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A writing exercise, capturing random thoughts and updates for family and friends.

12 December 11
2 December 11

Why I love my high school alma mater

I just returned to Washington, DC, after spending Thanksgiving in my hometown of Little Rock, Ark., catching up with family and friends and pulling my hair out in frustration as my No. 3 Razorbacks fell to No. 1 LSU Tigers.

One of my high school classmates forwarded me this editorial that appeared in the Arkansas Democrat GazetteRex Nelson is a Southern wordsmith and does a great job explaining why the majority of my high school classmates line the ranks of their wedding parties with high school classmates, as opposed to friends from college or elsewhere. 

Enter Rex Nelson:

Catholic High brotherhood

LITTLE ROCK — It was dreary on the Monday morning before Thanksgiving as I drove my youngest son to Little Rock’s Catholic High School for Boys. A pall seemed to permeate the campus that gray morning.

Those in this state who love college football had gone from the high of a Friday and Saturday when the stars seemed to align for the University of Arkansas to the tragedy of a Sunday when we heard that Razorback football player Garrett Uekman had been found dead in his room. Before the news was reported by any media outlet, my sons received text messages. Members of the Catholic High brotherhood were spreading the word.

Uekman was a proud member of that brotherhood. I didn’t attend Catholic High, but my older son graduated from there in May and his younger brother began the ninth grade there this fall. In a 1970 feature in the Arkansas Gazette, Bill Lewis wrote that Catholic High was “almost an anachronism, an institution out of its time.” More than four decades later, it remains just that. For that reason, it’s in high demand from the parents of boys of all faiths, not just Catholics.

I’ll never forget what the school’s principal, Steve Straessle, said during an orientation session my wife and I attended: “For the first month or so, your boys will be very uncomfortable here, having to wear ties, keep their hair short and all the rest. Then, for the remainder of their lives, they will be very proud of this place because it’s unlike anything else in Little Rock.”

I was touched when I read that Uekman had spoken during the Razorbacks’ game against Mississippi State at War Memorial Stadium with the Catholic High counselor, Brother Richard Sanker, who happened to be on the sidelines. The man known simply as Brother Richard is also a presence on the sidelines of Catholic High football games and regularly attends events for the school’s other athletic teams.

My sons will be the first to tell you that Brother Richard is one of the rocks who make Catholic High strong. He’s even in charge of Zeke, the 8-year-old German shepherd who can be found roaming the school’s hallways. Catholic High has a tradition of dogs roaming the halls. When the previous dog, Jonah, died in the summer of 2003, Brother Richard was in Europe. Upon his return, he made it a priority to find a German shepherd puppy.

“Zeke is a calming presence,” Brother Richard says. “He can bring a smile to the face of a boy who might be facing some difficulties.”

There are many traditions that make this school, founded in 1930 during the Great Depression, different. Bishop John Morris of the Diocese of Little Rock began the school to ensure that boys had an option for a Catholic high school education other than Subiaco Academy in Logan County. Mount St. Mary Academy, a Catholic girls’ school, had been operated in Little Rock by the Sisters of Mercy since the 1850s.

Little Rock College on Tyler Street in the Pulaski Heights neighborhood of Little Rock had fallen victim to the Great Depression. St. John’s Seminary moved from its State Street location to the closed college’s campus. The bishop decided to fill the void on State Street with the new high school. It remained there until 1961, when it moved to its present location just off University Avenue near the Park Plaza Mall.

From Sept. 3, 1966, until Dec. 10, 2000, Monsignor George Tribou was the school’s rector and principal. The street in front of the school is now named Father Tribou Street, and students entering Catholic High pass a statue of Tribou. Tribou had become a legendary figure long before his death in February 2001. He was known for such unusual disciplinary tactics as making boys caught smoking cigarettes smoke entire cigars and telling boys who slammed doors to carry doors to class on their backs. In 1999, Tribou participated in the delegation greeting the late Pope John Paul II during his visit to the United States. A photo of President Bill Clinton, the pope and Tribou was given a caption by Catholic High students that read “Father Tribou with two other guys.” Michael Rockers, who had been the Diocese of Little Rock Catholic schools superintendent, followed Tribou as principal. Four years later, Straessle, a 1988 Catholic High graduate, became principal.

