Wednesday, June 27, 2012


There are some things which I have had to learn to accept about myself -- my weaknesses and flaws which, try as I might, will always be a part of who I am. I feel that part of the process of reconciling with myself, I have to accept these aspects publicly so that I no longer feel the need to hide who I am.

1. I have a weirdly shaped head.

It's true and I admit it. My head, unlike the head of innocent and god fearing people everywhere, comes to a point. I don't know if that extra attic space is where I keep spare change or the plots to VC Andrews books, but it is there.

Nope. That's it. Weird head.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I went back today. I took myself into the city and went back.

Twenty-five years ago, today, I graduated high school. In the back of our yearbook, we put in a little joke -- an invitation to a 25th reunion on June 18 of 2012. At the time 2012 seemed rather remote; it was 25 years in the future, a future rife, no doubt, with flying cars and a wildebeest in every garage. Well, the future was this morning so I figured that I needed to be there or be sorry. I'm the sentimental sort and I needed to have this bit of closure.

I headed into the Heights via the GWB. A short digression. The bridge is now $12 per car and there must have been like 50 cars, maybe more. This happens every day, even when there isn't a reunion. That adds up to (if my math is right) a bajillion or so dollars. That's a lot of money. Also, the people who drive in are horrible drivers. All except me and anyone I happen to know. Horrible, all of you. And in the city, even worse. I saw right turns from left lanes and left turns from right lanes. And those were the ones not driving on the wrong side fo the road to begin with. I made it in and found a great parking spot. I wandered into the building, right past the security guard who didn;t ask me for any ID. Nothing changes...if you ever want to attack the high school building, go, dressed up like a melancholy Jew and, apparently, they'll let you right in.

The building, it seems, has not been cleaned since graduation. Not this year's graduation, but, if the lab is right, graduation 1994. The cereal and milk are evolving to the point that they will be able to clean themselves up soon. The halls are still dumpy and ugly, and the building still has the air of desperate high school boys wishing they were any where else. It was like a home coming if I hated my home.

No one else showed up. I don't know how surprised I am by this, or even if I am surprised at all. Most people aren't in the area. Brian is in Israel, Avi is in Texas, the rest are in denial. It is a work morning, I know. People have lives and who needs to pay $12, fight traffic and elude private security just to go and sit in a grungy room and relive memories from a quarter century ago?

I do. And I'm glad I went.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Someday, done is done

Those of you who are long time readers of my blog, and you know who you are, even though I don’t, know that I often muse about my funeral. I won’t link to any earlier posts about funerals but I implore you to go read about it. Tonight, I sat in on a retirement dinner for 3 colleagues so I got to thinking about that. I realized that a retirement dinner is much like a funeral except I get to have some of the food, and it is less of a surprise when I get up to speak. I became worried that I wouldn’t have the wherewithal to write a good speech so I have decided to craft it now. I believe I have posted something like this for my funeral, but this is going to be completely different. Or if it ends up being the same, that’s because I don’t remember what I wrote and true brilliance is always fresh.


I’d like to start by thanking you all for coming tonight, but only because then I can get that part out of the way, so there you go. If you showed up to be acknowledged you can feel free to leave. Put your gift on the table and get out; if you didn’t bring a gift then please help wash some dishes or pay my kids’ bills for a month and we’ll call it even.

Truth is, I don’t know most of you. I’d like to say that that’s because I’m suffering from debilitating disease, but that simply isn’t true. My diseases are all bilitating. And as a completely bilitated person, I’d like to say that I don’t know you because you really aren’t all that memorable. Also not true. You are all completely memorable, just to someone else. The fact is that I’m just not so good at names and faces, especially not in any combination. There are, I have noticed, really only ten or so templates for Jews so you DO look familiar, but only because I’ve seen a whole slew of people who look just like you over my years and I can’t remember which one you are. So when I call you by the wrong name, it isn’t that I don’t remember you, it’s just that, well, OK, I don’t remember who you are, but I have some vague recollection that I’m supposed to. So don’t make me feel bad. Answer to whatever name I choose, with grace and the knowledge that I have already forgotten how I started this sentence, so the odds that I will remember my social faux pas are nil, and even if I did, I wouldn’t care because I’m retiring. Those of you who are sure that I must remember you because you were my favorite student, best friend, or parent, have no fear – I totally do. I’m justifying myself to all the other schmucks sitting all around you. Please don’t make eye contact with me so no one else has to feel uncomfortable but just know in your heart of hearts that I remember every inane story you have told me and every bit of trivia you shared with me 15 years ago. To my colleagues, I probably do remember you because I think you owe me money; to the people from college, yes I used to have hair. You used to be endearing. People change. To my community friends, you all know me well enough not to be here tonight and for that, I salute you, but you’ll never know that because you aren’t here. And to my wife and kids, I’m so controlling the radio on the way home.

