Friday, November 30, 2012

Egocentric Sharing: Facebook and "Me"

My friend Ted's profile pic.
Facebook is kind of a paradox, if you think about it. It is a "sharing" site -- one that exists to promote "community" among online friends. That's why it should seem strange that it promotes a certain amount of ego-centrism. I'm not exempt from this; I don't think any Facebook user is. Some, however, are over the top.

This "sharing community," as I am sure I have mentioned, makes some of us automatically pretend to be movie stars. I won't get into it, but we've all seen the poses on the profile pics. It's embarrassing. (There is a rebellion against this with people who refuse to post pictures of themselves -- I do get that, but it also makes it harder for people to identify you as the same James Smith they knew in the seventh grade...)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


In one of my classes, today, we got into a discussion about the word "nerd," after having read an essay by Grant Penrod called "Anti-Intellectualism: Why We Hate Smart Kids." In the piece, the writer claims that we, as a culture, don't respect the average intellectual and that we glorify ignorance.

We did a little quick linguistic research via smart phone and discovered that the word "nerd"  first appeared in print in Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo, in 1950. There are many arguments as to the word's origins before that, though, and various college campuses and neighborhoods claim it as their own creation (there is even one theory that it came from spelling "drunk" backward, to signify someone who studies on Saturday nights instead of going to parties: "knurd."

Most people seem to agree that it was popularized by the sit-com Happy Days, as uttered repeatedly by "The Fonz."

Monday, November 26, 2012

E-books Are Not Evil and Neither Am I

Did you ever notice how people tend to connect a statement of opinion with an insult?

In accordance with many recommendations by pediatrics experts (something about impeded brain development), my wife and I didn't let our kids watch TV for their first two years on Earth. A lot of people we knew openly said that they would get work done this way: set the kids up with a video and go to work into the kitchen, or, wherever.

Recently, my wife brought up that when she would mention our choice to other parents, they would get defensive; they'd act as if she was implying that they were bad parents. I guess, in that case, we kind of were implying that -- or, at least, implying that they were making a bad choice by letting their kids watch TV. In fact, I suppose it was more than an implication. So, I sort of understand their reaction, even though I think they should have simply accepted the fact that it was a mere difference of opinion and moved on. But when it comes to their kids, people are touchy, indeed.

But what I do not understand, at all, is why, when heart-close things like kids are not involved, people take offense to other simple statements of opinion.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Internalized Einstein: Grown-ups, Kids and Time

One of the big mysteries of maturity is why or how the perception of the passage of time changes -- why time seems to go so much faster as we get older. Conjectures include biochemical brain changes and increased actual activity, often as a result of responsibility -- a greater amount of time spent working for others and not playing for ourselves. But I think it might be that we, somehow, lose the  connection that kids seem to have to Tao. Kids are so much better at just being that adults are.

"Aragorn's Quest"
Yesterday, my eight-year-old was playing a video game called Aragorn's Quest. I played it first, a year or so ago. I enjoyed it very much and I completed the entire game. He played it after me, and he finished it as well. 

Yesterday, he was playing it. "That was a pretty darned good game, wasn't it?" I said, watching.

"Yeah," he replied. "How come you don't play it anymore, Dad -- if you liked it so much?"

"I don't know." I replied. "I don't much like playing games after I have finished them -- it's not fun to me."

"Oh," he said, sounding a little perplexed by this answer.

When it comes down to it, I'm a little perplexed by it, too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How Not To Be an Ass

One doesn't become an ass. One either intrinsically is or is not an ass. Sometimes, circumstances can exacerbate one's assness, but, in order to ever become an ass, first-class, one needs to have had the propensity. In other words, you either are or are not an ass. But beware the propensity -- be aware of it before, say, you come into a lot of money.

There are those out there who will say "rich" people are asses. I say that those who act like asses always were asses, but that becoming rich simply "spread compost on the weeds to make them ranker."