In his book Proudly We Speak Your Name, Michael Moran, a 1961 Catholic High graduate who went on to teach at the school for 40 years, writes: “To those who have not known Catholic High School boys firsthand, the image of us over the last 40 or more years has been most easily characterized by our externals: We have short hair, wear khaki pants, dress shirts and ties from the September celebration of the senior ring mass until the heat of springtime, and, above all, do not have the civilizing influence of female classmates. And as far as any generalization can go to capture the reality of the school, that’s as good as any. But no one, no matter how much time he or she spends in the presence of Catholic High and its boys, can entirely capture our essence. We are too many and too varied.”

I do know this: The Catholic High brotherhood is for real. For that reason, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Uekman family requested that memorial donations be made to the Catholic High School Foundation. These are ties that bind.

—–––––

Freelance columnist Rex Nelson is the president of Arkansas’ Independent Colleges and Universities. He’s also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

24 August 11

Notes From Moscow

After playing catch-up this week, I had a chance to collect my thoughts from my recent trip to Moscow. Here we go:

Language. The most important phrase you need to know how to say is “thank you.” That goes for all international travel. The Russian phonetic spelling is “spa-SEE-ba.”

Resources. For news in English, The Moscow Times is your best source. For entertainment, read Element. Both have free print editions available at restaurants, hotel lobbies and newsstands.

Economics. I’m always interested to see what companies are successfully entering international markets and my excitement peaked upon arriving in Moscow when I heard that Goldman Sachs switched Brazil with Russia as its top investment pick among BRIC nations. Every marketing campaign has to penetrate on a cultural level. According to Moscow Times article, “Companies Teach Russians Western Ways,” Airwick air freshener is trying to convince Russians to perfume their entire house, instead of just their bathrooms. Calgonit (dishwasher tablets) is trying to liberate woman from washing dishes, so they can spend more time with their family.

Starbucks opened its first store in Moscow in September 2007 and recently celebrated the opening of its 50th store. For Americans who take smoke-free restaurants for granted, this is likely the only place you will find not filled with smoking Muscovites, and it’s not the result of some corporate mission statement over health standards. Coffee beans are porous and can suck in the smoke, affecting the taste. Starbucks takes their coffee serious. Thank you, and thanks for continuing your tradition of personalizing my order:

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All politics is local. Moscow is going through a lot of construction and refurbishing, including work on its famous Bolshoi Theater. However, the most annoying construction was the repaving of Moscow’s sidewalks, converting approximately 1.34 million square meters of asphalt to brick at a cost of 2.8 billion rubles ($100 million). Muscovites smell a scandal. Back in September 2010, President Dmitri Medvedev made headlines by firing Putin’s longtime appointed Moscow Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov for smack talking, but not before Luzhkov’s wife made billions winning city construction projects. Guess what? Newly appointed Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s wife, Irina, may be following in her predecessor’s footsteps. Apparently, she was “involved in a brick and curbing business in Tyumen while Sobyanin was governor there several years ago.” One of our tour guides explained it best, saying, “Money, money, money.”

All politics is global. You read about the U.S. creating a visa blacklist for Russian officials connected to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, and Russia recently returned the favor. At our hotel, we heard that an American woman, upon arriving in Moscow, was blocked at customs due to a simple error on her visa application. Because the dates were wrong, she was turned away and put on the next flight home (ouch). Is there a connection between the two incidents? I don’t know, but if you’re an American tourist looking for lenience on a visa error, I doubt Russian authorities are in the mood to help you.

Biggest surprise. There is an epidemic in Moscow, and it’s called PDA. There is a clear generational divide when it comes to Russians’ willingness to express their affection toward their partners. Holding hands is for amateurs. Walking down the sidewalk, Russian youth prefer to wrap their arms around each other as if even oxygen is not allowed to come between them. When you ride the metro, prepare yourself for the onslaught of face fighting. 

Biggest disappointment. Thanks to increased TV coverage during the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, the sport of curling’s popularity has grown astronomically. Thanks to an article in Element, I discovered that Moscow is home to a popular curling club called Ice Planet. Unfortunately, they were “changing the ice” until August 10. You have no idea how bad I wanted to try this.

