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Friday, December 13, 2013

No. It's Just Wrong.

I'm sure we could easily escalate this into something philosophically astronomic about the nature of capitalism and listen to the mega-rich recite their greedy cant about “oh, it's what the market will bear,” but I want to keep this on a local level. I direct your eyeballs to the picture above. The highlighting shows a fifty-cent charge for ice.
The question is this: should restaurants and bars charge for ice in drinks? It's frozen water and contains no alcohol. Most places do not charge for glasses of water (unfrozen ice) by themselves; it's a considerate practice that shows appreciation for the customer. The question is not whether establishments can get away with charging for ice, but whether they should they practice this charge in the first place. It's an ethical (as well as economic) question. Ice has always been a traditional part of many drinks and relatively inexpensive to provide. Bars have to chill certain items as part of their business operations and it would be absurd to think of charging for keeping their olives fresh or their beer cold.
(“Two Buds? You got it. Oh, hey. You want 'em chilled?”)
Many whiskey drinkers won't enjoy their beverages without ice. That's just the way it is. But to tack on an additional charge for something that, in my humble opinion should be part of the drink itself, is pretty lousy. It's ICE, people. ICE. Frozen water. Charging for this is a gouge. Some places in New York City charge $3 or more for the... what? Courtesy? Necessity? What's next? $4 for an olive? Or better yet, as some establishments now offer... get this... “artisanal ice.”
From the New York Daily News, March 2011:
"We get our ice from Okamoto Studios," Dutch Kills bartender Zachary Gelnaw-Rubin said. "It's crystal clear, no bubbles or impurities. It's hand-cut in a way that doesn't dilute the drink or alter the flavor."
Okamoto Studios is a Long Island City-based company that creates artisan ice with an active ingredient that causes the ice to melt more slowly.
Read it for yourself: ( (And what the hell is that “active ingredient??)
Once again, my species embarrasses the shit outta me.
And, yes, I'm sure some places simply bury the charge by raising the price of the drink itself. Can't do much about that except drink at some other establishment with lower prices.
But what oh what, Ogee, could the rationale be for some places that practice this? Well, Magilla, it is said that you get “a bigger pour.” And exactly how does that compute? No one I polled, either bartender or barfly, could tell me why drinks with ice get more alcohol in them. One person with longtime bartending experience just shook her head in dismay and declared this statement “a complete load of bullshit.”
Which raises yet another logical anomaly: if an establishment imposes a charge for ice in alcoholic drinks, why do they not similarly and proportionally charge for ice in, say tall soda glasses? Think of it: a tall soda glass is usually filled nearly to the top with ice and the spaces in between the cubes taken up with the beverage of your choice. Following this postulation, I'm sure most establishment owners, should they charge for ice in these situations, could pay off their kids' college loans in a single summer. Big glasses with ice and water are (almost always) free. Tumblers with alcohol and ice get a four bits (plus) surcharge.
Just to clarify, the establishment from which the above receipt came is not the kind of bar at which one would find artisanal laser-cut ice. Its the kind of bar where Tuesday night karaoke manages to condense the anguish content of nearly four of Dante's Hellish circular tortures and refine it into one agonizingly harrowing experience by perfectly replicating the screams of all four levels of said damned and channeling them through the vocal apparatii of several extremely snockered college students to a background of Aerosmith or Eminem.
Times are hard. We know this. But there is a difference between considerate, ethical business practices and gouging. And I have the good fortune to not have to depend on the above establishment for alcoholic refreshment. I am lucky enough to have a closer establishment that, because of the weekly pool league I belong to and my moderate but steady business, frequently offers me a tall, ice-filled glass of ginger ale. Gratis. For which I thank the server gladly and, when I exit, leave behind a respectable tip, usually equal to the cost of the beverage itself.

THAT is good business.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ho Ho Ho

Realized it's been a month since I've screeded anything. Could it be I have nothing to say? And this time did NOT write about it?

Anyways, it's the annual shopping season, which means there's a religious holiday or two buried under all of the catalogues, which means someone out there will get a massive bug up their constricted ass because someone else wished them a happy whatever.

So I very carefully stole this from someone else's blog because, as a teacher who seeks to impart knowledge in a brief and simple way, I felt it might appeal or resonate to whoever chances across my little part of the universe.


And Happy Holidays to you, too.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Essential Nature of Cosmic Truth Revealed. Finally.

