Praying Away the Problem?

August 14, 2014

Senator Rand Paul wrote about the tragic and disturbing ongoing events in Ferguson, Missouri, for Time magazine.

Throughout the essay, he writes about the militarization of local police forces, decrying it as big government run amok. He’s right that this is a problem. But he’s wrong about the solution. At the end of the piece, Paul concludes, “Let us continue to pray for Michael Brown’s family, the people of Ferguson, police, and citizens alike.”

Nope. Don’t pray for change – you’re a senator. The quote is, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” right? It isn’t, “Pray for the change you want to see in the world.” 

On a much more trivial level, this is like when Clive Davis complained that today’s musical theatre does not spawn pop hits. He blamed the musicals but he’s a record producer. Produce records. There are amazing songs in today’s musical theatre oeuvre; has he ever tried to make one of them a pop hit?

But I digress. Paul writes thoughtfully about what’s happening in Ferguson but he’s chickening out when it comes to doing something about it. You can’t pray away this problem. It takes action.

Fat Bitch

June 30, 2014

I was standing on the platform waiting for the train. It arrived and I stepped to the side so that people could get off the train before I stepped on. A man, who clearly didn’t know how to use the subway system because moments before he asked another commuter if this train would take him to Yankee Stadium, stood directly in front of exiting passengers’ path. I kept glaring at him. When I saw that he noticed me, I said, “I’m waiting for people to get off.” He then raised and opened his arms, as if to say, “You go ahead,” and then he placed his hand on my shoulder to further shepherd me onto the train. I aggressively swatted his hand away and said, “Don’t touch me,” as I boarded. He mumbled under his breath, “Fat bitch.” I let him have it. 

  1. If you have something to say to anyone, be a man and say it clearly, out loud and to the person’s face. Muttering it under your breath is not what a real man does.
  2. My weight has nothing to do with this. You saw something you deemed negative about my body and commented on it because you were trying to make me upset. The shape and size of my body has nothing to do with why I swatted away your hand, and nothing about my body has anything to do with why I was standing to the side and why you were wrong to stand in front of exiting passengers’ way.  Stay on point, asshole. 
  3. The fact that I was standing to the side and letting passengers exit the train before boarding means I was doing the right thing; I was decidedly not being a bitch. I was being thoughtful and courteous, traits you could stand to strengthen. 
  4. You do not get to touch me. Ever. You’re a stranger and you do not get to touch me. I don’t care if you meant well, if you meant no harm, if you knew you weren’t a threat. You’re a stranger and you do not get to purposely touch me. Ever. At all. It doesn’t matter that the touch wasn’t sexual. You do not get to touch me. Ever. 

Trigger Warnings

May 20, 2014

Everyone has been sharing this New York Times article about college professors and other educators providing students with warnings before the students delve into material that might be offensive or trigger unsettling memories. 

Listen, I’m a Hippie. I have a peace sign tattooed on my foot. I believe people should express themselves. I believe people should be whoever they are. I believe in justice and love and equality. But these people – these people calling for “trigger warnings” (a fully made-up term, not an actual thing) are too crunchy for me.

Life doesn’t come with a warning. If material is inappropriate for a certain age group, or people of a certain maturity level, then sure, warn them. (For example, you wouldn’t show a seven year old Pulp Fiction without some sort of warning, right?) But to warn people because a novel, one with agreed-upon literally and cultural merit, might stir up something painful? Please.

This sounds like the ethos of lawnmower parents, who are equally absurd. Sometimes in life, you have to deal with hardship. You have to deal with painful memories. You have to be made uncomfortable. It tests your mettle and, hopefully, you come out stronger. 

Moreover, one of the very reasons to continue to read and discuss in educational settings possibly upsetting material is to struggle with it; is to understand where we’ve been, where we are and how far we have to go. If you are distressed by what you’re reading, make that part of the discussion. You can always use the “my friend” trick if you don’t want to bring your personal life into the classroom, but grappling with these things is what makes us better people. Instead of coddling university students, why not help them get treatment for these traumatic events? They don’t need a warning – they need medical attention. (And if they actually don’t, then they’re just being dramatic.)

We should never shy away from intellectual debate. Shame on those sacrificing a robust education for many for the sake of a few people’s comfort. 

 

Quitting Email?

