Sunday, February 28, 2010

eating crow (b'lo bracha)

So for a while now I have been going on and on and making noise about how much I hate that page in People magazine which gushes that celebrities are people just like me and you because they do things like take out their garbage and go to movie premieres. My anger came from 2 sources:
1. they aren't like me because I worry about bills and have a job and don't wear clothes that were designed just for me
2. they are like me because they are just regular people and we create this cult of personality and put them on a pedestal so that we have to be reassured that they do, indeed, still breathe oxygen.

Anyway, this morning I'm on Facebook and I see that a "friend" (definition: someone I haven't spoken to in 20 years but whose movements I'm supposed to care about) posted a video and someone decided to "like" it. A word to the uninitiated -- you can give a hearty "thumbs up" to something that someone on your "friend" list posts. It costs nothing and means about as much but it is the epitome of the empty gesture that the notion of Facebook Friends has engendered.

The person giving the Thumbs up was and is a celebrity, meaning that my friend is close enough acquaintances with a TV and movie star that they became friends on Facebook. Now that's fine by me because it could happen. it could also happen that, like in other social networking contexts, celebrities do get involved. They post Twitter tweets to let the masses know when they blow their noses...the virtual equivalent to riding in a limo and waving out of the barely lowered back window. And I have found the profiles of celebrities, some as their official fan sites and one or two as private citizens. I haven't added myself as a fan because that demeans us all, and I haven't unilaterally tried to friend the private profiles because that sounds like sucking up to fame or intruding upon the privacy so that I can be of the "in group."

When I saw that some celebrity was proactive enough to click the "like" button on one of his friend's posts I was shocked. Here is this TV star who lurks on Facebook, clicks through on links that regular people post and comes forward with his opinion. Pure regular people behavior! So I guess I have to admit that sometimes, despite the culture creation mechanism, some stars are always regular nice people and they are just like me. Assuming I was nice.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Behind every great man

Note of caution -- this idea came to me in a dream and in the blurry minutes while I was trying to fall back to sleep, it continued to seem like a good idea. Now that I am more fully awake, I realize that it isn't so funny but want to put it out there because if someone reads this blog while not fully awake, it might seem very funny.

So the idea is to see what meaning I can attach to a familiar idea by adding in the word "wife's" in the middle. For example take "Schindler's List" and add the phrase. You get "Schindler's Wife's List" which would refer to the to do list around the house "Plant flowers, buy milk, save Jews."

Others can be explained through subtitles. "Whistler's Wife's Mother or Portrait in Argh, I hate that woman."

And in a case of 'sometimes there is such a thing as too much togetherness' we have "Noah's Wife's Ark."

If you think of more, let me know.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Idea for a short story

A guy takes a long hard look at himself and realizes that life isn't worth living. He decides to end it all so he goes down to the garage, closes the doors, gets in to the car and starts it up. And he waits. While waiting to die, he thinks about his life, his family and how things led up to this moment. He sits and waits and as he is passing out he realizes that maybe, with a few basic changes, he could have led a happier life. He comes to with his wife banging on the car window, frantically shouting "Wake up! You bought an electric car, idiot!" So he takes the gun out of the glove compartment and shoots himself.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My status as a driver. Good, bad or othersise.

Big day today -- court day. For weeks I have been amassing evidence, consulting lawyers and printing up code so that I could go into court and tell the judge-person about:
1. how the cop was in no position to observe my driving
2. how what the cop wrote on the ticket bore no relationship to the code he cited
3. how the actual law demanded that I did exactly as I did on the road

full of righteous rage I showed up today, undaunted by the lady at the information booth who told me that I came in the wrong door. I found my way to the hall outside the courtroom and waited. At 8:40, I and all the people collected in the hall were called into the same anteroom I was in last time. People were told to sit and wait to go in and talk to the prosecutor. I thought, "hey, I've done this I in the right place? Should I have gone right into the court...I AM here for the trial, not the plea arrangement." I figured I'd wait till I went in and the prosecutor would tell me if I was in the right place. He made clear that he wasn't answering any questions from people not in line so I played the game.