The last question in the post-show talkback was “In your opinion, what was the theme of the play?” Decent question, and one most likely asked by matriculating theatre students of a certain, still-in-discovery age. Usually this question gets a scatter-shot result, with any number of audience members throwing out concepts with reckless abandon. (“Love!” “Despair!” “You need zombies!”)
In this case, as stated conspicuously in the text, the protagonist's crisis was a “loss of faith.” Decent premise, and certainly can lead to any number of possibilities.The protagonist, a life-long dedicated Christian, finds himself suddenly doubting the very existence of God, the supreme peg on which he's hung his entire life, the very nexus around which he has structured his beliefs, morals, and prejudices. And like most inherently good people, he feels this absence of faith is, not a flaw in the either the deity or the religion itself, but a flaw in his own system.
The Christian God is, by its very nature, perfect. And therefore, he reckons, if god does not exist, or he believes the god does not exist, the responsibility is not God’s, but most definitely his. Guilt abounds. Uncertainty. A questioning of the very nature of the fabric of his existence. So (based on the advice of his friendly neighborhood pastor to “take a vacation”) off he goes, like Don Quixote with a midwestern accent, on a quest to find . . .  he knows not what, because before this (and like many good-hearted folk who put their lives in the hands of their deity) he's never bothered to examine or question his own existence.
The non-thinking blind man begins to travel. We await the awakening of his thinking muscles. Now that hold a promise of good theatre!
And the more I think about the play, the more I come back to the remark I made in the talkback, that by the end of the play, at the point of catastrophe, just before the oh-so disappointing deus ex rectum (when the God of Resolution is pulled from the playwright's nether region to magically tie up the loose ends), I believe that the protagonist had suddenly and finally found, NO, not the answer to his question of faith, BUT, more importantly, the direction in which he was supposed to head in order to achieve his goal. This is the critical moment. We, the audience, can assume, as the character begins to wake up… discover… break out of his self-imposed modes of thinking and self-defeating reactions, discovers his turning point, that he will stumble along his way into the light sooner or later. In this and many other cases, the complete answer, the protracted denouement, the closure,  is not important. Really. Anti-climactic in many instances, I believe (yes, pun intended).
What is critical is his breakout moment, that crest-of-the-shark’s fin of rising action epiphany when he suddenly, surprisingly, and naturally knee-jerks into a heretofore completely different mindset. And it worked. The moment was honest, vital, truthful, and OMG so effin’ sexy.
And yes, most everything had worked up until (and including) that critical point. But the next scene, the last scene, was the wrap-up, and I didn't buy it. Nothing up until then even indicated the resolution the playwright presented. But there we were. Happy ending achieved. (And as some are aware, “Happy Ending” has more than one meaning these days. I mention this disreputable definition simply because a copout ending is metaphorically the same.)
Anyway. Truth. Helluva concept. Our intrepid hero seeks it, but has no idea how to find it. His pitiful wanderings are both aimless and fruitless because he’s never been acquainted with non-linear, instinctive, self-directed thinking. He doesn’t understand it. It’s not a language he can speak. So he looks for a clue, something he can recognize, something he understands the language of. His belief in God has deserted him, so he instinctually seeks something to replace it. He seeks a new set of rules he can follow, something that will give him the answers to Life. And herein lies his real problem: He seeks to replace his panacea, and does not look at himself. He who worships icons and subjugates himself to these idols cannot understand being his own god. He seeks outside direction and can’t trust his own heart. So he seeks a brand new, simple, objectively clear answer, just like the ones he’s believed up till now.
If life were that easy, drama would not exist. But Truth, like the sculpture device presented in this play, is representative. Literalism and objectivity are useless here; what our hero needs to unlock the door is a metaphor, a non-linear, abstract, figurative epiphany. When one’s own language fails, Truth must communicate by abstracts, by emotion.
Truth. Ya know . . . it sounds great, but . . . its very nature is a threat. It promises an objectively accurate mirror to one's own psyche. But who really wants to see who they are? We say we do, but frankly . . . that shit is terrifying. We spend so much time in our heads, subconsciously building up an image we can live with, be proud of, that just gets us through the day. Truth? Dude . . . absolutely! No problem. Talk to me tomorrow, okay?
And here I arrive (OMG finally) at the crux of the biscuit: truth in playwriting. The play I recently saw upon which I base this circuitous typing exercise was . . . well . . . the story moved, the characters were (almost) all interesting, and the direction was solid, imaginative, and visually stimulating. But the play itself — the text — forsook finding the truth of the dramatic crisis and settled for an out-of-left-field plot device to steer the protagonist into a revelation that supposedly settled the dramatic question. I respectfully say, “Poppycock.”
