fail, every saloon in these movies featured the most beautiful women all dolled-up in the fanciest dresses you could imagine, with big hair, makeup, the whole bit.

What always killed me about that is you'd look at the towns these saloons or bars were in, and they were the most rundown, depressing, dirt-filled Podunks you could ever imagine. So how then did these ladies get all dolled-up all the time?

Was there a Macy's or a Kohl's or a Filene's around the corner behind the blacksmith's shop? Was there a hair stylist or beautician shop there as well? I know there was always a Sears catalog where you could order anything, so the fine duds could have come from there.

And maybe there was a gal or guy in town who could really do up the hair and makeup. But it always struck me that in these miserable, depressing places, women could achieve such levels of beauty and style that would still be admired today.

I know, I know, it's a movie and it's really just a story, but I like things that are somewhat based on truth or history. The more believable the better. That's why I never liked time-travel stories. If time travel were possible, wouldn't it have happened already? Yes, it's not easy being a fact-based party-pooper all the time but that’s my lot in life so be it.

A Western movie wouldn't be complete without plenty of horses. Now I bet on horses for many years, and that's really the extent of my knowledge about them, but it sure seems to me horses had it pretty rough in these movies.

When they weren't getting shot at, they were expected to run at top speed for hours and hours in the dusty desert heat. I know horses are big and tough, but I can't imagine that's a good way to treat them.

Every now and then, you'd see a horse drinking out of a wooden trough in a Western movie, usually in front of the saloon, but I don't think I ever saw a horse eat in one of these movies. You'd think horses, being that they were serving as primary transportation back then, would have been treated better (and I'm sure in real life they were).

Another staple of Westerns is the macho cowboy, say Clint Eastwood, riding around with a little unlit cigar in his mouth. Now Clint can do whatever he wants, whether in the movies or real life, but I know when I'm lucky enough to obtain a fine cigar it's either in my humidor or it's giving me a relaxing smoke. No way I'm just walking around with it unlit, just poking out of my mouth. That would be like having an icy cold drink on a hot day and not being able to enjoy it. What’s the point?

Of course, you can't talk about Westerns without talking about guns, a timely topic even today. I've never owned a gun but I've shot them, and I know they have recoil, yet, in all the gun battles in these movies, they are fired willy-nilly like they're water pistols. A gun, of course, is a precision-machined instrument, yet you rarely if ever see guns misfire or get cleaned in these movies, despite the dusty and dirty conditions.

Finally everyone in these movies shoots like there's no tomorrow, yet isn't it common sense that you'd only have a finite supply of ammunition? There's only so much ammo you could carry. If I were ever in a gun battle, I'd make sure, as best I could, that every shot counted instead of just firing wildly. But then that wouldn't make as good of a movie, I guess.

If I'd have been a cowboy, there are several things I would have done differently. First, I'd have kept my hair in a permanent buzz cut, to keep the dirt out of it and make it easier to keep clean. There was probably no sunscreen back then, so I would have asked the lovely ladies in the saloon for some of their facial cream, to keep my face from getting all dried up and leathery in the sun.

Then I would have tried to figure out a way to make my own toothbrush and dental floss — maybe from hemp fiber — to keep my teeth looking good. I'd probably always be carrying around a gallon of water and a change of clothes too, especially underwear and socks. I mean, yuck, after being out for day after day in the sun, you must get pretty rank

And I'd tell my fellow cowboys to at least treat the Indians with respect since they were here first. Now that I think about it, I'm sure I would have made kind of a wussy cowboy, but that's just how I am.

Western movies are a time-honored American tradition. If you don't examine them too closely like I unfortunately do you can still enjoy them very much to this day.

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Here's how it starts: You finish a 5K run and they hand you a commemorative event T-shirt. Then you go to the motorcycle store and see a great new T-shirt design that you just have to have.

Soon after, there's an open house at the local hardware store where you get yet another T-shirt. Of course a popular reward for volunteering for anything is a T-shirt. The next thing you know, your drawers and cabinets are so full the back or bottom is ready to burst. T-shirt overload has set in.