When I got in and tried to explain that I wasn't sure that I was in the right place he didn't want to hear it. He was overweight, his collar was flipped up and his jacket was too tight. He refused to hear me and kept saying "just show me your ticket!" I was holding my ticket out at the time... He finally yelled "how many times do I have to ask for your ticket?" So I said "three times." When he finally spoke with me, not at me, he figured that I was there to have a trial. He asked "how many trials have you done." I admitted sheepishly that my experience floated somewhere between 0 and 1. I didn't feel particularly ashamed by that number. I'm not a lawyer so it would be strange if I had any higher number as my answer. He told me to sit int he back row in the room from which I had come. Shades of Alice's Restaurant and Bench W flashed through my head. He tells me that he does 20 trials a week (good for him, I think) and that I'm risking a $240 fine and 2 points. I'm not sure where he got $240 from for an $85 dollar infraction plus $33 court costs, but I assume he was either rattling his sabre or had some advanced math degree to go along with his position as a civil servant. I demurred and chose the trial option and he sent me to the back row.

So I sat. After 20 minutes, a friendly policeman announced "everyone in the last two rows -- you have signed something after meeting with the prosecutor so move to the next room." Thing is, I hadn't signed anything. So I didn't move while almost everyone else left. I asked the cop what to do and he said "I don't know...maybe he's working on something." So I sat. And I waited.

another 15 minutes elapsed. People filed in and out and I sat. Eventually another cop...young, blond...heck, I am confident enough in my masculinity to say "good looking" (Maddie should get so lucky as to bring this boy home), comes over and says "are you the gentleman who is waiting for the trial." I say "yes" and he says "we're really backed up," and he points to all the people waiting, "has the prosecutor discussed this with you?" I told him yes, but that the offer was 'unsafe driving' and a $450 dollar fine. He goes to talk to the prosecutor and tells me that because of the volume of cases on that day he can offer me "driving in a way that obstructs the flow of traffic" -- no points and a fine of 56 dollars.

Now at this point I should say that I truly feel I have the law on my side. Not only does the code simply demand that the driver ascertain that a lane change is safe (which I did) but that nothing in my behavior or in the behavior from the car I passed would indicate that I didn't fully ascertain it. And that the cop's claim that I "cut off" a car by switching with 1/2 of a car length (10 feet between me and a car - measured when exactly? - while I am going 52 and he is decelerating from 47...right) as measured from at least 300 feet away while I am going 73 feet per second with the sun rise behind me was not only unprovable but not proscribed by the legal code. So maybe I could have thought that they were blinking -- seeing their position as unprovable etc. and should have pressed for a trial but I knew that without a lawyer I'd have to wait and ultimately, I don't have much trial experience so I took the deal. He made me wait for a bunch more minutes, then he brought me some paper to sign. My god, but he was good I signed and he told me to go to the court room next door.

In the next room the judge was hearing cases (if you have a lawyer you get to go more quickly, because who wants to wait to be assessed a fine when your lawyer can get you to plead guilty so quickly) and moving through all the defendants. I got to see one full fledged trial. The prosecutor with his ugly collar and tiny jacket and "may it please the court"s called the cop to the stand and went through the whole "where do you work, for how long, what do you do" and he did everything in this incredibly uninteresting, formal and forced way. After watching the role playing and mindless stupidity of a trial (with a Russian interpreter so everything took way long and the defendant didn't actually have anything to ask...he just wanted to make the statement that "it wasn't so bad") I realized that I had made the right choice. And yet I still had to wait. Another 20 minutes and my name gets called. I stood before the judge (Tracey Zur..a nice looking woman actually...I wonder what would happen if she and that cop got together...I imagine their kids would be safe, good looking drivers) and when she asked if I entered the plea agreement of my own will, I said "yes" and when she asked if I was admitting to driving in a way to obstruct traffic, I said "yes."

