The pithy, opinionated, and sometimes brutally frank Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke challenges average guys to live a life less ordinary and embrace classic style in the broadest sense. it's time to rise above the trite, the boring, the predictable, the mundane, the banal, and the commonplace. It's time to stop behaving like barnyard animals at the trough and leave behind the perpetually sloppy man-child aesthetic of the last two decades or so. It's time to learn once again how to present and conduct yourself like an adult with some grooming, finesse, and sophistication. And here is where you can learn how.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

August in September Style. . .

On the top half, a vintage Madras jacket by Corbin that has been in the warm weather rotation for a couple of summers. 

Well, the calendar might suggest that we have started Fall, but the mercury has climbed to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 Celsius) here in Mid-Michigan today.  Hot enough to forego my usual necktie this morning and haul out something that is normally put into storage after the Labor Day Weekend, namely the Madras jacket.  I know.  I know.  But I needed something light and airy in my ongoing efforts to avoid becoming one of the Slob Borg who prevail in 2017.  Needless to say, you don't see too many items like this jacket in real life these days, and certainly not on the typical university campus.  The same can be said of the Panama hat which topped off the ensemble.

-- Heinz-Ulrich von B.



P.S. Saturday

The unseasonably hot weather is slated to continue for another few days, so the seersucker and linen suits will make their final (?) appearances for the season early in the coming week.  Outlandish and rumpled by average standards in 2017, yes, but I'd prefer comfort and style, in a classic sense, to the alternative.   What's funny is that even very poor people in Mexico, a hot country where I have spent quite a bit of time in the last 15 years or so, manage to dress better (yet appropriately for the climate) than the vast bulk of people here in the U.S. when the mercury approaches the triple digits.  Newsflash!  A sweaty t-shirt (or similar item) sticking to your back, stomach, and armpits is not "comfortable."



On the lower half, Land's End dress chinos that have been in the wardrobe or 10+ years, a pair of cotton to-the-knee socks by Dapper Classics, and loafers by Allen Edmonds.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tuesday Morning Office Hours Style. . .






Going for a Luciano Barberra vibe this morning, complete with a genuine Panama Hat and some recently recrafted shoes by Allen Edmonds.  Several people (a few students and a dean among them) offered their compliments on my attire today.  Never necessary, but always nice to hear. 

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"Change Yourself, Change Your Business, Change the World!"

Not quite chilly enough for tweed overcoats in my neck of the woods yet, but a guy can dream, right?

Well, the fall semester (and school for The Young Master) began this last week.  That meant trips to the local barbershop for the both of us for trims prior to the start of school at the end of the week before last.  While waiting for The Young Master to finish with his haircut, I scanned the coffee table in the waiting area to see if there was anything there worth thumbing through for a few minutes.  An issue of Entrepreneur Magazine caught my eye with the headline above, and while I did not look through it, the headline got me thinking.  

My mother once said to me, when I was about 19 with rather long, poofy 1980s rocker hair, "You know, if you got your hair cut, your life would turn around."

Now, I was never a trouble-maker.  Never experimented or messed with drugs.  Got along with my parents and grandparents.  Respected their rules all of the years I lived at home.  Held down full time jobs after high school.  Put money in the bank.  Paid my bills, etc., etc.  All of the usual respectable middle of the road stuff.  I had long hair because that was the "uniform" at the time for aspiring young hard rock and heavy metal musicians (Guilty!).  

I think that what ol' Mom meant with her forthright observation, in hindsight, was that I would meet a different class of people, especially young women, and also be treated better by people who met me casually but made all kinds of assumptions about who and what I was like based on the skinny frame, big hair, and tight clothes.  You know.  Drugs, crime, and general dirtbaggishness.  

Lo and behold, once I got my rear-end in gear after several years of working a non-union supermarket job, got back in school, and decided after a year to leave the rocker persona behind and start presenting myself a bit less outlandishly than had been the case for quite a few years, I noticed something profound.  People I brushed against in daily life -- not people I knew well, mind you, just passing interactions -- reacted to and treated me a whole lot better.

The point is, instead of being belligerent (and perhaps fearful) when it comes to changing things about oneself that might very well need changing, look hard at and be a bit more frank with oneself.  Instead of expecting the rest of the world to bend to you, exercise a bit more flexibility and get with the program.  At least when it comes to presenting yourself for public consumption.  Shaving off the perpetual five-day growth, putting on something a bit nicer and more put together than those old flip-flops, grubby khakis or cargo shorts, and losing that god awful backwards baseball cap might, in turn, bring a number of new opportunities and positive changes your way, whether you anticipate them, or not.