This happened to me recently, and it was so bad I had to finally take action to cull the herd. My lovely wife let me know of a family in need due to a devastating fire.

So I sorted out all my tees and selected 50 I no longer wanted. These would go to some folks who could really use them, so that was good. Even with this many removed, I still have all my drawers, cabinets, and closet shelves full, believe it or not.

Yes, I really did have a lot of T-shirts. They seem to be attracted to me just like mosquitoes.

The funny thing is, even though I'm very selective about bringing a new tee home — I have to really like the design or organization behind it — I'm the exact opposite when deciding which ones to wear at any given time. Most often, I just reach into the drawer and grab the first one I get my hands on.

This of course leads to some awkward situations — like wearing the BMW shirt to the Harley Davidson dealer and vice-versa. But it is what it is. Heck, it's only a T-shirt.

Sometimes the sheer happenstance in my T-shirt wearing selection process is a good thing. One time I had one of my many Norton (a long-gone but sorely missed British motorcycle marque) tees on in a museum, and a guy stopped me. We had a very long and enjoyable conversation that happened only because I was wearing that shirt. So that was good.

But, after wearing my bright red “I don't need Viagra, I'm Italian” T-shirt to my kid's school open house one time, I now at least try to make sure I'm not wearing anything odd or embarrassing to certain events. I must be getting older.

T-shirts are like bumper stickers for people. For every wild and outrageous bumper sticker, there is a T-shirt to match. I like funny ones for sure, but I have no desire to say anything political or controversial on my T-shirt.

Having said that, if they can sell you a T-shirt, then they should let you wear it, not turn around and have your arrested like what happened at Crossgates Mall a few years ago. That's just ridiculous.  

My two favorite T-shirts were purchased in Manhattan many, many years ago. The first one was short-sleeved and blue, with the saying, “Frankly Scallop, I don't give a Clam” on the front. At the time, I just found that so funny and clever, I had to have it. I wore that thing for a long time but I don't know whatever happened to it.

The other one was a long-sleeved ZZ Top concert tee that I bought on the street outside of Madison Square Garden after one of ZZ Top’s concerts. I wore that thing until it was literally a rag, and I still use parts of it to polish my bikes and cars. I really loved that one.

I've gone to a lot of quilt shops with my wife. She does some quilting when she has time, and it's fun to look at the often exquisite designs skilled quilters can produce. We've been in stores and shops where you have to put on white gloves before they'll even let you look at them.

What I'd like to do is have my wife take some of my favorite old T-shirts and make some really nice quilts out of them. She could do one on motorcycles, one on music, etc. I doubt she'll have time any time soon to even start one but it's nice to dream about.

As I get older, I don't wear T-shirts as much as I used to (which was all the time). These days, I prefer flannel shirts with pockets in the front. Those pockets are so handy for eyeglasses, Lotto tickets, etc., and I like having sleeves much of the time as well.

Still, if I go to an event or shop and see a new T-shirt I like I'll often buy it out of force of habit. Some of them are really nice, like ones with exploded views of engines and things like that. I can't resist those.

I've seen places on the Internet where you can get T-shirts made up in bulk for as little as $2 to $3 per shirt. That is so cheap that, if I were a small-business owner, I'd get a ton of them made up and just give them away. What better way to spend your advertising dollars?

People love anything free and that T-shirt you just gave away can give you free advertising all over the country and even the world. I know for a fact I've learned about new shops, products, and places to go from reading other peoples T-shirts. What a great way to advertise.

The only thing I don't love about T-shirts is how fast they tend to accumulate. Maybe I should practice my woodworking skills and build another cabinet or put up more shelves to hold the new ones. That's always fun, and I can even wear a T-shirt while doing the building. Of course, I could just stop buying T-shirts, entering races, and volunteering, but what fun would that be?

 

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You might want to mark down this day somewhere, because I'm going to give you a tip that might make your life much more enjoyable. Sadly, it's nothing life changing like how to pick Lotto or how to lose weight while eating everything (I wish). But this little tip has certainly made my life immensely more enjoyable, and I'm hoping you'll enjoy it as well.