Public transportation. Because of severe traffic congestion, the Moscow Metro is your best bet, and it’s immaculate. According to Lonely Planet, up to nine million people a day use the metro, more than the London and New York City systems combined. The wait time on the platform is minimal, but you have a few minutes to admire the amazing décor, including frescos, mosaics and statues. The system is incredibly easy to use; however, there is no English signage, so be sure to have your English-friendly metro map to translate. 

Moscow metro

Photo credit: Peter Moore

A few more pics (by me):

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11 August 11

Technology’s Role in a Birthday Celebration

The debate about technology’s impact on society continues, and I don’t see it ending any time soon. On one hand, the democratic world applauded the role of Twitter and text messaging, helping fuel the “Arab Spring” and advance the departures of presidents in Tunisia and Egypt. On the other hand, a growing field of social media researchers are making headlines pointing toward the negative effects of technology. One that really interests me focuses on transactive memory, the notion that we rely on our network of family and friends as information storage devices. For example, I refuse to memorize my Mom’s marinated green beans recipe (true story), because I know I can call her anytime and get it. What does this have to do with the technology debate? With the power of Google at your fingertips, what do you REALLY need to memorize? If you got time, here’s a recent study

I can assure you that no one will ever forget my nephew’s birthday. Lucas Austin Wilson (aka The LAW) reached the ripe age of one in July. Without a doubt, Lucas’ life is being thoroughly recorded. Here’s a list of the equipment used to document the hilariousness of this occasion:

I’ll likely be criticizing the role of technology in a future post, but today, I applaud its ability to bring people together. My family has really spread out over the years, decreasing our moments together. My parents live in Nebraska, preventing them from being there to witness their first grandchild (and my replacement) celebrate his birthday. Not to fret; I was onsite with my iPad, circling the room using Skype so they could witness and interact with everyone. My brother was doing the same with his iPhone, linking Lucas’ uncle and aunt living in Tennessee, so they could watch Lucas open his present from them (cue aww moment). Not including the phone calls and live picture sharing, technology increased the partygoers in the room from six to ten, easily doubling the amount of laughter. Steve Jobs should hire me to write Apple’s next commercial.

The Canon was a little intimidating for Lucas, but we were able to snap this closeup with the iPhone:

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Photo credit: Josh Wilson

1 July 11

Top 10 iPad 2 Apps

A friend recently purchased an iPad 2 and asked me about my favorite applications. Here is my response email (with a few edits):

  1. Pandora: To effectively use this you need to go into your settings, click GENERAL, then click AUTO-LOCK, and then change the setting to NEVER. That keeps your screen from hibernating and closing the program. Your iPad is now a little portable speaker. You’re welcome.
  2. Kindle App: Get this if you don’t already have a kindle.
  3. Evernote: This is the best note taker I have discovered. You can arrange items in folders and create tags, making everything searchable. You can also download the program to your laptop and/smartphone, synchronizing all your data. Awesome.
  4. Instapaper: Have you ever come across an article at work, but didn’t have time to read it? This app solves your problem. It creates a tab on your web browser that allows you to click “read later.” Similar to Evernote, this syncs across multiple platforms.
  5. TED: I’m a huge fan of TED speeches.
  6. Flipboard: It’s basically a personalized magazine aggregating your selected subject matter. Award-winning app.
  7. Friendly: Facebook doesn’t have an official application for the iPad. This is your best stand-in. UPDATE: Facebook launched its iPad app in October 2011.
  8. Magazines: You can download magazine apps (e.g. Time, Newsweek, Economist, etc.), but they are just purchasing platforms. A single edition download costs $5.99 (Economist), $4.99 (TIME), $2.99 (Newsweek), National Geographic ($4.99), Outside ($2.99), etc. Personally, I would rather have the actual magazine, but sometimes it’s more convenient to quickly download it. 
  9. Best Newspaper: The Wall Street Journal wins best news platform in my book, with The New York Times coming in a close second. I prefer its browsing abilities, and I enjoy the saved articles service. Subscription required.
  10. Best RSS reader: Byline is free and Reeder (slightly better) costs $4.99. Both sync with Google Reader. Pick your poison.
Themed by Hunson. Originally by Josh. Slight edits by Eric Wilson. Powered by Tumblr.