Here is one recent, non-scientific example of what I'm talking about.  Last March, during Spring Vacation, I flew down to Mexico to visit my mother, who I had not seen by myself for about 12 years.  Since there were three different flights and about 15 hours of travel between Mid-Michigan and Merida in The Yucatan, where Mom and Stepdad have a second house, I splurged and enjoyed a rare fist class air ticket, though I mist admit to purchasing it months ahead of time to save some money.  

On travel day, I wore olive chinos with a back belt, a navy blazer, black tasseled loafers, and tucked in my shirt.  My usual travel uniform.  During each leg of the trip, I was surrounded by middle-aged traveling business men (presumably) clacking away on their laptops, texting to their home offices, and drinking too much (before lunch) although you wouldn't have known it from the way most of them were dressed. . .  as though they were on the way to clean out the garage, mow the lawn, or, at best, visit the beach on a cool day.  Between Chicago and Houston, I think there was one other man with a jacket and creased pants plus  a lovely woman with her little girl speaking Spanish.  We have noticed them before on previous flights to and from Houston.  They look like moneyed Spaniards and dress exceptionally well.  But I digress.

The interesting thing is that gate agents and the forward cabin flight attendants were very attentive and offered me all kinds of assistance, perks, and polite chitchat that they did not, in most instances, offer to my fellow travelers.  In almost every case along they way and back again at the end of my trip.  This particular experience on Delta and Aeromexio was, in our current era of generally horrendous airline travel, a delight.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But it was difficult not to notice the difference in the level kindness that I received relative to my fellow travelers, and I think some fo that might have had to do with the simple fact that I did not resemble an overstuffed bag of lawn and leaf refuse.

To paraphrase the infamous Dean Wormer from National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), "Looking perpetually like a hungover undergraduate who rolled out of bed five minutes ago is no way to go through life, son."   Like it, or not, people react differently, and very often much more favorably, to those who look more pulled together than that particular visage suggests. 

Now, you might be the most knowledgeable, interesting person around, but why hobble yourself on both personal and professional levels with a habitually sloppy appearance (to say nothing of less than desirable personal habits/behaviors)?  Improving your appearance and presentation might not change the world, but you just never know who you might happen upon around the next corner, and the doors that meeting might open up for you.  It happens.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Little Late Summer Toad Style. . .

A lovely illustration from the children's story The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame.

A pleasant little diversion this lovely, cool, and sunny mid-August morning from the ugliness of the world at home and abroad.  

Thanks to my writer and toy soldier friend in Dublin, Ireland, Conrad Kinch, for the illustration.  My sister and I enjoyed The Wind in the Willows as children during the 1970s and were given, at different times, copies of the book from Great Aunt Marnie and Great Aunt Lillian (my maternal grandfather's sisters), as well as Great, Great Aunt Polly (my maternal grandfather's aunt).  All three ladies always remembered us at Christmastime and when birthdays rolled around each year until their deaths in the 1980s and '90s.  

Weather cool enough for waistcoats and tweeds is still at least two months off, unless we have a chilly spell in September, but Mr. Badger above has got me thinking about it already.  Until then, I've got seersucker, linen, and a new moss green cotton suit by Belvest (plus a recently acquired Panama hat) that need pressing before the start of the autumn semester in two weeks.  Chino shorts, madras shorts, and dock-siders are nice during the summer, and I certainly get a lot of mileage with them, but I'm looking forward to getting dressed again in the mornings before school.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Classes for the Fall Semester Commence in Four Weeks. . .


Yesterday, August 1st, I bit the bullet and logged into my university email account after a six-week self-imposed summer moratorium.  Courses begin in four weeks on August 30th, so it seemed like the right thing to do as I crank the rusty gears back into motion following a few months of relative peace and quiet.

Among the 190+ emails sent to everyone about traffic diversions, construction on campus, very general messages to the university community from the president, the provost, etc., etc. were four or five emails that actually required my attention.  Most were from former students -- solid students -- requesting letters of support for one thing or another.  Not a problem.

Then there was an email from my chair, asking me to reply to another student from last spring, who contacted my chair in mid-July inquiring about his final grade for the course he (the student) had with me.  The student in question could have finished with a 91%.  In the end, he received a final grade of 3.0, a full point lower than the expected 4.0.  And the reason?  Excessive absences, which chipped away at this guy's eventual course grade during the final few weeks of the course.  Several students each semester run into the same problem. 

Now, before people barrage me with snippy messages about how unfair all of this is to the poor student(s), keep in mind that my courses are discussion-based.  This method of teaching has ancient roots by the way going back to the Greek philosopher Socrates at least.  The Socratic Method.  Look it up.  In any case, 20% of the overall course grade is for attendance, preparation, and meaningful participation through discussion.  These are not online courses, or open-ended non-credit courses in which students can tune in or out at will. 