It all started when I decided that one of my life's goals is to visit every major city that starts with the letter T. Why T you ask?

Well T is a very cool letter — just a simple horizontal and vertical line. That's good enough for me.

So I started my quest by going to Toronto and thoroughly enjoying it. Toronto is a world-class city that is vibrant, clean, and full of fun things to do. Can't wait to go back.

The next big T city I want to visit is Tokyo, which is going to be tough since I don't like to fly but I'll figure something out. From what I've read, Tokyo is another beautiful city rich in culture. Looking forward to that trip immensely.

Thinking about Tokyo got me noticing things related to Japan, including  ads in magazines for author Haruki Murakami. I read a lot and I have a reading list a mile long, but something clicked and I decided to give him a try. Good move, because he is really, really good. This is where my tip comes in.

If you've ever:

— Been in a big, crowded city yet felt totally alone;

— Had your heart broken, leading to intense, almost physical pain;

— Wondered what 16-year-old girls think about;

— Experienced a devastating loss;

— Awakened from a dream and had a hard time telling if the dream was real or not;

— Felt that women look best in a simple dress with little or no makeup;

— Had trouble finding meaning in your work;

— Felt like sitting in a deep dry well or a silo all by yourself, just to think; or

— Wondered why calculus is easier to comprehend than relationships —

then you will like reading Haruki Murakami very, very much.

Listen, this guy is the real deal. His latest book sold one million copies in its first month in Japan alone and has been translated to over 50 different languages. When it comes to good old-fashioned books in this day and age, that is just off the charts.

The thing about reading a Japanese author like Murakami is by necessity you have to read a translation. There are always tough choices translators must make — ask any Biblical scholar.

Often you're not sure if you're getting the right nuances as the author intended. In addition, one of Murakami's books was too long when it was translated, so entire chapters were omitted and others were rearranged. That's too bad for us but it is what it is and these books are still awesome.

Here are the Hiroshi Murakami books I've read so far:   

— "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage": This is his latest blockbuster, about a guy who in high school had four close friends, two guys and two girls. These five did everything together and were inseparable.

Then one day the four won't take his phone calls and start to avoid him totally, with no explanation or apparent reason. From this simple premise comes a book that deeply and exquisitely explores the vagaries of the human condition.

I found it absolutely marvelous. Now I'm not an English major or a literary critic, so I know this is kind of crude, but to me he's like a combination of Kurt Vonnegut's sharp satire and knack of pointing out the silliness of so many things, with Andy Rooney's uncanny powers for observation, along with the sheer narrative power of Ernest Hemmingway. That's pretty good for a guy you are reading through a translator, I think.

— "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle": This one is about an ordinary guy whose wife leaves for work one morning and never comes back. Along with that, we have a missing cat, clairvoyance, World War II flashbacks, and a lot of solitary dreaming and thinking.

After reading this one, I seriously thought about digging a well in my backyard to go sit in and contemplate, but our water table is too high and I'm not a very good swimmer. This is a spellbinding book with a lot of dream sequences (or are they dreams?). A great read.

— "1Q84":  This is a sprawling, very ambitious, tome over 900 pages long set in a world close to our own but with two moons. The year is 1984 (and Orwell is indeed referenced), but it's a Questionable 1984, hence "1Q84." This one has dreams and cults and religion and much more.

While it's terrific I wouldn't recommend this as your first Murakami book since it's so long and there's just so much going on. Still, the two main characters, Tengo and Aomame, are so intricately envisioned that they stayed with me for weeks after I finished the book. That's how powerful Murakami's writing is.

— "Norwegian Wood": A 17-year-old commits suicide, leaving his girlfriend and best friend to pick up the pieces. This is the most personal Murakami book I've read so far, in the sense of how deeply he explores the most intimate feelings of each character. A very emotional and beautiful work.

— "Wind/Pinball: Two Novels": An interesting way to get into Murakami very easily is this new translation of his first two novels that was just released this year. Even in these early works, you can sense the seeds of greatness.