I tell my basic playwriting students this: that a denouement does not have to wrap things up tightly. And here is where I see what kind of people my students are. Life, I pontificate sonorously, is a really long and mostly boring story. Nearly every play you see is the last part of a section of someone’s life. Could be the very last section, in which they die. Could not be, in which case they go on. But, in well-crafted plays, they go on changed. Irrevocably. Some students get this in theory, others completely shut it off. For them Truth means absolute closure; everything all tidied up with no flaps sticking out anywhere. And this forces them into a mode of playwriting that can easily deny the very essential truth of human existence: that the imperfect nature of humanity denies, nay, abhors a clean wrap-up.
So, the poor befuddled students ask me, how do you end a play?
Truthfully, I reply. You’ll know it when it happens. Blank looks ensue, possibly scorn.  I try again. Let the play tell you, I say. Let the play write itself. Now the looks range from one or two quiet “I got it” smiles to notebooks petulantly slamming closed.
Explication: The stimulating device in the play in question was the protagonist’s dying mother. There were three scenes featuring her, but her element was never truly utilized. Her illness never had the emotional weight to sway our intrepid yet quixotic hero into seeking the truth of his own dilemma. No interaction, no action at all, really, between near-catatonic Mom and our intrepid hero. No, it is not our job to assume what he felt, how he was affected. How did he feel about her? All we ever saw of her was her death. That wasn’t special; mothers die all the time. Yes, it’s tragic, but without seeing the relationship itself how can we judge the effect of the passing? Did he love her? Was there a long-standing resentment? We don’t know. So her passing could not sway us to understand his final decision.
He says he suddenly no longer believes in God; fair enough. What does he do to rectify that dilemma? Does he seek spiritual answers in a quest for religious truth? No, he gets drunk, does drugs, falls in with ne’er-do-wells, and tries to learn sculpting. While on this hejira he deserts his wife (a cipher in the play; does she have a personality? We never find out. She is the true Stepford wife, dutiful, and nearly without identity/dialogue), leaves his dying mother to slowly fade away, and abandons both his daughters, only one of whom will have anything to do with him (another issue raised but never examined). But hey ... the mother's death brings him home, instills cosmological hope, and makes him beg for the love of his wife. Ooooo-kay.
Truth. It doesn't happen here. Not in this play. It comes sooooo close, then diverges at the 1:54 mark. A breakthrough—a true breakthrough--happens and then the play leads, no it LEAPS, to something that should have taken another 43 minutes to get to. Truth is the biggest demon for a storyteller.
The protagonist was not searching for his lost faith in God. That was his symptom. In any journey story, heroes travel through discoveries, and almost inevitably the greatest discovery is the one where the hero realizes that his/her original crisis was a symptom of a different problem. In this case his loss of faith in God is really a questioning of his entire life, a midlife crisis, a creeping sense of the fruitlessness of one's avocation, marriage, beliefs. The approach to and the inevitable realization of the truth of the matter: What the Fuck Am I Doing? How the Fuck Did I Get Here? What the Fuck Do I Do Now???
Taken generically, midlife crises are mundane. Boring. Dime a dozen. Its not his dilemma; It’s how our hero attempts to solve his dilemma that makes him interesting. Whether he does or doesn’t is essentially immaterial; it’s his choices along the way that tell the story, show who he is, and keep our interest. Truth is in the action.
Truth, like the sculpture that was produced by our regretful, sorrowful, emotionally traumatized protagonist at the top-of-the-shark-fin catastrophic moment, is not objective but representational. It shows a unique glimpse of a thing beyond true representation, beyond diagramming. We get a slim slice of a vision of the nature of grief, the simple yet earth-shaking nature of the ache in our hearts. Essential truth doesn't come in a chaptered book full of answers and step-by-step solutions. It comes as images, fleeting moments, epiphanies, subjective representations that speak the language for which there is no verbal equivalent, where emotions like love, joy, fear, and despair dwell. We’re not even sure our hero gets it all himself, but his breakthrough comes as he finally understands how to express himself representationally, instead of trying to replicate a moment precisely and accurately. Instead he learns that life and love and pain are instances, indescribables, non-diagrammable, unable to be boxed and labeled. His breakthough, where he finally looks into himself and sees his agony, comes in the form of a twisted clay figure that reaches to the sky, its head thrown back, and is so simple, so open, so honest, that it could have been done by a third-grader.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Names. Ehh.