I have been thinking about how I am going to use my time now that I am retiring. I think I want to spend some time watching airplanes. Have you ever just stared at a plane flying majestically across the sky? I have always wanted to be the guy who had to go someplace and do something. The guy drivers met at the airport; the guy who was important and had to go to meetings by plane and talk about stuff in “rooms.” Not that I actually want to go anywhere, but it must be nice to be that guy who flies in airplanes. Flying tin cans. Why anyone would get in one of those death traps is beyond me. And I want to do something with horses. Maybe I’ll go watch a horse at a zoo. I think they have horses there. Smelly beasts. Now I know why the cops punch them. Anyway, the common thread seems to be transportation. But not submarines. That’s stupid. You can’t even open the door. If you open an airplane door, you have a couple of seconds to enjoy the fresh air before you get sucked out. But a submarine? Open the door just a crack and they never let you hear the end of it. Or anything else, ever.

I should also clip my toe nails. Ah, retirement. The possibilities are endless. I may go to the park and tell the babies to shut up and stop looking at my ice cream. The other option is to become an unsuccessful stock trader so I can buy the newspaper, and sit and read the stock listings and shake my head sadly, then slap the paper down and scream “NO! I knew it! Why didn’t I…” and then trail off while I sob uncontrollably. I mean I do that now, but it would be nice to know why for real even. And another thing, why am I not an astronaut? They should totally make a sequel for Field of Dreams. Maybe, in my retirement, I’ll write a letter to the studios every week, telling them that. I may also threaten someone in the same letter, just to save postage.

I might take up painting so that I can quit it because I can’t do it. It would be nice to fail at a few things and criticize them and everyone else who is involved with them. Cross dressing is an option, but it might not be appropriate because I’m not Christian. I’ll wait while you catch on to that one. One other dream I have about retirement is that I’m climbing a hill and then suddenly my legs turn into stilts and a monkey comes in to talk to me about an idea for a reality show. Now I know that that doesn’t seem to be about retirement but since I’ll never see you people again, I don’t feel the need to explain myself. I may try to get into the book of world records, but I know that there is nothing in that book that I can do in any way more excessively than the sorry saps who are in there already, so I need to find something that no one has any interest in doing and then do that, just a lot. Competitive snapping, or nine volt battery licking, maybe. And if anyone is doing that already I might go with ‘largest ball made out of pen caps connected by those little rubber bands you wear with braces.’ Or saying the word “fortnight” more times in a minute than anyone ever has.

I am considering obesity as a hobby, and am already beginning my post midlife crisis. So thanks for the watches and wallets, and if you see me on the street, tell me to wait while you run into a store and buy me a nice pair of shoes. Loafers, please – I’m not wasting a second of my remaining free time making bunny ears. Thanks for the party, and next year when I retire, I want better cake. Drive safe and stay off my lawn.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I will choose free won't

I was sitting with my new, fancy phone. Bored as sometimes happens. And, while tooling around the cool slidy menus I realized "I have no games...whatever shall I do when I am bored." I had no immediate access to a coloring book or an archery set so I was stuck. "Wait!" I thought, "why don't I just download a game to play on this here phone?" So I opened up the phone store thing and looked for a free game which would help me kill some time. The most popular free game looked interesting, and how could over a million people (or one person, repeatedly downloading this app) be wrong? So I clicked on "Download." I figured that that would be the most efficient way to download it.

A screen popped up telling me of the 'permissions' I would have to grant. Usually I ignore these figuring that a program won't ask for what it doesn't need. But something caught my eye. The program wanted access to information about my phone and my identity, including my phone's serial number and the device status so it could tell when I was on or off the phone. Why would it need that? Don't answer because I'm sure that there is a perfectly innocuous explanation. I don't want to hear it. No matter how harmless, it is ridiculous.

So I went to the next game on the list. I won't provide any names because I can't afford a lawyer, but it, too, asked for identity and device status access. I cancelled the download. You hear that? I chose not to give up my personal information, even if it means that I can't play the game that everyone else has. I am still an individual with some measure of autonomy and I have the choice to say NO. Fortunately, the experience got me thinking and that's like nature's I right? Sigh.

