Monday, April 29, 2013

Backward Ethics

I'm often struck by the backward ethics in this world.

I've written about this a few times. Usually, I see the problem in broadcast or Internet media. For instance, the other day, my son (11 years), who is deeply interested in medieval things, had clicked on the movie Braveheart. It was on one of the regular channels; one that edits films for language, nudity, etc. Still, I was a little reticent to let him watch, mostly because of the extreme violence in the film...but I hesitated. I was just about to pull the plug, when a scene started, in which William Wallace's wife is attacked by an English soldier.

I had forgotten about the nature of this scene. He attempts to rape the girl. Like a fool, I thought: Well, they will cut this short... But, no, they didn't. Why not? I guess because nothing "showed." There was no nudity. That, I presume, made it okay to show a guy holding down a girl, ripping at her clothing and licking her cheek on TV at noon on a Saturday.

As long as you can't see the human body, right? At any rate, I had to explain to my son what the guy was doing. I did my best, but it is not a situation a father wants to find himself forced into.

Imagine if we allowed natural images of the human body to be on TV and we cut depraved and violent behavior out of Saturday afternoon programming. I know -- it is crazy.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Carpenter and the Blogger

Miserable and gurgling and coughing, I was sitting in the doctor's office (again) when a man in work clothes walked in cradling his bloody hand in a plastic bag filled with paper towels. The way he carried himself, he might have just been walking in to deliver flowers or something. Coolly, at the receptionist's desk, he crooned:

"Hi. Ah...I was working down the shore, and I chopped off a big section of my finger. They told me to go to some hand center -- something affiliated with Jefferson Hospital -- and it is supposed to be near here, but I can't find it...Do you now where it is?"

The receptionist was, as they say, nonplussed. She started to stammer. She asked the woman next to her if she knew of a hand center in the area. She did not. They asked a nurse. She did not know. They took out books and typed things into computers, all the while glancing nervously at the man's bloody hand. This went on for some time. It was not unlike a scene from the Keystone Cops silent films, behind the office glass, except that the comedic action was punctuated by nervous whispers.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Conclusion

Two recent experiences have taught me this important lesson:

Some really good people are not really good at being people. We should go easy on them. It's not easy to be a balanced person. If it were, everyone would do it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Gods, Men, and Guys Who Hit Over .300

The only sport that interests me anymore is baseball. Sadly, the team I follow, the Phillies, are in a bit of a rut right now. Last night (a rare thing for me) I watched an interview with the manager, Charlie Manuel. (It's a rare thing, because, to me, there is nothing less interesting than hearing athletes or managers sum up a game by saying, "Well, we lost, because we didn't put runs on the board..." or, "We made key hits and plays tonight." Right. Got it.)

Charlie, explaining...
As I watched Charlie field the questions, I felt sorry for him. But then I thought: something has shifted. We are so arrogant. We think we can find the answers for everything.

Why did they lose? Because they lost. Baseball is a difficult game. Teams lose. Some players get hot while others go cold and then it switches. While baseball games are sometimes won by strategy, they are never won by studying the minutiae of a pitcher's delivery. A pitcher doesn't come out of a hole by changing his arm angle by .89933 of a degree. He wins by coming out of a mental place he is stuck in. And, when he comes out of it, he doesn't know why or how and he doesn't want to know. He goes with it.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Self Descriptions of the Self Critical

We're walking a line in America, now, with trends of bragging. What used to be considered arrogance is now considered "good self-esteem" in lots of cases. But I do think that it is true that most women tend to be hard on themselves, when it comes to their own appearance. The sad results, sometimes, include anorexia and even suicide.

I'm in a weird place with all of this. I tend to think one should have a little more depth than to have his or her own appearance play such a large part in his or her assessment of self-worth, but we do tend, culturally, especially to push girls into believing there is a way to look and if one doesn't fit the profile...

However, I think we, sometimes, in trying to increase self-esteem, wind up sending unhealthy messages. For instance, in order to try to fight anorexia, we tell girls it is okay to have "curves." (By the way, in this reporter's humble yet enthusiastic opinion, it most certainly is...) It's unfortunate, though, that some girls who are overweight, to unhealthy levels, have taken up the slogan for themselves.

Truth is, it is not okay to be fat. I mean, it is okay with me if you want to be fat but it's bad for your health to be fat. That's science. You're not a bad person -- but you do need to lose weight if you are obese. Self-esteem is not worth a heart-attack at 35. It would be a shame to see someone die early because she has embraced her "curviness."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rhythm and Finance: Fears of a 45-year-old Drummer

The other day, I played a short video for my class. The purpose was to teach them to be analytical, even without the vocabulary they need to do a truly thorough analysis. I played a clip from a live concert of a drummer doing a solo. Their job, in writing, was to tell me why what makes him a good drummer, as best they could, without the technical knowledge of drumming that would aid them otherwise.

As I was watching this guy play -- this guy who had dedicated a life to playing drums -- I started thinking about the tug-of-war that goes on inside me and (I hope) in those like me: the feeling that there must be more to a life than just doing the job and paying the bills, but that a life of self-indulgence is, indeed, selfish and irresponsible.

As I sat with my wife last night, with a financial adviser, all I could think was: We need to do this, but, another ten minutes of it and I will start beating my head on the table. I found myself hoping my wife understood all of it, because, at times, he sounded like the teacher from Peanuts, to me: wha-wha-wha....

Monday, April 15, 2013

Facebook's Latest Message: "We'll help you ignore your family!"

Watch this, first, s'il vous plait:
It's nothing new that writers and producers and various other media types have been trying to enlist our kids with subversion for many years. One could even argue the J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, was doing it. Now, however, we have crossed the line in to overt attempts at this sort of approach. The ad, above, shouts: "Time with family is boring. Disengage from family. Use Facebook more."