It's confession time: I'm shitty with names. I am. I apologize for it; I don't know why this is. Faces I'm great with; I can remember a face forever, unless, of course you've had Joan Rivers-level botox or reconstructive surgery or you just changed a lot. Let's say I can remember 97.5 percent of all the faces I've had significant contact with. Not bad.

But: even though do I know your face it's entirely possible I may have no effin' clue who you are. Let's say that happens around 4.38 percent of the time. And about 1.8 percent of the time I have absolutely no clue whatsoever who the hell you are or how you know me.
And that's not all. Even when I remember your name, I may not remember it exactly. Especially if your name is either “Kristen” or “Kirsten.” Really? Do we need names this closely constructed? Seems like a waste of good nameage to have two names this similar. Look. I know who you are and I know its a choice of one of the two, and I'll probably screw it up at some point, so can you just accept that and be gracious? I know it's one of those, okay? I may just not be sure about which one is all. And to make it this much worse, the Kirstens have the pronunciation choice of either “KURR-sten” or “KEER-sten.” This is, as ruled by the Supreme Court, abuse of nomenclature.
My proffered solution to this lexicographical transposition is change them both to the same thing. Find some middle ground. “Kisten”? I dunno; just doesn't work for me.
I prefer “Krirsten.” Try it a few times, it will grow on you. (“Krirsten.” “Krirsten.”) A name, by the way, which sounds even better when you utter it in a time of both extreme intimacy and serious physical exertion. The multiple “R”s make it sound like you're growling. (All “Krirstens” love that.)
But the Krirstenage problem is nothing compared to . . . your friends splitting up and re-attaching themselves to new partners. This could hold the most potential for embarrassment.
Maybe this is because I've never been divorced, but you know those couples who've been around since for-fucking-ever?? Like oh, say, Barb and Tony. You've always known “Barb and Tony,” right? It's always been “Barb 'n' Tony,” right? Barb 'n' Tony. Barb 'n' Tony.
After a while it becomes a euphonic mantra, a “Samneric” phenomena. Barb 'n' Tony are a couple who used to be real, separate people but now exist only as metaphysical Siamese twins and whose names have illustrated that spiritual melding by themselves blending into one word. “Barb 'n' Tony.” “Barb 'n' fuckin' Tony.”
So then (whoops) Tony does a runner cuz he worked for Enron or BP or he emailed all of Emeril's secret recipes to Wikileaks and whaddya know a year or so later it becomes not “Barb 'n' Tony” anymore but “Barb 'n' Lars.” And you get together with them about six times a year for a couple years, and you're being careful to remember that the guy is Lars. Lars. LARS. And of course (because you knew it would happen sooner or later) one day, because whoopsidaisy you just forgot to be careful, you introduce them as “Barb 'n' Tony.” And everyone looks like you're a prime asshole. Which technically you kinda are, face it.
But you know what? The lineups change so much these days you (a) can't keep track, and (b) shit happens. And ultimately it comes down to (c) “Barb 'n' Lars” just not sounding all that good in the first place.
If “Barb 'n' Lars” were actually a real word it would be “barbinlars,” as in:
“Honey, did you remember the barbinlars on the way home? We need to shleem the fartznogg this weekend.”
Barbinlar's Cockatoo, found only on the north face of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Barbinlars. Straightens out your erectile dysfunction problem.”
What's even weirder is that all of Lars's friends (say that out loud: Lars's) call them “Larsinbarb.” 
Make up your own meanings.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Stupid is the New Black.