May 1, 2014

I just read Charlie Warzel’s Buzz Feed article, What I Learned After Quitting Email for a Week. Warzel is right, it’s a behavioral problem, not a technological problem. However, Warzel misses some of the point. 

He bemoans the fact that he typically is chained to his phone at night because of the emails coming in. Um, dude? Turn off the push notifications. Problem solved. 

My attitude toward technology is almost anathema to that of an early adopter. I didn’t get an iPod until around 2007, when my Discman broke on the eve of a trip to Israel, with its 13-hour flight. Furthermore, and perhaps more shocking to some, I acquired a smart phone only two months ago. That’s right, a 30 year old living in NYC had, until two months ago, a “dumb” phone, one that made calls (if AT&T didn’t suck that day) and sent text messages. That’s it. (I don’t like to text, but the phone came with the technology.) I saw no need for a smart phone. I figured that I’d gotten along just fine without one and I could continue to do so. 

But more than that, I didn’t want to run the risk of becoming like Warzel, tethered to my phone and unable to leave technology alone long enough to actually experience something as it’s happening. When people would say to me, “But if you had a smart phone and you were at a show, you could tweet about how great it is.” Excuse me? Tweet while at a show? No way! A modicum of etiquette, if you please.

More to the point, though, if I’m having such a good time doing something that I want to tell people about it, I don’t want to take myself out of the moment so that I can tweet about it. I want to stay in that moment for as long as possible, soak up all the wonder and beauty and joy of that moment. Later, when the moment has passed and I’m idle, is when I can tell people about it. And so I was worried that if I had a smart phone, I would not be able to stay in the now here this.

So when I gave in to peer pressure (truly, I’m ashamed) and I got my iPhone and I set up Twitter and Facebook and Gmail and everything else, I tapped “Don’t Allow” for all push notifications. There is absolutely nothing in a push notification that I need to know right now. As Warzel discovered in his week without email, the people who must speak to you will, and the information you must know will become known. I know that if there is an emergency, my family will call me. No one sends emergency information in an email or a tweet or via Instagram…or even via text, for that matter. (Right? People don’t send emergency messages via text, right?) Ditto for equally important but good news. When my sister-in-law was pregnant with my niece, do you think she and my brother told me via email? Of course not! We met for dinner and they told me in person. 

I don’t think you need to quit email for a week (or any length of time, for that matter) in order to realize what a time suck is can be. It’s just a matter of changing your behavior – and perhaps a few push settings. 

 

In Rolling Stone‘s March 13, 2014, issue, the “Random Notes” section features this blurb: “Blood Bath For buzzy New York noise-punk band Perfect Pussy, music is in their blood – and vice versa! Their debut LP, Say Yes to Love, has a limited vinyl edition filled with singer Meredith Graves’ blood (they sold out immediately). So why’d she do it? ‘Because I’m not attractive enough to pose nude,’ Graves says.”

What the…? 

First, noise-punk? That’s not a thing. That’s just noise. Come on.

Second, Perfect Pussy? What, your music sucks so you have to be provocative with your “band”‘s name? What a gimmick.

Third, why fill the vinyl with your blood? Another stunt, another gimmick. Is this chick for real? 

Lady, forget these empty, trashy gimmicks, and go practice your instrument and write a better song. 

Chase Fined $20 Billion, Then Gives CEO 74% Raise!

One day, this story will be in the dictionary under “ridiculous.” 

“The central thing that’s interesting for me about technology and relationships is that the purpose of technology is to improve comfort and ease, and that’s a worthy purpose, but the fact of the matter is there’s no improving the comfort of relationships. Relationships are, by definition, uncomfortable. Or you’re not in one. And so that’s an interesting mistake to make. To think that you’re going to be able to bring technological improvement to bear on what is in some ways the most intractable problem of our existence: other people.” 

-Madeleine George, playwright, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence

In a recent interview, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder said of today’s pop music, “It’s crap that people seem to like. And I don’t know if it has meaning. I don’t know if one of the pop songs of the summer has any fiber in it. People are consuming it, and is it healthy? … It seems like it has a really high fructose content.” 

Intentional or not, I think Vedder hit the jackpot with this comparison. People—and particularly Americans—are consuming record amounts of crap food, food with off-the-charts sodium contents, food with dangerously high cholesterol and fat counts, food with more high-fructose corn syrup, chemicals and other additives than natural, healthful ingredients. They are consuming junk.

