Friday, September 19, 2014

All Hail the iPhone 6!

With a few key strokes, I probably just secured myself around a thousand page views today. I mentioned...IT. The iPhone 6.

iPhones are cool. I have one. Over the few years that I have had one, I have drifted away from interest in it. First, the games started to disappear. (Needed more room for music.) Then, Facebook and Twitter were removed. (Needed still more room for music, plus, I determined that my life is not nearly exciting enough for minute-by-minute updates to the world; also, I wanted to regain the valuable moments of boredom in which I once wallowed while waiting to pick up kids and going in dental waiting rooms.)

Now, my phone is, to me, a music player on which I get occasionally interrupted by a text or phone call. I admit that, for awhile, I was a bit seduced by the niftyness of the iPhone. And, yes, I have kept "Words With Friends." But, other than that...the romance is dead.

Whether the iPhone is cool or lame is irrelevant, I suppose. But one question remains: Why would anyone wait in line for one? For hours...or days? News reports this morning estimated a line two miles long at one store. I don't think so.

Saint Francis at Prayer: Caravaggio
Would it be so bad to wait a few weeks if the store were to run out? One of the people on the radio said she understand waiting in line, either. She had ordered one and it would come in the mail this week. What drives people to wait in line or even camp out overnight for something like that?

It's not entirely new. Kids of my generation slept outside for sneakers, concerts, video games. While I want, desperately, to satirize the Apple fanatics (who might as well just proclaim an Apple Pope and develop a clergy), I need to be fair: this is not the first time in history for this kind of behavior. I just don't understand -- the same way I don't understand why anyone would go to a big movie on opening night. (I have loved Tolkien since my teenaged years, but I waited until a month after the first Peter Jackson release, when the crowds and loud popcorn chewers has died down.)

Is the motivation "a sense of community"? (Excuse me while I vomit into a trash can after typing that phrase.) Or, is it deeper? If it is sheer materialism, it is bad enough. If it is competition (I got mine before you did!), it's pathetic. But...what if it is a kind of worship?

Sacrifice has always been part of religion. Now, people are sacrificing their own comfort in a quest for the technological grail. I say this with only a half-smile: one side laughing, the other grinding its molars at the societal descent into gadget worship...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Children With Armies

From Peter Brook's 1963
film adaptation of Lord of the Flies
Once, when I was teaching Lord of the Flies (a novel, if you are not familiar, about a group of young boys stranded on a desert island and left, completely without adult supervision, to build whatever society they could) I decided to try an activity, before the very first discussion.

I don't seat my students alphabetically; I let them choose their seats and then I make them stay put for subsequent classes for the sake of learning their names. This was a sophomore class and we had been in session for a few months, so they were completely familiar with the established seating, with the room and with me.

I told them all to get up and to stand at the back of the room; then, I instructed them to sit in alphabetical order.

I sat behind my desk and the questions started to roll in...

"So...Mr. Mat...uh...alphabetical across or up-and-down?"

[I shrugged and looked out the window, dramatically.]

Friday, September 12, 2014

Parenting Through Humiliation

Over the past few years, I have noticed a trend of parents applauding other parents who have humiliated their own children, on video, in order to get their kids to change behavior. Supportive observers seem to regard this as "taking control." I regard it as an ego-centric attempt to cover up the fact that those parents failed to be in control in the first place.

There's the video of the cowboy-hatted philosopher who repeatedly shoots his daughter's laptop with a 9mm handgun after he reads a letter to the world about how bad of a kid she is. I think that one started it all. (I won't link to such psychological child abuse.) There's the dad who moved his daughter's room into the driveway because she doesn't clean up. Since then, I have seen numerous videos meant to humiliate kids into behaving better. They tend to "go viral." And people tend to support it.

Many praise these parents for "being tough" with their kids. I find that disturbing beyond description. Sickening.

I find "being tough" with one's kids to be essential. I think my own children would attest to the fact that dad is no pushover when it comes to action and consequence...which is probably why I don't wind up desperate enough to go to social media for my parental mojo. I actually work, incrementally and consistently, on instructing my kids in proper behavior and by imposing consequence when they don't do what I ask. Sadly, sometimes they are not pleased with me when this happens, but...they get over it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Road Not Taken: A Lesson's Lesson

I just finished a lesson on Frost's "The Road Not Taken." I began with a clip from the movie Dead Poet's Society in which Robin Williams's character gives an erroneously one-sided reference to the poem; the one that sees the speaker's choice as one that resulted in something positive. The poem is ambiguous and to see it otherwise is to turn it into an impotent motivational poster.

Why? Because Frost wasn't stupid enough to think being different is a guarantee to happiness. We all know, from life experience, that being different can result in immense success or in doom. It all depends how the cookie crumbles.

It's like Bradbury (and I love the man deeply) saying "jump off of the cliff and build your wings on the way down." Yeah, that's great, Ray -- it's good advice because it worked for you. What about the guy who doesn't finish the wings in time because he didn't have you talent or luck?

Yeah. SPLAT!

My dad was a lifelong musician who supported a family as a player and arranger and never achieved fame. His advice was less poetic.

The problem is, reasonable advice is not as sexy as spinning around trailing ribbons and singing "follow your heart." The hard part is that when one is really, truly different, one will have reached a place in which it is not externally apparent. One has to let go of ego in order to reap the benefits of true originality. Once you brag about your difference or try to advertise it, you are just like everyone else.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I thought it over and took the one that made sense to my heart and my mind and that didn't lead to a flaming death or a slow descent into madness and starvation...

...and that had made all the difference.


Monday, September 8, 2014

A Time Warp; A Concept Stretch

Case 1: A man is cautioning another man about the next step he is thinking of taking in a battle. The advisee tells the advisor to "stop being a woman."

Case 2: A mother sees her daughter before a date. The daughter's skirt is "too short." The mother tells the daughter to change, because "it is better to present a little mystery."

Case 3: Three teenaged boys are standing on a corner in the city, cursing and making racy comments about girls. A woman is seen approaching and when she gets to the corner, the boys take off their hats and say "Good evening." When she is gone, they go back to being crude. 

Case 4: A twenty-something is working at a burger joint. He is fast and he is courteous, hoping that the boss will see his hard work and give him a raise one day. He wants to do his best, because some day he wants to have his own accounting firm and he believes hard work is the answer to realizing dreams.