I recall an email I got a couple of days ago, asking me to quantify for my school the new technology that I am including in my classes. The discussion was not whether technology played a part or could be included -- there was a presumption that technology was a foregone conclusion and that its inclusion was not even a matter of time anymore. My teaching method often does not include two very basic things -- technology or planning. I am old school; I use the black/white/Smart board only sometimes but I encourage and value actual connection and communication between teacher and student. You know, like talking about stuff (to use the vernacular). The expectation that I will be planning, before it arises organically, to implement technology as a basis (not an adjunct) for my lessons is an attempt to wrest control of my pedagogical identity and not trust that I will stay updated on technology by choice and won't include it when it makes the most sense. Another attempt to curtail my behaviors, but I intend to retain my freedom to choose.

In an effort to escape video games and school rules which tell me that I can't choose how to live I tried reading the news. An article about students who were rebelling against dress codes was first up. I won't bore you with my views on dress codes because though my opinions are highly advanced and well measured and informed, they aren't the point right here, right now. In the article, a draconian principal imposed a dress code on a bunch of unsuspecting students. They argued against it for a school year and then decided to flout the code and come in dressed as they will. I could call them all sorts of names but I won't. I can't afford a lawyer. I continued reading to find that not every student was interested in joining the rebellion against the emprire. One student did not agree with the aims or method, so, one figures, he would dress in his normal fashion. Not so. [the following comes from the NYT]
Nonetheless, Sweyn, dressed in a preppy jacket and knee-length shorts, had joined in.

“I had my shorts rolled up for two periods,” he said. “Better to participate in some way even if I don’t totally agree.”

What? Better to participate and ignore your own opinions and feelings? You can, indeed MUST, sometimes choose NOT to be included. Principle matters.

Another article popped up, this one about whether Orthodox Jewry is unhealthy. In this piece, the writer lists all the foods which are part of a well rounded (even "obese") observance of religion. He bemoans the demand to eat all of this food and comes to the conclusion that religious Jewry is inherently problematic in its approach to food.


The choice to eat a particular food IS A CHOICE. Even within religious Judaism, rife with laws about food and ritualistic ingredients, there are myriad ways NOT TO over indulge. Do we accuse Orthodoxy of contributing to alcoholism because people don't choose to drink grape juice on a Friday night? Whose fault is it that a person lacks the willpower not to make stupid decisions? Why do we absolve people of the responsibility of sometimes saying NO? [my comment to this effect seems to have been 'disappeared' from the feedback section of the article...shocking]

I make loads of dumb decisions every day. Sometimes every night also. But I won't blame anyone when those decisions prove to be problematic, because they ARE MINE. Someone may not like my reasoning but there is reasoning behind my decision and if it isn't mine, then I can trace it back to a source and explain why I relied on it. And I won't shy away from calling out people and situations which rob me of that right to choose.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Independence Day and Projection Alienation

It is well established that the Hollywood story-telling mechanism embodies and often crystallizes a collective angst, manifesting in the real (i.e. fiction come to life) the unconscious concern of the shared psyche (Burbadge, 1979). A tension imbued with the animus of the people represents (Tross et al, 1961) and acts as catharsis (Honeywether, 1962) for the contemporary concerns which both drive and are driven by what Muns (1979) called “the spirit guide with his spirit leash” (emphasis mine). Explorations of consequence follow a Mitty-esque range of potentials and allow for the expression of the forbidden to become symbolically possible, cleansing and providing voice under the guise of Heigelshtein’s famed unwirklich.

Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day confronts the audience with a presentation of the ultimate fanaticism and fantasy, taking the primary weapon of encroachment on the Western ideal, that of Islamoradicalfascism, and, through both a lens of the minority and the impetus of anti-establishment struggle, recontextualizing communal celebration and, in fact, the notion of community as an exclusion of the other, paradoxically, by the adopting of the modes which define the other as such. Invoking such modern parables as Them and The Bad News Bears (clearly, of the 1979 TV series which parodied the expectations of comedy qua humor and the national pasttime as exploitation of an underclass defined both socio-economically and through gender roles within the scope of the public educational system), Emmerich’s masterpiece shows how a world united against a creeping threat can defeat an infestant evil only by coopting the evil and creating the inversive-duality (Muns, 1979) with evil as a cultural masque and not a transcendent norm.