In the introduction, he tells about being at a baseball game and realizing, literally at the crack of the bat, that he could be a writer. He also tells about starting out by writing in his very limited English, and then translating that back to Japanese. He thinks this process allowed him to find his unique writer's voice. However he found it, it's very lucky for us that he did.

I've read some reviews of Murakami's work and there's the constant comparison to Kafka because of the recurring theme of alienation in modern society. I can see that, but until he has a character wake up as a giant insect, I prefer to think of his work as uniquely his own.

What other Japanese writer has had this kind of success in the West? No matter who you compare him to, he's still a great read, and that's all that really matters to me.

There has been a book about de-cluttering by a Japanese writer on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks and weeks ("The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo), so, in that spirit I've been taking out the Murakami books from the library instead of buying them.

There is often a long wait for his books since they are popular, so when the library finally calls I get real excited, drop whatever I'm doing, and run down there. Then it's no TV or even music until I read the whole book cover to cover.

There are around a dozen Murakami books and I can't wait to get to them all. You gotta love your local library.

I wanted to pick out just one Murakami sentence from the thousands I've read at this point to give you an example of the sheer beauty of his writing, so I chose this one, from his short story "Kino": "Like dry ground welcoming the rain, he let the solitude, silence, and loneliness sink in."

That sentence just takes my breath away; simple, exquisite, and beautiful. If I could write like that, I wouldn't have to spend all day playing around with computer databases, that's for sure.

Of course, nothing is perfect in life, and I do have a couple of nits to pick with Mr. Murakami. You know how Woody Allen basically plays the same character in each of his movies?

In the several Murakami books I've read so far it seems like the narrator is just about the same guy: a simple, quite, contemplative young man thrust into some ordinary and some quite extraordinary situations.

Also, in each book the word "concrete" is used way too much, as in "Can you give me a concrete example?" or "Can you say it in a concrete manner?" I'm wondering if this is due to the translating. Despite these couple of things, Murakami's books are terrific.

Oh, one more thing — Haruki Murakami writes about people, and people like to have sex, so there are quite a few graphic and steamy scenes in these books. That doesn't bother me but if you have a thing about that don't say I didn't warn you!

It's only in there because that's what that characters call for and it adds to the stories in a good way. In fact, his female characters are so alluring that, if I ever got to meet the somewhat reclusive author, one of the first things I'd ask him is which one of them he'd date if he could.

So there's your tip. If you're looking for a good read (and why wouldn't you be?) try Haruki Murakami. You won't be disappointed.

— Photo by Frank L. Palmeri

BJ: Frank L. Palmeri named his truck both for the official Ford color, "Blue Jeans," and also for "Borrow me, you must be Joking.”

Well, I went and did what I said I never would. In doing my part to keep the economic recovery going, I bought a brand new pickup truck to replace my unfortunate mini-van that got hit by lightning.

The thing is, no one ever wants to borrow your mini-van, but, now that I'm once again a guy with a truck, we'll have to see how good my diplomatic skills are (because I'm not letting anyone borrow my truck; you heard it here first).

So why did I purchase a truck when there are so many other types of vehicles out there? Well, as you know if you are a truck owner and as you can imagine if you're not, having a big open box to haul stuff around in can be incredibly handy at times. I like to work with wood and buy quite a bit of sheet goods and dimensional lumber

Having that big bed to slide these unwieldy pieces into is just so convenient; no need to even hook up the trailer. Gotta love that.

When I was a kid, I always looked forward to the annual Lionel Toy Trains catalogue. This glossy book was manna from heaven for little boys, and I'd drool over the many different trains, sets, and accessories, even though I could barely afford any of it.

It's kind of like that with trucks. Before settling on a 2015 Ford F150, I visited many dealers and picked up all the fancy brochures and catalogues. The people writing this stuff must have grown up with Lionel like me because they really know how to keep you drooling and entice you to spend a lot more money than you really want to.

Let's take Ford, for example, since that's what I wound up buying. The F150, which happens to be the number-one selling vehicle in this country for 37 years in a row, comes in five trim levels — XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum.