And they are consuming junk when they listen to music and watch TV and movies. That’s why junky pop music, with little-to-no sustaining value, is topping the charts. It’s why illiterate programming (like all the Housewives shows and other such schlock) continually delivers record ratings. It’s why Hollywood keeps churning out formulaic, thoughtless drivel while independent studios are folding. It’s even why terrible shows like Rock of Ages continue to play while people walk out of the fantastic Annie Baker play, The Flick.

Do we care about what we put into our bodies? Is caring for what you’re consuming in danger of becoming a niche market of sorts? Am I being judgmental? (It’s possible. But Eddie Vedder said it first!)

The problem with all of the schlock is it doesn’t seem to heed Vedder’s fellow grunge-era rocker Dave Grohl’s advice, which is that whatever you put out should be you. It should come from your heart. It should sound like you. It should say something about who you are. That’s what expression is all about. Anything else is just a masturbatory exercise.

(Interview in Rolling Stone magazine, October 10, 2013, issue, interview conducted by Brian Hiatt.)

(Scroll down for an update.)

There seems to be a slew of articles coming out this week, all of which focus on what’s right with Obamacare. Here are two I read with interest:

I also did my own investigation. I tried to (almost) sign up for health care using the new exchange. I live in New York, a state in which the lawmakers welcomed the ACA and did not do everything in their power to ensure its inefficacy. In fact, New York created its own health care website. If you go to healthcare.gov and indicate you’re a New Yorker, you’ll be redirected to New York’s site. Within half an hour (including the time it took me to set up an ID and answer the questionnaire), I was comparing plans and was just one click of a button away from buying health insurance.

Now, I don’t need to at this time. Currently, I have insurance through my employer, but I was curious to see the process. And the process worked when opposition governors weren’t thwarting roll out efforts.

I don’t understand why Republican governors—Republications being those who, traditionally (and they love their traditions), are champions of states’ rights—wouldn’t take this opportunity to say, “States can do this better, and here’s our working website to prove it.”

Yes, the federal website was a failure in its initial launch, and, in this day and age, that’s inexcusable. But what are the states doing to help citizens who want health insurance? Are they really playing politics with people’s health?

UPDATE:  “A New Low in Health Care Rhetoric,” by Rolling Stone contributing editor Matt Taibbi

Seven Dirty Words

November 1, 2013

Last night, I discovered (with glee) that almost all of George Carlin‘s specials are on Netflix streaming. Without hesitation I decided to start watching and I began at the beginning, with his first HBO special, which aired in 1977. I was shocked when it began. The head of programming at HBO was addressing the camera, warning HBO (then called by its full original name, Home Box Office) viewers that what they were about to watch contained strong language that some might find offensive. She continued, saying that HBO is committed to freedom of expression and supporting artists like Carlin. Then the special began. Carlin was hilarious, as expected. About an hour into the 90-minute special, the frame froze, and for a moment I thought something was wrong. Then a title card appeared, laid over the frozen frame, once again warning viewers that the final segment contained explicit language (Carlin was about to get into a variation on his “seven dirty words” routine) and that viewer discretion was advised. 

I couldn’t believe it. It had never occurred to modern sensibilities that such a warning would need to be given – repeatedly – on HBO. And when Carlin started saying the seven words, it was jarring to recognize how frequently we hear many of those words on broadcast TV these days. In only about 35 years we’ve come quite a long way. 

I love language and I support people’s right to express themselves with, as Carlin would say, all words available to them. Yet I wonder if it’s progress that crassness and vulgarity has become an accepted norm, that we seem to have lost any sense of decorum and ability to distinguish between what is an is not appropriate.

Yet context certainly matters, as Carlin has argued. Remember The King’s Speech and the fact that it was given an R rating because of a series of expletives yet other movies, with gratuitous sex and violence get off with a PG-13? I rarely use Carlin’s seven dirty words but, just as their use in The King’s Speech proves, sometimes they are necessary, powerful and satisfying. 

Where do you stand on the issue? Should anyone be allowed to say any word they want on broadcast TV, or do broadcasters (and the FCC) have a responsibility to shelter viewers from content that could be deemed offensive?