Now the fact is, I didn't obstruct traffic. And I could certainly have stood on principle and said "your honor, the legal system is asking me for its own convenience to admit to an action which I did not commit for its own convenience; this type of corruption must be rooted out." But then I realized that she was probably in on the whole system, working there and all so I said "yes, your honor." She charged me the $56 plus $33 court costs (if I had gone through a trial and been found not guilty, would I have had to pay court costs? seems like a scam to me. $33 for nothing) and I waited on line to pay.

When I got to the front of the line, I learned something new. Apparently, those employees who graduate the DMV course on "how to be unhelpful and offensive" get promoted to the courthouse. Here I am, ready to pay and she's micro managing exactly where I stand. While I'm waiting fro her to make change she calls the next guy. He happens to have a strong Indian accent. But because I am listening to him, I understand precisely what he is asking -- basically, he isn't sure he is in the right place and at the right time and just wants to get some clarification. She does the whole "I don't understand a thing you are saying" and then the mumbling "people come in here and don't know what they are talking about." Then she counts my change wrong. Irony, thy name is "clerk."

So I paid. I came home...and what have I learned? It was a lot more glamorous on Night Court.

Monday, February 15, 2010

I have become the cliche

I'm sitting in a coffeehouse using a small computer to glom onto the wifi and blog about how it feels to be sitting in a coffeehouse and blog on a laptop via local wifi.

Recursives...foiled again.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Blog the good blog every bloggle

Ahh, Sunday morning. Time for the paper, a hot cuppa and a deep investigation into the central tension plaguing our educational system. What motivates this, you ask? Well, when proctoring standardized tests, ones mind wanders to loftier topics than ovals and number 2 pencils.

When I was in grad school (mark 2) I learned about a field of literary interpretation which was based in identifying "binary oppositions" - those ideas which stood against their polar counterparts, "good and evil" being the obvious example. At the time, young and naïve as I was, I resisted this as reductionist and simplistic. "The world," I insisted, "is subtle and complex, filled with shades of gray, and possibly also polka dots." Well, now I'm old and naïve and I know that the opposites exist, but not to the mutual exclusuon of each other, but paradoxically, in some sort of symbiotic and even simultaneous coexistence. Layers upon contradictory layers create the texture of life. You can tell how boring proctoring is by the vocabulary I'm willing to use even though I'm writing this on the Blackberry.

This opposition is typified by standardized tests. They are meaningless and useless and yet necessary and even conveniently useful. They stress multiple choice test taking skills and short timed writing neither of which either reflects student intelligence, skill or ability or reflects college and life assessments. They level the playing field so colleges can judge students from different schools who transcripts may not be comparable even if their grades were honest and accurate. But the test prep industry springing from the (true) student perception that these scores will determine college acceptance simply replaces the home grown school-based dishonesty of grade inflation with an external (and economically biased) dishonesty which turns performance into a "how well you can take a test" exercise further invalidating any comparison or even educational integrity of the test.

We crave simple predictors and concrete measures because we understand innately that the world is a messy place. We blind ourselves to the truth that neither a subjective judgment nor an objective one is likely to provide any real insight. We buy into a system which confers authority on the brand name colleges and thus makes them the objective to the detriment of actual learning, but those "top" colleges (also a statistic which is both useless and invalid) din't provide any "better" education than another. Their name creates the job market demand and the system is perpetuated - not because it represents a real stratification intellectually but because a presumed stratification which already exists feeds into itself.

So we have this tension - between knowing and not knowing, between thinking and doing, between objective and subjective. And yet we know that all of our systems don't succeed OR fail, but somehow succeed AND fail.

Solutions? I have no idea. Do we change the entire culture, workforce and socio-economic-educational system around the entire country? Maybe, for a start. But it won't work. And yet it will, but so will doing nothing.