Stupid is the New Black.
Okay, so maybe it’s not so new, but Stupid has been trendy-chic for, in this current mini-age, as I estimate, at least since Forrest Gump elevated impaired intelligence to near-godlike standards. (Don't bother correcting me; this is when I first noticed the enthusiastic trend towards mass ignorance in this country.)
So what pissed me off enough to start this latest screed? I finally saw an episode of “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” Of course I'd heard about it, only in passing, and chuckled it off as yet another cheap attempt to titillate the masses. I hadn't seen it until last night.
Kelli Pickler was the celebrity guest. I don't have broadcast/ cable/ satellite TV, so I've never seen an episode of “American Idol.” But within one minute my jaw was on the floor, and not because of her singing talent. Because of her unbelievable lack of even the most basic grammar school knowledge.
I offer these Picklerisms:
When asked what European country Budapest is the capital of:
“I thought Europe was a country.”
On Budapest itself: “I know they speak French there, don't they? Is France a country? I don't know if France is a country, but I'm gonna say France.”
On hearing the correct answer: “Hungary? I've heard of Turkey, but... really??”
And my favorite: When offered the multiple choice question “Which is the name of a president?” and given the three choices: Johns Hopkins, Franklin Pierce, and Brigham Young:
“Why can't you give me an easy one, like George Washington? … Okay, so I'm gonna go with “Pierce” because both of our names start with “P”. Oh, and his name has a lot of the same letters as mine; it's just missing an “L”. And a “K.” And I have pierced ears.”
Totally aghast.
What I think is the genuine crux of this particular biscuit, not just for Ms. Pickler, but for a lot of our students, is what she said in reference to Budapest: “I've never even heard of it.”
Oh, and she also struggled with determining how many “E”s were in the word “watermelon.” (To be fair, the next contestant could not decide how many “E”s were in “mathematics”, so he chose to put the burden of the task onto his fifth-grade partner, who then proceeded to save his pathetically stupid ass.)
Okay, granted, very few folks in the U.S. need a Ph.D in Hungarian Studies, and I have no idea of the percentage of Americans who visit Budapest every year (I'd love to spend a few weeks in the area). But a rough general knowledge of THE REST OF THE WORLD is probably a good thing to have. You know, for like, parties and shit. Impressing potential fuck-buddies. Trivial pursuit.
It was tragic. What started out as gruel for ridicule soon showed out as a horrible example of what happens when the shortcomings of our educational system get air time.
By the end I felt horrible, not just for Ms. Pickler (who I'm told is one hell of a singer), but for all the Ms. Picklers; victims of a criminally underfunded, over-tinkered educational system that too many times puts bar graphs and abstract statistics (the stuff of promotional brochures) in its front yard and buries the educational welfare of its students in the basement.
Seriously. Come on, folks! Why didn't she know these things? They're not difficult. What happened to her to make her think Europe was a country and not know that France was?
Kelli Pickler is a victim. Not just of a weak education but of a society that many times eschews extra-American knowledge, that finds refuge and sanctity behind the jingoistic belief that we are the Greatest Country on Earth. That national pride demands that we pursue a limited, self-centered propogandist agenda instead of a world-centric, inclusive, survey of the world we happen to live in. (As if giving equal time to other cultures is an indication of a weakened sense of patriotism.) And I don’t just mean by introducing jingoistic rhetoric into the pliable minds of our future, but simply by not bringing home the importance of places and people outside our borders. We deny by ignoring. 
(And no, I am not forgetting that there are many schools whose curricula are globally oriented and pan-culturally egalitarian. But they are as islands in the pedagogical ocean.)
Some friends I grew up with in The Bronx also share a bit of this xenophobic dearth of basic geography. They're not bad people. They're not evil. They simply have never been imbued with a pertinent reference or intellectual imperative to seriously undertake various subjects such as global studies. Or for that matter, spelling. One friend had never heard of the Sistine Chapel.
Am I an elitist? Really? I honestly don't think so. A snob? Pffft, yeah, but not in this subject.
I've witnessed firsthand the calamitous attempts made by some college students to write an essay. It's a miracle some of these weren't handed in in crayon. Every grammatical and syntactical error you can possibly imagine shows up in these scribbles. And I'm not picking on a few students. I'm talking widespread problem.
The U.S. was ranked 17th in an assessment of the education systems of 50 countries, behind several Scandinavian and Asian nations, which claimed the top spots. Finland and South Korea grabbed first and second places, respectively, in a global league table published by the education firm Pearson, while Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
If we are indeed the Greatest Nation in the World, why the hell can't we do better than this?
Someone argued with me that Ms. Pickler is from North Carolina and the implication was “Well, isn't the reason for her lack of knowledge obvious?” Ummm . . . no. Not to me. (Well, maybe. NC just passed the Motorcycle Safety Abortion Bill, which states that . . . no. No. Must Not. Digress. Must. Not. Digress.  Uurrrrggghhh . . . )
Color me Pollyanna, but I still believe education can and should be of universal high quality, regardless of the geographical area. This, despite the regional and cultural differences between our Greatest Nation’s different cultural regions.
Take for instance New York City, the city of the ages. Long pimped as The Biggest, The Best, The Most This, The Most That, etc. Surely a city of this immense size, record-setting diversity, and nearly-unlimited resources must have an educational system unparalleled by anywhere else, no?
New York City officials openly admit that a high school diploma earned in our public schools today does not mean that a student is ready for college. In fact, 80 percent of New York public school graduates who enrolled in City University of New York community colleges last fall still needed high school level instruction—also known as remediation—in reading, writing, and especially math. Despite the department's proclamations, that percentage is up, not down, from 71 percent a few years ago. Algebra, which is a CUNY graduation requirement, is by far the most challenging for the city's public school grads: Just 14 percent pass the CUNY algebra placement exam.