The text establishes Will Smith as both everyman hero and reluctant anti-hero who, by embracing the unaccepted „exotic dancer“ as mate and being held down by the white man’s NASA is thrust into a position of conflict, having to choose between the alien force which provides a role model for him in his quest to become an astronaut, and rebel against the dominant white paradigm, and the military-industrial complex and the task master president in his defense of the status quo and the ultimate condemning of his own son (through the church’s constraints of marriage) to as bleak a future. Further populated by such fringe characters as the Jew, the ambitious woman, the-white-crooner-who-impersonates-a-black-man-for-the-amusement-of-the-other-white-men, and, ultimately, Harvey Firestein, the text’s imagery presents a subtle interplay between all who are aliens to themselves as well as to each other, but who, at least are not, as Randy Quaid’s alcoholic crop duster calls them in the expurgated text, “alien animals.” References to Vietnam both verbally and visually mixed with fear of nuclear annihilation, coupled with product placement recalling the commodification (or even commoditization) of the struggle for equality demand that the viewer conflate history and milieu to create a singularity of the moment (to which Dranse and Dranse allude in their seminal 1943 work on the topic,”History’s End”). The post 9-11 world of the film extracts the evil of that moment and projects it onto the alien destruction of a New York landmark (prescient and devilishly clever in that the film was released 5 years earlier) creating a new age Sharon-Stone-esque lesbian destruction of the phallic leading to what the New York Times called “a confused applause” as the White House is blown up and the First Lady, as a symbol of the traitorous woman who accepts the hegemony of the male, dies and her daughter, called Munchkin as an allusion both to the commercialization of pastry, and the film industry’s own populist drama of 1939, does not cry.

It is important to note that the Islamoradicalfascism of the film does not find favor in the more moderate even of the same faith. The scenes of militaries around the world uniting behind the military muscle (and, of course mind, of the only extant superpower) show not only the cowering Russians with their cigarettes burning down to their own political demise, or the Chinese, hidden in shadow as their numbers pale under the harsh light of Western Capitalisms „truth-serum“ but the joining forces of Israeli and Arab pilots under the leadership of the British as an antidote to the British partition of the region. The Arab pilots recognize the threat of this fanatic devotion and the Israeli’s recognize that the level of religious idealism is incompatible with an acceptance of neighboring people’s and philosophies. Thus the film operates as a blueprint for regional peace, as long as that peace is sealed with a Westernized imprimatur. Other images play into this notion of radicalizing the radical and establishing a mean which can exclude within the bounds of the acceptable. Goldblum’s driving on an empty road against the flow of traffic creates the image of the counter-intuitive and counter-cultural force which is ultimately still within the dotted line of the highway, following rules while thumbing its nose at convention. His subtle recycling of „Must go faster“ (popularized by himself in Jurassic Park, the neo-burlesque rendering of a Wilde-ian comedy of manners and errors as the ego runs rampant and the cages fence in the tame instead of the untamed) skewers the filmic tendency to reuse and re-exploit while demanding payment for old goods in the covering of something innovative, much in the same way that his character’s unnecessary presence on the space ship exploits the conventional notion of the white, male hero on the backs of the black-man’s actual skill-driven flying. [this, of course, ignores a scathing critique of a Driving Miss Daisy scenario, an angle with indications to be discussed in a forthcoming paper to be presented in Zurich] Brent Spiner’s charaterization of „Brackish Okun“ as a scientist with no sense of the application of his craft after portraying Data the Android who wanted to be more human and less science on Star Trek TNG, and Adam Baldwin as a major who shoots one of the aliens (as it connects with the president purely on the level of the intellect!) when he, himself, played the role an invading alien on The X-Files force the viewer to confront what might or might not be called the outsider and who must be embraced despite difference when attempting to defend an ultimate right vis-a-vis existence.

But it is the climactic moment of Randy Quaid’s destruction of the alien ship which creates a separation of the future-real with the present tension between life and suffering and which drives home the irrationality of a structurally sound hierarchy of morality in the face of counterpointed surrealism typified by the initial shadowing of the American flag on the moon, and later underscored by the shooting of a soda can (itself a condemnation of environmentalism which Goldblum’s character makes explicit earlier). Quaid’s sober behavior, called by the unitiate „self-sacrifice“ is, in fact, an act of suicide bombing, imitiating the Islamoradicalfascist use fo the self as a tool of destruction. But, in a chiastic approach, this subversive attack is coopted and turned into a method of resolving the conflict presented by the other. The mimetic behavior transplaces the expected moralistic hueing and replaces it with an indeosyncratic and transient action which unties the Gordian Knot with a readily available Sword of Damocles which the audience, though it thirsts for, is afraid to adopt for fear of slipping into the ethical morass and become that which they abhor, though they are convinced that they have done right, a la Costner’s Ness.

Independence Day is a text rife with conflict – in its imagery, its characterization, its story and its message. It is struggling with a tension between a potential which is desirable though morally suspect and a reality which is threatening but, in its own way, safe and satisfying. Can we allow ourselves to be pawns and victims (a state which Repliner famously called „the misery of the unmysterious“) to avoid a means which we find to be questionable, or do we embrace and thus disempower historical notions of the standard good/evil binary in order to create a possibility of a future which espouses a new anarchy but that, within that anarchy, holds the promise of civic responsibility?