For instance, there are people who drive high-end automobiles. These people, by logical extrapolation, must have a goodly amount of money. (Or, they are car thieves, but that is another post.) To drive an Bugatti does not automatically make one an ass. How one adorns that Bugatti, however, might make all the difference...

I would have taken a picture, yesternight, as I drove to rehearsal with my band, but it was dark and traffic was not conducive to photographic driving. I found myself waiting behind an Audi. The driver of this particular high-end machine had taken time to purchase a license plate frame that read: "Life is a Chardonnay." I did not make this up. This happened.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kites, Cardigans and Good Ol' F.U.

My great uncle sported a "high-and-tight" haircut and a buttoned-up collar. He was a product of Fork Union Military Academy -- which he always referred to as "good ol' F.U." I think he went to F.U. because he had been more of a behavior issue than because he had been the "military type" as a young man; he had a quick wit and a hearty smile; he was a bit impish. Family legend has it that he was stronger than the average ox, having once lifted a car off of a little girl's leg in the 1950's -- back when squat-lifting a car by its bumper was a pure-metal job three-times more miraculous than it would be today.

As kids, my sister and I would spend Friday nights at the house he shared with my grandmother in South Philadelphia; Mom worked late and Dad, for many years, had a steady gig at the legendary nightclub, Palumbo's, in town. These visits consisted of a meatball-sandwich dinner (on the greatest Italian bread in the history of the world), before my dad left for work, and, then, of all the TV we wanted and all of the M&Ms and ice cream we could cram into our maws. My sister and I would draw (and draw and draw...) and play invented games and watch ridiculous nineteen-eighties shows like the unintentionally surreal Dukes of Hazzard.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fall of the Lecture Zombies

Teaching can really be such an art. Imagine if every teacher we ever had put true creativity into their lessons -- imagine how hungry for learning we would all have been as kids.

I'm taking class right now with a fine education professor. He's a diminutive chap who dresses up in a suit and tie for each session and who moves around the room with constant energy. Though his approach is sometimes old-fashioned, one can see how he must have inspired the fifth-graders he used to teach.

From The Wall: Pink Floyd
Tonight, he opened class by asking us a question regarding Socratic method -- something from our notes the previous class. That's my thing, you know, so my hand went straight up with out a glance at my notebook. He pointed at me: "Not you," he said.

I was taken aback. Was this a compliment? Was he tired of my answering questions? Did he just not like the cut of my jib? Was there something caught between my teeth?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Texas "Secession": The Most Inappropriate Protest in American History?

Secession, eh?

I get it. It is a statement, right? Great. People in Texas don't like President Obama. It will never become reality, for really real. I get it.

No joke.
But, you know, a while ago, I made a joke on someone's Facebook thread about Lincoln's assassination. I thought it was harmless -- a remark about him faring badly on a night at the theater. Well, my friend's friend (someone I did not know) flipped out about my not showing respect for the man who is arguably our greatest-ever president. The thing is, I have always had tremendous respect for Lincoln.

At first, my reaction was: This guy is over the top. He's crazy. How could he flip out like this? Lincoln has been dead for so long... I even "rode" him a little for being ridiculous, for a few lines.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Building Wings

"Stand at the top of the cliff and jump off and build your wings on the way down." Ray Bradbury
I love Ray Bradbury, not just as a writer, but for the guy that he was. To me, he was one of the few people in the world that I deem worthy of the phrase "personal hero." I have made that clear here on this very blog. Also, I love the quotation I have typed above. I really do love it. But it bothers me -- aches a little on the fringe of my mind, the way the sense of a mostly-forgotten, unfulfilled obligation does.

Ray, as you can see if you care to watch the video I have embedded below, was a big proponent of  doing one's own thing -- of choosing one's own direction and sticking to it, no matter what anyone says; of, as you can see, jumping off of the cliff and worrying about the consequences and strategies later. This is very Romantic and very poetic and very Bradbury, but I have to wonder: would he have been giving this advice if the world had not embraced him over the span of his long and illustrious career?