Barrie's kind of subversive thinking (don't grow up; adults are boring) was philosophical. Whether you agree with him, or not (I only agree, partially), it was an idea without an ulterior motive. He just wanted staid British society to loosen up; to recognize the importance of childhood and to hear the voices of kids. This kind of ad, however, is an overt and deliberate attempt at characterizing the family as boring and Facebook as exciting.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Between the Gray and the Lush

This particular time -- this moment of the seasons when spring is still stumbling, sleepy-eyed, out of winter's cave and becoming itself -- is the most dulled time of the year.

"Gloomy Hungarian Fate," Janos Tornyai, 1908
Winter is beautiful for the austere sharpness of its whites and blacks and grays and the elder spring is beautiful for its heavy lushness. But, in-between, there is a time of tan and muddy smoke -- of pendulum swings between chill and heat that stir up a pot of cold that spins with something stifling and humid.

I hate it, the way I hate fake, sepia-toned photography; the way I hate rusty scum on the edges of creeks that run the way sick people walk from bed to bathroom; the way I hate both wearing fogged glasses and listening recordings that sound like they were made with microphones dipped in Vaseline.

It's only ever a for a few weeks, but it feels like a short criminal sentence for the senses in a cell of dirty cotton.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Singing Praise for Tolkien

I've defended Tolkien before.

I, too, walked away from him during my jean-jacketed, moppy-haired, vampire-houred grad school days, when I thought I had outgrown his work. Tolkien's stuff was a cute memory and all -- I looked fondly back at the grandfatherly old pipe-smoker who had opened the door to literature for the music-obsessed teenager that I had once been. Now I had moved on to better things. Raymond Carver. Updike. Steinbeck. That sort of thing.

Truth is, I still love the academically-accepted literature very much. I still think Raymond Carver taught me more about writing than anyone, ever. I still find that Steinbeck (and now, Ursula LeGuin -- that's a post to come) brings me closer to the human heart than anyone ever has. But, dammit, Tolkien was a genius and his work was great on many levels.

I'm currently listening to The Silmarillion on CD (thanks to a loan from my brother-in-law). I have read it before, but it is dense. It's very much like reading the Bible -- which makes sense, because it is the bible of Tolkien's world. It can be hard to stick with. But, in listening to it in the car to and from work, I'm really tuning in to its beauty.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Heartwarming Misogyny?

Yesterday night, my wife was watching a movie called The Proposal. It is a romantic comedy with the standard formula, really. Innocuous, and, from what I can see, relatively funny. Last night I caught a scene I hadn't seen:

Sandra Bullock is in the woods; she meets Betty White (Bullock's love-interest's grandmother) who is dressed in pseudo Native American garb. White encourages Bullock to participate in a ceremonial dance and to chant. When Bullock says she doesn't know how, White encourages her to just say whatever comes to mind. Bullock goes nuts and starts doing a rap song.

I won't repeat the lyrics, because doing so would work contrary to the point I am about to make. Let it suffice to say that they were more disgusting than you could probably imagine. The question I ask myself is: Would the scene have been as funny with rap lyrics that were even remotely appropriate? I think it would have been. How is it that anyone responsible for the film decided it was a good artistic decision that cute Sandra Bullock ought to be rapping about sweaty male nether-regions (I kid you not -- and that isn't the worst of the full song, believe me) from a misogynistic lyric whose writers treat women like disposable sexual devices?

Thank goodness we have moved past
this sort of objectification. We are so much more
enlightened, now. (from Tex Avery)
Using the disgusting lyrics is just another example, to me, of adults acting like kids trying to get away with what they are able. We are becoming a society that is increasingly beginning to act as if it is made up exclusively of children -- children who don't really care much about the real kids and what they might see or hear. (But that might be another post...)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Ample Space to Breathe

Albert Bierstadt
We in the field of education are lucky, about one thing in particular: vacation time. Some think the life of a teacher is easy. No, it is not. In fact, I would argue (and have argued, I think) that the months during which we work are more intense than those of many occupations. The fact remains, however, that we do get some nice, extended stints of time off. This is good.

I've been on Easter Break (it's okay for me to say that, because I work in a Catholic school -- I recall reading once, in a piece by Dave Barry, that he found it strange that kids in public school, at holiday concerts, were only allowed to sing about the weather) and, this morning, it occurred to me what a wonderful thing it is to wake up and not have a destination to reach or a pressing thing to achieve, at least immediately.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Time to Throw Down

Yes, I am fully aware that my posts sometimes run in themes. And I am unashamed. So, here's another on on the parenthood...thing. (I do, so, try to avoid the word "parenting.")

My sons love to hit me with hypothetical situations. Bear in mind, these are the hypotheticals of a nine and eleven-year-old. I get things like: "If the house were on fire, would you save us or the dog?" Of course, when I answer that I would save all of them, I get: "But if you had to choose..." When I say I would save my sons over the dog, I usually get lambasted and then have to sit through a sermon on how ridiculous it is that everyone, including God, thinks humans are more important than animals. It's around that point that I pretend to get a phone call or something -- rather than get into the labyrinth of logic that sprouts out of the fact that I really do, in many ways, prefer animals to humans...

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Question of Convenience

quiz for twenty-first century parents (and parents-to-be):

Your child comes home for the spring break and has left a book at school -- a book that he or she needs to have finished reading by the middle of the week back from said break. You:

     a) call the principal and get him to open up the school so you can retrieve it.
     b) order the book on Amazon and pay for overnight delivery.
     c) download the book onto your wife's (yucky) Kindle.
     d) go and try to find it at the mega bookstore.
     e) let your child learn a hard (and grade-reducing) lesson about responsibility.

Which do you choose? Has parenthood changed in the culture of convenience?