Friday, May 30, 2014

Facebook Just Wants to Listen -- Like A Good Friend Would...

Read THIS if you don't mind. It would seem Facebook wants to record the ambient noise around you through the microphone on your iPhone or Andriod phone.

Oh,'s voluntary. You can choose not to let them. No one is forcing you.

The horror ir that they are actually arrogant enough to ask and that there are those who will allow it.

I shouldn't be surprised that we live in a society in which anyone would choose to allow this. And I won't be surprised when that same society has signed away every last bit of its own privacy voluntarily...until they voluntarily sign away the right to choose to whether volunteer or not.

My advice, if you care...take Facebook off of your phone, at least. I did. They can't do it through your computer. Not yet.

We're like meat under the tenderizing hammer...with each blow, we get softened to the idea of living in full-view of anyone who cares to watch. "They only want to watch us so that they can personalize our Internet experience..."

We're so trusting. It brings a tear to my eye.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Time for Change: Taping Over the Digital Clocks

It was a high-level standardized test. A room full of very smart kids. "A" students. Honors students. He looked up at the clock. He looked at me. He seemed...uncomfortable.

"How much time to we have left?" he asked.

I looked at the board, where the exam's end-time was written in huge, black, block numbers. I looked at the clock...

"I, uh, can't really see the clock..." he said.

He was in the front row. The clock was large, round...clear, dark numbers on a white face. I looked him. He looked at me. He looked away...ashamed.

We both knew the truth.

He couldn't read an analog clock.

"You have twenty-three minutes," I said.

"Thanks," he said.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Man and the Bird (A Riddle-Parable)


The bird flies. The man walks.

The man sees the bird fly; he dreams of flight.

The bird flies and thinks nothing of it, because it is what he does. It is, to him, as walking is to the man.

If the man could fly, he would soon think nothing of it.

The difference: the bird just goes on being a bird, with no disappointment and no regret.The man laments his loss of wonder and begins searching for something higher than flight.

The bird dies a bird. The man dies a man. One of them missed the point.

Which one was it?

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Jackassery of Artistic Youth

Years ago, when I was in grad school – maybe soon after; back when I was playing in a band a few nights per week and teaching scattered courses at Rutgers and in community college for a living; back before I even know how to tie a tie, my girlfriend (who I was pretty sure at the time I would one day ask to be my wife) asked me: “What do you love more? – me or music?”

Genesis, past and future all at once. 
Do you know, I had a hard time answering that? What an absolute fool I was. You know what I said? I said, “I can’t live without either one of you.” 

What an ass.

I know full well there are those who might think that guy I once was amounts to a kind of Romantic type. I know this because the type has been lauded in movies for years: Amadeus, Titanic, etc. I know some might see my response as the artistic, back-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead kind of thing that works well in a two hour screening. But, it actually makes me ill, now, to think I said that to her.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Excuse You For What?

One day, many years ago, I was reading my students’ latest essays. At the time, I was in a room that was “split” – there was a folding wall between them. The wall was supposed to be sound-proof, but, it was more – how shall I describe it? – not sound proof. The class on the other side was pretty unruly.

At one point, the teacher called out: “Excuuuusse me…”

Noise continued.

“Excuuuuuuuuse me….”

Continued cacophony.

“ExcUUUUUse me!”

And, in the back of the room, a single student’s voice wafted through, a clarion voice below the general chaos. He was speaking to himself, really, but the science of acoustics is a fascinating thing. I may have been the only person to have heard his comment – his response to the teacher’s “ExcUUUUUUse me!”

He said, “Why? Did you fart?”

I laughed. I laughed hysterically. (I was alone – what was the harm?) But, after I recovered, I realized that the kid had a point.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Subconscious Veil

Maybe adaptability is a curse for humankind. We tend to adjust to everything, but, most of all, to our surroundings.

Every day, I drive the same route into work and I leave a nice suburban neighborhood to drive into a kind of rural/suburban one. I drive past farms and past open fields dotted with grazing horses. I also see rows of corn and vines that grow like tonal phrases over music staff fences. I see them, but from an asphalt road and from behind a dead grey guardrail.

Phone and power lines don't ruin the sky, exactly, but they divide it in ways that it shouldn't be divided; they remind me that Man is constantly trying to own Nature and to parse Her into understandable bits when he should be sitting back to enjoy being overwhelmed by Her enormity, comfortably obscure and lost in the vastness of Everything.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Jealousy, Anti-Semitism and Fish Out of Water

My wife was once asked by a co-worker to stop doing such a good job, if not in so many words. Same old thing: you are doing a better job than we are and you are making us look bad. (Short version: she kept doing a good job and she moved up the ranks. So it goes.)

I know you are supposed to talk about books after you have finished them, but I am in the middle of Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts and I recently read a section in which the "main character" (it is historical narrative, not fiction) William E. Dodd, the man who was America's ambassador to Germany during Hitler's rise to power, is talking to Hitler, himself. During the conference, (and all dialogue in the book is from record, not speculation, according to its author -- all dialogue is from reliable documents) Dodd told Hitler:

"You know, a number of high positions in our country are, at present, occupied by Jews, both in New York and Illinois [Dodd's home state]...where the question of over-activity of Jews in the university or official life made trouble, we [have] managed to redistribute the offices in such a way as not to give great offense and...wealthy Jews continued to support institutions which had limited the number of Jews who held high positions." Dodd maintained that "the Jews in Illinois constituted no serious problem."