Oh, and BusinessWeek's article on the subject blames who? Parents. Yeah, we’re back to early 1970s psychobabble-shift-the-blame-onto-parents crap for the poor showings of our nation's progeny. (
Okay, fine. Maybe parents are partly to blame. I think everyone involved in this viscous circle shares blame, at least a little bit. But ask a group of educators why they are stymied, frustrated, and feel like they're throwing bricks into the Grand Canyon, and several complaints crop up over and over:
Lack of clarity about the goal of schooling. Jamming facts into a kid's head to be simply regurgitated at test time is bullshit. The kids hate it, the teachers hate it. Kids learn in a wide scope, not just statistics. Socially, emotionally, linguistically, ethically, and physically. These are all parts of child development; we can't just artificially inflate the Regent's scores and let the rest go to Hell.
The result of this force-feeding is that kids become more and more resistant. They actively push away the things being pushed at them. They are locked into a system they have no control over. I am in no way saying let the inmates run the asylum, but when administrations are focused entirely on test scores, or the government decides to “get tough” and rate the teachers solely on the students' performances (or on student reviews, a completely asinine practice if there ever was one), we rapidly destroy any desire to continue learning. Or teaching.
And this rigidity comes with a higher price: the “one size fits all” circle of Hell. One size does not fit all. Not in clothing (except tube tops and we won't discuss that sartorial atrocity), not in education. By attempting to create a universal rubric we deliberately ignore the fact that children learn differently; Johnny's visual mode is not Rainbow's tactile experience, nor is it RaShawn's ability to absorb any lecture thrown at him.
No Child Left Behind. Holy moley, what a fustercluck this is. First of all, it was ridiculously underfunded, so its efficacy was hobbled from the start. Sure; issue the mandates then cut the funding. And because the till is dry, teachers sometimes have to get supplies using funds from their own pockets. (Thank god their pay is on par with most organized sports professionals or we’d be in real trouble.) And when’s the last time you bought a textbook? Caviar and cocaine are cheaper. By adopting an insipid idea of mass standardization focusing on an outcomes-based system (yes, we’re back to tube tops), we force teachers to teach to some hypothetically universally fair and comprehensive test instead of teaching to the students themselves. Every year we have thousands of good-hearted people wandering naively, wide-eyed, and without body armor, into the educational equivalent of the Fire Swamp who, honestly, want to do some good. They want to teach, to make things better. And they find themselves stymied by the Rubrics Of Unusual Senselessness, trapped in a system designed by Rube Goldberg on a six-day bender. And when NCLB fails in a district, what happens? Sanctions are imposed, from curricular reorganizations to firing personnel “relevant to the failure.”
And, oh yeah. Empowerment. In some places the students have too much say in the running of their classrooms. Which is not to say that they shouldn’t have some. But when empowerment gets in the way of learning by enabling students to have too much effect on the way educators need to do their jobs, then we have a big problem. And that’s nothing compared to the pressure we put on our educators by holding their students’ performance ratings over their heads as evidence of their efficacy. Or even dumber and dumbest: using students end-of-year personal evaluations to a significant degree as an indicator of their professor’s ability to teach.
True story: some friend’s kids came home a month ago (they’re nine and in third grade) and told me that the Big Test they had to take in two days was Very, Very Important. And, they stated, their teacher urged them on to take their time, be sure about their answers, and to do as best as they could because their test scores would reflect directly on her job rating.
I blame the System. I blame the inability of administrators, parents, and citizens everywhere to resist the urge to categorize, systemize, and quantify that which cannot be deciphered into bar graphs. We insist on relying on the deniability factor, that which excuses failure because we followed the fucking survey's results instead of becoming attuned to our students' needs and developing as teachers who can see, evaluate, assimilate data, and modify our methods as we go. We continue to fail because we fund our educational system so poorly that we continually put our teacher’s hunger to better the world on a starvation diet. We continue to fail because the trend is to privatize what we can in order to put a dollar value on everything in sight. We continue to fail because we do not teach the Kelli Picklers the importance of why it’s critical to know that Europe is a continent, that France is a country, and that Budapest is the capital of Hungary.
Why is it relevant? Because you live on this planet. Your life and the lives of your friends and family rely directly on understanding how it works. You need to know what it looks like, where things are, what the state of the world is, at least in a general way. You need to know what the hell is happening and why. Because you live here and because of that you are partly responsible. And most of all, you need to know this shit for the simple reason that your ignorance, especially on national TV, does not validate your personal point of view but instead makes you look like an idiot. And provokes evil malcontents like me to scribble petulantly vitriolic screeds like this that 12 people will read.
We need to stop programming the life out of our educational system. We need to let our professionals do their jobs, the jobs they trained for, and we need to fund these professionals as professionals should be funded, especially since they hold the future success or failure of our society in their hands.
Corporatization—in nearly all incarnations--leads to cultural death and economic slavery.
Kelli Pickler is a victim of the Greatest Country in the World.
No Child Left Behind my ass.