You only really hear the big successes saying things like this, don't you? For the rest of us, it is more complicated than that, really. How many others jumped and then started cobbling their wings together and didn't get the job done before they exploded into a red star-burst on the rocks below.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Conquest of Ignorance (A Parable)

The majestic ship, Understanding, left the port of Then. Her flags flew high and bright, snapping crisp, aloft. Her prow pointed true and straight and the Infinite Captains steered her in whatever directions they fancied, on a quest for facts and knowledge.

Understanding trekked the dark sea, foam exploding, impossibly white in the sun, around her great, timber breast; sails full-bellied but always hungry for more speed and for greater distance, driving onward, arrow-focused on her destination. 

After much time had passed, she reached the shore of Now. A captain stood up and proudly announced to all who could hear: We have arrived!

There were cheers everywhere. There was pride as thick as peanut butter gooping up in the throats of everyone alive. 

Understanding was quickly tied to the dock and made into a museum, with a restaurant and a gift shop and restrooms with baby-changing stations.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Two Lazy Passions

Did you ever have a problem (or tendency) and wonder whether it is a significant weirdness on your part or if it is, in the end, quite common?

I never read much as a little kid. In fact, I barely read at all. My parents once requested a conference with my third grade teacher because of this. I mean, I could read -- even scored well on comprehension and interpretation tests -- but I just wouldn't. The teacher said, quite prophetically, "I think this boy is going to be a reader -- don't push him -- you might kill his enthusiasm. He'll read when he is ready." Well, a hundreds of books and a bachelor's and master's in literature later, I'd have to say she got it right.

I do remember two "pre-reader" experiences with books inspire my opening question, here. Once, when I was sick in bed, my mom bought me a book called The Black Stallion. (Kid meets horse; kid becomes a jockey; horse wins all kinds of races; kid and horse solve mystery -- that kind of thing.) I read the whole thing in a few days. I loved it, beginning to end. When I was well, I bought the second book: The Black Stallion and Satan. (Satan was a horse, not the Lord of Eternal Darkness.)

I put off reading that book for months. I wanted to read it. I was well-aware that I loved to read. But -- it just seemed like so much work to read a book... Eventually, I read it and I enjoyed the heck out of it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Strange Case of the Mexican Reds

The other day I was eating lunch and watching one of the original Star Trek episodes: "The Man Trap." In a rather incidental scene, Lt. Uhura, the communications officer, tells Captain Kirk that she has a message from Captain Dominguez, from another starship. She informs Kirk that Dominguez is complaining that he awaits the delivery of some urgent supplies that Enterprise is carrying.

Kirk responds, smiling wryly: "Tell José he'll get his chili-peppers when we get there. Tell him they are prime Mexican Reds -- I picked them myself."

Once again, I found myself high-stepping through the bog of political correctness. My uh-oh alarm went off. I found myself thinking: "Boy, they would never get away with that line today." Then, I thought, why the heck not?

Left to right: apple pie, plomeek soup, okrashka,
"soul food," a good steak, sushi and bannocks.

Everyone knows the original Star Trek series had an agenda, especially when it came to depicting a future with racial equality. The show even boasts the first interracial kiss ever on television.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why We're Doomed (Unless We Learn to Find our Inner Teenager)

Some have accused me of being pessimistic when it comes to evaluating humankind's potential to fix its historically persistent problems. They're right. I am.

This morning, I heard a news report from one of Mitt Romney's speaking engagements. A (Republican) woman being interviewed criticized Governor Chris Christie (a Republican) of New Jersey of being "too effusive" in his praise of President Obama's help with the storm crisis in New Jersey. She feared it would go against Mitt Romney's chances of being elected.

Am I going insane, or is this as absurd as it sounds?

Hold on, my fine Democrat readers. Before you clap me on the back for exposing Republican stupidity (a stupidity that does apply to a lot of Republicans, for sure, just as it applies to people in general) let's consider this little meme posted by a friend of mine on Facebook -- from a site that proclaims itself to be "Sick of the Slant" -- because there is no slant in the chosen pictures, of course (you can click to enlarge the picture):