It seems this otherwise well-meaning guy saw Jewish folk as "a problem." Why? Because they indulged in "over-activity" in the highest levels of public and academic life? Sounds, on a larger and more insidious scale, like my wife's co-worker.

Monday, May 12, 2014

My Father's Transformation

If you are anything like me (and for your sake, I hope you are not) you spent a lot of time in your early life wondering what it was going to be like to lose a parent. It was so bad, for me, that I would lie in bed at night, when I was a boy, doing math -- I would try to figure out how old I would be if my dad or mom died at this age or that age. The goal, there, in my young mind, was to determine whether I would be "old enough to handle it."

This was all prompted by my grandfather's too-early death. He was only in his sixties. I guess it got me kind of paranoid.

Well, my dad made it into his late seventies and he died about five months ago. Am I old enough to handle it? I'm forty-six.

I remember, in my bedtime calculations, I once worked it out that, if my dad died at a certain age, I would be 30 -- I'd be "a man," by then, so things would be okay, I reasoned. Well, at forty-six, it was still hard, but...I'm okay.

What I really find interesting is that I feel closer, now, to my dad than I did when he was here over the last few years. He suffered from dementia and from general state of melancholy in the years before he died. These conditions altered him quite a bit -- his flawed character traits were amplified and his enthusiasm for things -- even his deep love of music -- seemed to fade. His strong independent nature became reversed. In short, he was not the same guy who raised me.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Disorders, Biology and Just Being Nice

On a local radio program, they were discussing a problem called "misophonia." In short, this is a "condition" that causes people to have "a very strong emotional reaction such as hate, anger,anxiety, rage, and resentment" when they hear certain sounds. It usually amounts to sounds made by other people: mouth noises while eating; that sort of thing.

I used to feel disproportionately angry when sitting across the table from my sister or father or mother in the mornings, when I was younger. Whatever noise they might have made made me extremely angry. The clicking of a spoon on the teeth; the slurping of a cup of coffee used to make me boil inside. So, I guess I "have" misophonia.

This radio show got me thinking about my usual stuff, including the idea that it seems to me that we give up too quickly when it comes to undesirable human tendencies, especially when they are a result of a "condition."

Sure, I get that people with Tourettes can't really be blamed for calling you a son of a fishmonger out of nowhere on the morning train, but, I think we search for excuses, sometimes, by labeling things as the result of a "condition."

Again, not always. Some things are beyond voluntary control, I know.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

No Touching

Our feet never touch the ground. (This is not a poetic wonder, but a literal truth.)

We went from levers that move things, to that wheels attach to things that they turn, to buttons that start mechanical actions that make it so we don't have to move, to virtual buttons that we can't even feel when we "push" them (even though they are programmed to make a patronizing little "click" sound), to projections on a desktop.

We never hold a letter in our hands; we rarely weild a pencil; we read books made up of light, on little plastic devices.

We can't trust photographs anymore.

Even our own lives, appearences and actions are chopped into bits and laid out on the social media buffet in ways that make them seem more interesting.

When everything becomes virtual, what will be left to hold onto?

Each other? No -- we're not allowed to touch each other anymore. Teachers can't hug their weeping little students; a kind-hearted and harmless adult can't hold the hand of a little lost child to bring him or her to the amusement park office, all for fear of misunderstanding because of the perverse actions of a few. We're not allowed to touch each other anymore without express permission, no matter how generic the contact. (Even a pat on the shoulder along with a "good job" ot the wrong person could land us in court.)

No. No touching.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Lost: A Study of Pre-Heaven

My wife, Karen, and I just finished watching the TV series Lost. (Yes, we are on top of things in pop culture, clearly.) We watched it on Netflix, so that means we got to watch the episodes in close proximity to one another. This means that our experience was different than anyone who might have watched it during the original seasons -- which, at one point, were even interrupted by the writers' strike in Hollywood.

I have heard three reactions to the series: 1) "It was stupid and I stopped watching it;" 2) "It was good but the ending was stupid" and 3) "Meh, it was just entertaining." I also get the sense from friends on Facebook, who were being kind enough to avoid spoiling the end, that there may have been some annoyance with the spiritual aspect of the show.

Before I tell you what I thought, I want to point out two things. First, I wholly subscribe to what we lit. majors call "the intentional fallacy," which essentially says that it doesn't matter what the author intended to get across in terms of message; all that matters is that we interpret logically because there are many differing -- but valid -- interpretations of one particular work and what the writer says about it is not necessarily "right." Second, what we bring with us into a reading (or viewing) of a story is going to affect out interpretation -- and that is okay. These two things contribute to the magic of story and to the idea that I referred to, on Friday, of "intimation."

In short, the flower of story blooms in the soil in which it is planted: the mind of the reader (or viewer). No one can be "right" and that is cool -- as long as the reader is not completely illogical and baseless in his or her interpretation.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Intimation Versus Description

I do this rarely, but I'm going to turn it over to another blog today. A blogging pal of mine, Stephen Pentz, keeps a wonderful poetry blog called First Known When Lost. He posts poetry and some of his own commentary introduces the conceptually connected poems of the day (commentary that he tends to downplay in its importance, but that I always find insightful and thought-provoking). Yesterday, he posted a passage from Wittgenstein, who is often nebulous, but who, in this case, at least in my opinion, gets it perfectly, in terms of the relationship of science to the world. As Stephen puts it, "science only provides descriptions of the World. It has nothing to do with intimation."

Indeed. Read the short passage by Wittgenstein HERE, along with Stephen's full commentary and the poems he selected, related to the subject.

Happy weekend!