Friday, July 5, 2013

We **CAN** Do Better Than This

This is the kind of shit that makes me wanna wipe the slate clean and start all over.



I could screed on this one for paragraphs, but how would that get the point across any more effectively than this picture? And besides, it was time for a short blog post. Happy Independence weekend. May the 4th be with you.


Friday, June 21, 2013

“I Hate Going Anywhere With You.”

I hear that every so often. I also hear:
“Mr. Crankypants”; or,
“Well, fine, but *I* liked it.” And my favorite:
“Someone needs a nap.”
To be perfectly honest (as much as I can be, trapped in subjective egoism) I am, without equivocation, a pain in the ass to take to a piece of entertainment that I have to fork out $$$ to witness. (I'm equally as picky with free stuff, but paying for it gives me extra self-righteousness.)
There are two tines on this bitchfork: having to pay exorbitant prices for entertainment and having to pay exorbitant prices for entertainments that cheat me out of my due: a logical, sensible, truthful plot that resonates with richly developed, somewhat sympathetic characters not overshadowed by ever-increasing smash-and-bang CGI, that, as the patron saint of Messrs. Crankypants everywhere, the unsurpassed God of Nasty, Pete Townshend, so eloquently put it: “It's all Shepherd's Bush entertainment; you smash a guitar and a thousand geezers go “Aaahhhhh.”
And the second tine: paying $$$ for a plot that wraps itself up so neatly and impossibly, wherein the hero and/or heroine escapes almost perfectly intact with their cohort of sympathy-inducing straggle-ons from a series of disasters so complete and nearly Armageddon...ic... that it boggles the mind. (At least Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman had the decency to die in the “Poseidon Adventure.”)
Money, right? Who's got it these days? My local ubermegamultiplex charges up to $14.00 for one movie. How much is that in minimum wage hours? (Hmmm... in New York State it's $7.25/hour. If the average digital eye candy runs 2 hours 20 minutes, that's 2.33333333 times $7.25, which comes out to... carry the logarithm... $16.91 in minimum wage hours. You come out ahead by $2.91, not counting snacks, in which case you lose about another $15 if you go for the suitcase-sized Raisinettes and an über-vat of cola-flavored high fructose corn syrup.
And live theatre's even worse. Local prices range from $28-$60 for a two-hour show. The benefit is that you get real people hoofin', singin', and emotin' all for you. (Way more expensive, but I can work with real folk sweatin' it out just for me.)
Regardless. I don't have tons of disposable dollars to throw away without a second thought. Even if I did, I'd want my money's worth. I want someone to have sweated over the script, who actually put something of themselves into it, something honest, something true, who gives me something I have to think about. That I can take away. So when I go to the theatre and the plot only adds up to so much instead of where it could have gone if the playwright had preferred spilling some metaphysical blood across the page instead of just pushing sociological buttons without real exploration in order to be current/edgy/daring, I get annoyed. I hate it when the plot cheats out by settling for a more heart-friendly ending instead of biting the bullet, taking the hard road to existential truth and reaching maximum emotional potential. I'm not asking for The Most Profound Script Ever Written; I'm asking for some attempt at logic and truth.
Ya wanna know one of my all-time favorite endings? The last 48 seconds of “Hudson Hawk.” Previously in the movie (SPOILER ALERT FOLLOWS HERE!!!) Danny Aiello is seen going over a cliff in a limo which (a) plunges a hundred feet and smashes into the base of said cliff, and then (b) explodes in a huge fireball. Given the understanding that he is still in the doomed limo, we assume that he is clearly and totally dead, by way of being mangled, exploded, and roasted. Yet, surprisingly, he reappears at the end, riding a convenient donkey, only mildly bruised and lightly scorched. Comrade in crime Bruce Willis expresses due shock, (with more than a touch of nudge nudge wink wink) and asks the miraculously reconstituted Aiello how he survived the crash.