Neither are my classes in dark 500-seat auditoriums where I cannot see the back of the room, cannot ascertain how many semi-warm bodies are actually present beyond the first few rows, or, of those present,  tell how many seem to be engaged.    My courses are much smaller, by comparison, consisting of between 25-50 seats.  We are in classrooms.  I can see everyone.  They can see me.  And while I use modern technology to some extent in my teaching, students still must be mentally awake as well as physically present to participate in and contribute to our discussions about gender, sexuality, race, class, and all of those other good things we cover in my courses during the 15 weeks we are together.

All of this information is presented clearly in the 14-page syllabus (14 PAGES!!!), which students have from the get-go on Day#1 of any given semester, and considerable time is spent covering all of this verbally during the first week of classes each term with reminders during the next several weeks.   Students can access the syllabus to review course policies and expectation at their convenience 24/7 since it is online.  Paper syllabi are a thing of the past, by the way, so losing the syllabus is not an excuse.  

Please note that students may, of course, miss a few days without any effect whatsoever on their course grade.  No explanations are necessary.  Exceeding that limit, though, alters the picture over time.  An example of possible consequences for one's grade is even provided in the syllabus to illustrate what can potentially happen to a student, who might otherwise finish the course with a solid grade.  This practice is neither unusual, nor cruel.  Many of my own professors when I was a student, as well as later colleagues, have had similar policies.  In sum, becoming MIA will eventually bite a student in the rear-end when absences exceed certain parameters stipulated by me, the big bad professor, one more permutation of "the man" who keeps everyone down, out, and disenfranchised.  Or so would some have you believe.

Most students each semester manage pretty well with these course policies.  They come ready to learn and eager to engage.  Or at least they attempt it and show some dilignece in the process.  The young man in question, not a freshman by the way, shot off his own two feet by missing more than the permitted number of days with no communication at the time of the absences during the semester.  What is  astounding to me is that classes ended in late April.  Final exam week concluded in early May.  This particular student waited until the middle of July to "inquire" about his final grade (to my chair no less).  Situations like this one are not unusual in the second decade of 21st century.  Another student dug a similar deep hole for herself, oddly in the same course, late last winter, missing almost half of the scheduled course meetings by Midterm in March and then denying everything when she came to ask about her attendance before Spring Break Week.  Sigh.

I don't know what it is like now in other countries, but my impression of fellow students when I studied at a large university in Norway 20+ years ago was very different.  Those young people, on the whole, were much more serious, a few years older in some instances, so more mature, more focused, more responsible generally speaking, and certainly much more independent.  Mom, Dad, and student support services of one kind or another did not interfere on their children's behalf as is the case here at home.  But maybe things have changed since I studied abroad?  

In any case, we have certainly done our utmost here in the United States, through a variety of ways, and thanks to a number of societal shifts over the last half century or so, to raise at least two generations of whiny, bed-wetting snowflakes (to borrow language from our more vehement talk radio personalities), who simply dissolve into puddles when faced with any form of opposition or unanticipated surprises.  They lack, among many other soft skills sought by employers who interview and evaluate entry-level job candidates from the so called millennial generation, emotional resilience.  I've actually read quite a bit about this issue recently if you are wondering, and it strikes me that far too many parents are crippling their children in a litany of ways by playing far too large a role in the lives of late adolescents and young adults.

Now, before anyone out there fires back with some passive-aggressive version of "It sounds like you must really hate your job!", nothing could be further from the truth.  I enjoy what I do by and large.  Most of my colleagues are pleasant individuals and do interesting work over and above their teaching commitments.  Moreover, I have many students each semester who are a joy to work with during and outside of class.  Interesting, focused, and driven young adults, who bring a great deal with them to each course.  About a third to possibly half of students at a stretch.  These personalities make the late nights, lengthy preparation for classes, and considerable time spent reading through papers and projects worth it.  

Then, there are the others, who seem to think that the world owes them something for nothing.  That because it is college, attending classes, for which they have paid and are enrolled, routinely and consistently is somehow optional and/or a grave inconvenience.  Why are students like this even clogging the system with their (sporadic) presence?  It is here that my own academic elitism and related indignation begins to seep out around the edges.  If young people are not even going to bother doing their best to learn and succeed, they ought to take their figurative ball and go home now.  Sooner rather than later.  Don't bother.  Drop out.  Live in Mom and Dad's basement until your mid-thirties.  Give your place at college or university to someone else.  There might be plenty of other young people out there who might be ready to jump at the chance for a college or university education and who might, just might hit the ground running and take every advantage that comes their way academically speaking to perform to a conscientiously high(-er) standard.  