Each trim level is about $5,000 more than the next, with a top-of-the-line Platinum costing around $70,000. That's a lot of Benjamins, my friends, especially for something that will only depreciate over time.

The insidious thing they do is put one or two things in the next-up trim level that you really want but don't want to spring that huge $5,000 premium for. It's like they're dangling candy in front of a little kid.

I went with the XLT, which is the most I've ever spent on anything in my life except for my house. The next trim level up, the Lariat, has many things I would have liked, but not enough to open up the checkbook even further.

A few of those things I can add myself, which is a savings, but some of them — an automatic full-time 4x4 mode, most notably — can't be easily added. Oh well, it's nice to have something to look forward to "someday."

This 2015 Ford F150 is really an amazing piece of technology in three big ways, which is why I went with it. First, the body is made of aluminum, a first for this kind of vehicle, resulting in a weight savings depending on options of as much as 700 pounds. Talk about going on a diet.

Second, the 2.7 Liter EcoBoost V6 (only 164 cubic inches) puts out 325 Brake Horse Power with 375 feet per pound of torque. If you don't know what torque is, let's put it this way — the next time I cut down a tree, I won't have to rent a stump puller.

Third, in certain conditions the engine shuts off completely at a full stop, restarting instantly when you take your foot off the brake. This can be a little strange at first, but soon you're thinking why can't all vehicles be like this; what a great way to save on gas and cut down on pollution.

The small but very powerful engine in this truck can even tow 7,600 pounds, yet still gets a combined 20 miles per gallon. Blending power and great gas mileage in such a large vehicle was unheard of only a few years ago, and I give Ford credit for achieving this level of performance. It's terrific to see an American company leading the way for a change, isn't it?

I can't speak as highly of the actual buying process, however. I have a friend who is a car salesman and I purchased from him, but even with his help the entire process took many hours over several visits and was quite complicated

For example, the truck I wanted was not on my friend's lot, so we had to do a "dealer trade" to get it. The good thing about dealer trades is it allows you to get the vehicle you want at the price you want; the bad thing is your new vehicle will have some miles on it when you get it and will by necessity have been driven by someone else.

I think if and when I ever buy another new vehicle, I'll try to avoid a dealer trade just to keep the transaction as simple as possible. The good news is I may have found a good part-time post-retirement job. Getting paid to drive around in brand new vehicles all day sounds like a lot of fun to me.

With the F150, you have a choice of three cab styles: Regular, Super with passenger doors that open forward, and Crew with normal passenger doors. What I wanted was a Super with the full-size eight-foot box, but my salesman advised me that this makes for a very long truck, so I went with the Super and 6.5 foot box.

With this one I can still carry motorcycles in it I choose, and full sheets of plywood and Sheetrock fit flat with the tailgate down. Even though this is not as long a vehicle as I wanted, it's still plenty long; you stick out when you park in one of those underground garages, and I won't be taking it downtown very often. I'm good at parallel parking but why bother.

The truck sits so high that you really have to grab the handle and pull yourself up to get in; however, once driving, you have a clear, unobstructed view of the road, which is nice.

Also, the days of trucks riding like trucks are over; this thing rides so smooth it's like being on air most of the time. Now I see why F150 has been number one for so long. If I were a plumber or carpenter or whatever, I'd buy one of these, ride around in style, and then write if off on my taxes. Such a deal.

Speaking of taxes, the amount of tax I paid on this new vehicle purchase is more than I've paid for most of the cars I've ever owned. Then whoever buys it from me pays tax again on it, and so on down the line until it winds up on the scrap heap.

I guess it's good that car sales do so much to fund our government, but I'm thinking that some kind of tax relief would spur sales even further. After paying this much tax, I'll never look at new high-end cars and trucks the same way again.

When I said I was doing my part to keep the economic recovery going, I wasn't kidding. Since buying "BJ" (the name comes from the official Ford color, "Blue Jeans," and also stands for "Borrow me, you must me Joking"), I've added a spray-on bed liner, a folding bed step, mud flaps, a bug deflector, floor liners, bed stake pocket hooks, and a truck-bed cover with an integrated tool box.

It's like picking out stuff from the Lionel catalog. Trucks are just big toys for big boys after all.

Unlike the mini-vans I'd been driving forever, the F150 is rear-wheel drive. This brings back memories of when I first learned to drive, when most cars were like this (yes, I'm old).

Rear-wheel drive just feels right to me. Plus, because the engine is not transverse mounted as with front-wheel drive, everything in the engine compartment is easy to get to. Changing spark plugs will be a cinch. I like that very much.

Whenever I own a pickup, there are three things I always do. The first is to get a pack of Camel cigarettes and stick it on the dash somewhere. I don't smoke cigarettes, but it just seems right to have a pack of Camels with that iconic logo in there.

The second thing I do is put on a ball cap, go to a lumberyard or home center, and drive around the parking lot in reverse. Yes, I really do this.

When I was small, I'd go to lumber yards and there'd always be guys with ball caps on driving around the lot in pickup trucks in reverse, so that's why I do it. Just like old times. Isn't it nice it takes so little to make me happy?

The third thing I do is put on the country station. Country music is about the only music I don't love, but since at least half the songs actually mention a pickup truck, it's only natural to play it, for the truck's sake if nothing else.

Speaking of country music and pickup trucks — the other day I was driving in the truck with my son-in-law, Ricky, who grew up in Houston. Ford was nice enough to throw in six months of free satellite radio, which is fantastic.

So we're driving down the road singing along with channel 60 "Outlaw Country" blasting from the seven speakers (Ford really does things right). Then Ricky turns to me and says, "It's just like we're in Texas!" Yee-ha, yippee ki-yay, howdy pardner, we're havin' big ol' fun for sure.

Now all I need are some overalls, a new fishing pole, a BB gun, and some empty beer cans to shoot. And some juicy barbecue while we're at it, why not.

If you happen to see me and BJ on the road, please give us a wave, just like I wave to the mailman as he takes my loan payment out of the mailbox each month

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My little brother has been a teacher for a very long time. Over the years, I know he's been very popular with his many students (he won Teacher of the Year twice, and his current students sent not one but two beautiful floral arrangements for my mother's wake).

He enjoys teaching and wants very much for his students to do well. That's a win-win situation. Or so I thought.

I recently found out that there is now a plethora of rate-your-teacher websites. This is where students, often anonymously, get to tell the world what they think of their teachers. You can probably imagine where this is going.

Yes, my little brother got rated, or should I say ripped, by some students. I think this stinks for a number of reasons.

It's obvious that any student will like some teachers more than others. That's just human nature. Each of us has specific personality types we feel more comfortable with than others.

The thing is, school is not a popularity contest; you're there to learn. Anything that helps with learning is a good thing.

I've had good and not-so-good teachers, and only rarely a truly bad teacher. No matter the teacher, if I put in the work, I got a good grade. It's as simple as that.

Now take this same formula and add publicly ripping some teacher you don't like. That's a bad recipe if you ask me.

Are there some bad teachers? Yes, of course, just as there are some bad car mechanics and some bad grocery baggers.

The thing we need to do is find a way to foster excellence in teaching; publicly humiliating them is not going to help them I'm sure.

Think about it: someone may rip a teacher for whatever reason, and someone else may read that and then decide to not take that teacher. Meanwhile, that teacher may be perfectly fine, and someone may have missed out on a really good experience because of some rant by a student who was dissatisfied for whatever reason.

I'm sure this happens and it, for lack of a better word, sucks.

When I go to buy something on Amazon.com, I, of course, look at the reviews. This is especially helpful when there are a lot of reviews and you have the time to read a good share of them.

Sometimes there are only a few to look at, with one being a five-star review, saying it's the greatest thing since sliced bread followed by a one-star review, saying it's garbage. That's to be expected because we all have different experiences and expectations; what works well for one person may not work well or work at all for another. Having a lot of reviews assures the good and bad will average out, like when ice skating judges throw out the high and low scores.