The problem comes, I think, from the overwhelming sense of entitlement that so many people exhibit here in the U.S. now.  At some point, we became a throw-away society.  About everything.  People no longer value anything because they have never had to do without, work for, or struggle to achieve it.  The Great Depression generation, and its influence, is largely gone at this point.  Most things are accessible to most people in 2017, to the point that many take things, like a university education, completely for granted.  It has become almost as disposable as a cheaply made Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt.  Intellectual fast fashion.  After very limited use, or especially if we don't like something, we throw it away.  Or limp along half-heartedly and complain.  Vociferously.  In the mistaken belief that saying something often enough makes it true.  

We have done this to ourselves I suppose.  My own feeling is that college and university admissions ought to be more rigorous and competitive, with fewer attending in the first place.  That will never happen in the U.S. at this point for a variety of what I strongly suspect are financial "big business" reasons, among others, but I digress.   

Returning to the point at hand, it is also worth mentioning that I teach on a fairly large university campus.  If students find my specific courses less than interesting, there are plenty of other courses from which they might choose, and there is something called the Add-Drop period at the start of each new semester.  Different strokes for different folks as they say, and students are certainly free to drop my courses during the first 7-10 days or so of the term and re-register for others more in keeping with their interests and academic goals.  No problems.  No questions asked.  Not a biggie.  Few take the opportunity to do so however.

Keep in mind, where attendance and assignment deadlines are concerned, that if I am contacted by certain offices on campus about any medical or mental health issues that might arise for a student, or a sudden death in that person's family, then of course I will make reasonable accommodations.  Things like this happen, but rarely.  Most students who accrue excessive absences do so simply because they either cannot get their asses out of bed in time (although none of my classes are scheduled before 10am), or they lose track of how many course meetings they skip.  That is not, and should not be, the problem of professors, lecturers, or graduate teaching assistants on college and university campuses.  

On a related note, there has been much talk, and then some, in recent years about so called "student success," making everyone college-ready, student retention, graduation rates, and time to degree completion.  The figures are pretty depressing.  Lots of young people in the United States spend some time on a college or university campus somewhere, but only about a third to one half, depending on the study, actually graduate with a degree in hand.  The people screaming about this seem, though, in their righteous indignation, their mad dash to reform educational policy every few years, and their attempts to circumvent academic freedom and interfere with what teachers and professors do in their classrooms seem to forget something.  Ready?  Here it comes.  

The vast bulk of time and effort still must come from the students' side of the desk.  They need to pick up the ball, figuratively speaking, run with it, and simply do the work to an acceptable standard.  They must make full use of the amazing opportunity they have been given in many instances instead of throwing it away and treating a college or university education like a four- or five-year, all expenses paid (for the time being) party.  

Improving pedagogy and creating additional student support networks on two- and four-year campuses is a fine ideal, but that removes any responsibility from the students, who are, let's not forget, young adults.  They have credit cards, expendable income, cars, sex (for many), the right to vote, and the right to enlist in the armed services to kill others (legally) if necessary, as well as the right to make their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions.  If young adults enrolled in college or university make only very weak, occasional attempts, at best, to engage, how can they expect to perform any better than fair to middling in their studies or, indeed, their later lives? 

Here is the inconvenient truth that so many seem to ignore in 2017 although it stares them in the face.  Not everyone is going to earn a trophy.  Special recognition, as well as high grades, come from exceptional work that goes over and above the basic requirements.  Although being physically and mentally present in the room can help somewhat, not everyone is willing to make the necessary changes and prioritize things in their lives, nor is everyone, frankly, always able to achieve a high rate of academic success.  The theory of multiple intelligences is fine, and while many if not most of us can be taught to do many different things, assuming we buy into that thinking, you've got to come to the figurative table.  As television and newspaper advertisements for the Pennsylvania State Lottery used to intone when yours truly was a young sprat, "You've got to play to win!"  That slogan is apt when if comes to college and university students earning above average to high grades.

In any case, half-assed, careless attempts at something, causing one's own problems through inactivity, refusal to accept consequences when they occur, whining about it, and then blaming those problems on someone else ain't the way forward, ladies and gentlemen.  That kind of thing might be the current fashion, but it's certainly not classic style by any means. 

-- Heinz-Ulrich



Friday, July 28, 2017

It's High Summer at Totleigh-in-the-Wold. . .

The results of our joint efforts once we finished late this afternoon.

The Young Master and I spent the afternoon today brushing up our driveway and front walk by weeding, picking up twigs, raking, sweeping, transplanting some newly purchased plants, and finally putting up our flag and flagpole.  Almost a month after July Fourth!  Never mind.  The Grand Duchess was at work 15 minutes away on campus, so it was a good excuse for father and son to spend time together taking care of some external upkeep and getting things accomplished.  Our seven-and-a-half-year-old was extremely helpful all day. He pushed the cart at the supermarket and DIY bigbox store, and even offered to share his highly coveted Star Wars light sabre popsicles with ol' Dad once we finished, cleaned up, and stood back to admire our work before heading inside for dinner.

-- Heinz-Ulrich