Now it's one thing for this to happen with a widget on sale at Amazon, but quite another when it happens to a teacher. Think about it: When you like a teacher, you're probably not going to seek out a website to say he or she is doing a good job. You just accept it and move on.

But, if you're disgruntled for whatever reason, you might want to "vent." Reading even some of this drivel can make the teacher look bad. That's not good at all.

At home I use the Linux operating system on my computer because it's fast, free, and technically on the cutting edge. Other people might struggle with learning to use something different, even if it is better (and trust me it is).

The point is, Linux, like some products on Amazon, or even a specific teacher, is not for everyone. This is fine, but ripping things or people that you don't particularly like is not fine. It's unproductive unless it's done constructively, and what I've read on the teacher-review websites is far from constructive.

The funny thing is I've visited my little brother (he lives in Wisconsin) several times, and have seen him interacting with students and faculty. He always gets a good reception.

I'd even go so far as to say he's very, very well liked in the academic community that he's been a part of for so long; he has a PhD. and has chaired his department for many years. That's why it was so jarring to see him get ripped like this.

The only thing I can figure is some folks just don't like his personal style, which is their prerogative. Again, we all have cerain personality types that we like more than others. But, if my brother is teaching correctly — and by all accounts he is and has done so for a very long time — then it's just not fair to rip him, or any teacher, simply because you don't like his style, jokes, or hair. How petty and stupid.

What are we going to have next, websites where our doctors, dentists, and plumbers get reviewed or ripped anonymously? Actually, I'm sure these already exist, but I don't bother to look for them.

When I find a professional I like, I stick with them and that's it. Any mature adult who doesn't have good professionals would be best served by asking around for good referrals, and not wasting time ripping ones they don't like as much. Note that I'm not saying to give crooks or swindlers a pass, just, if you don't "click" with someone right off the bat, let it go. I can see if you want to provide positive, constructive feedback, which we all can benefit from; that's a good thing. But, when it gets nasty and rude, you lose me every time.

I'm especially sensitive to teacher criticism because I've given many technical presentations over the years. You're up there in front of the room, looking out into a sea of eyes, and you have no idea what the background of each person is.

A lot of times, you just get blank stares, so now you're thinking, “Am I so technical that they have no idea what I'm talking about?” or, “Am I dumbing it down so much that they're bored to tears?”

It’s very hard to strike the right balance, and this is just for a 90-minute technical presentation. Compare that to a group of students with very different backgrounds, abilities, and expectations that you have to work with for an entire semester. That can't be easy.  

It takes me about an hour to write one of these columns, then another hour to go back and edit it, and then it's done. That's not much of a time investment, I know, yet overwhelmingly, when I meet one of my readers around town, I'm always flattered by how much they like my writing.

Now, I'm fully aware that there are others who may think this column is suitable for birdcage lining and nothing else, and that's fine as well. We all like different music, books, etc.

Thankfully, I'm not aware of anyone ripping me online like they did my little brother. What a waste of energy. Blowing off steam is one thing, but intentionally and anonymously ripping someone who is trying hard (teaching, writing, or whatever) is just punk.

I have no respect for it at all. Constructive criticism, yes; crude insults are just mean.

The question I ask myself is: If I were going to take a class now, would I look up the teacher on a review website? I suppose I would, just because it's there, but I can guarantee you I would ignore any rants or comments about looks or personality.

Rather, I'd look for anything constructive and try to base my decision on that. Yet I went through my whole academic life never worrying about what teacher I was getting, and, except for one, I never had any complaints. Even with that one, it was just a personality thing.

I still learned something and passed the class; it just wasn't as great an experience as it could have been. Not bad when you consider the many, many teachers I've had over the years.

 I wonder what it's like for a teacher who reads an anonymous bad review somewhere. Here he or she is trying to do more and more with fewer resources, trying to impart hard-earned knowledge, trying to have a positive impact on some young people’s lives, and then have to deal with getting ripped publicly. Ugh.

If it were I, I'd ignore it completely and let my work speak for itself. Life is too short to deal with such nonsense. I'm going to find and hug a teacher today, and you should, too.

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