“Air bags!” Aiello replies joyfully. “Can you fuckin' believe it???”
“But what about the fire?” Willis asks (somewhat paraphrased by this writer).
“Sprinkler system!! Can you fuckin' believe it???”
Why is that a great ending? Because by asking if we can fuckin' believe it, the movie harpoons and lampoons every Hollywood cop-out bullshit truthless ripoff climax crowbarred into a substandard plot specifically intended to keep audiences smiling on their way out of the megamultiplex.
Okay, granted. I don't realistically expect much from blockbuster, high-energy, low-brainage movies like the reboot of “Star Trek.” Yeah, it was killer on character, and that's what was important after decades of adoring fandom for Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, et al (and followed by Picard and company). I enjoyed the hell out of the new kids on the nebula, but scientifically and plot-wise . . . ? It was (thank you, Spock) illogical, ridiculous, and insulting to a gerbil's intelligence. Flying into a black hole. Really. And people call me picky. What's next? Swimming across a river of lava?
But Star Trek is only a symptom of the disease. The level of what I'm expected to ingest these days without question is staggering. (Oh, and on a side note: did anybody else shudder at the sight of a crashing spaceship in Start Trek II that destroyed several people-filled skyscrapers, killing no doubt a thousand or two, only to have a character escape the crash by leaping off of the ship onto a . . . whatever. Really?? Even after 9-11?)
Entertain me. If that's what you offer, then do it well and do it with respect for my intelligence. Thrill us as best you can and if you can possibly raise the bar, then OMG please jack that shit up. You won't turn us off. Trust us to rise to the occasion. Don't settle for formula; use the formula to break new ground, give us something we won't forget. Surprise us. And don't try to engage me with important  issues only to fail me with nothing important to say about them. Don't fluff my ethical spirit. I expect to not be treated like an idiot. (Although there is the argument that I possibly invite it by walking in and paying the high price (at least at the megamultiplex, anyway)).

And I do expect some evidence of respect for my capacity of disbelief suspension. I do expect--and will always continue to expect—that writers and producers will understand that my forked-over, hard-earned shekels will be given their full value and exchanged for a plot that at least tries to impress me, rather than simply making me go “Aaaaaahh.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Anna's Prophylactics Shock

So that's what I heard right after I heard “You may experience death.” I believe I can be excused from not hearing “anaphylactic shock” after the shock of hearing “you may experience death.” Blame it on age; I don't recoil as fast as I used to.
Okay, look. I'm 53 years old. Three years ago I missed being hit by a bolt of lightning the size of a tree trunk by less than a foot. The damn thing blew my chunky ass off a rock face and dumped me eight feet away. I survived viral meningitis when I was eight; the doctors told my mother not to get her hopes up. I was almost beheaded on the number one IRT train playing Chicken in between the cars. (The memory of that one still makes me twitch uncontrollably.) I had five concussions by the time I was nine. FIVE, people. I had pneumonia three times before my tenth birthday. A quack doctor almost killed me when I was five by botching my fucking tonsillectomy. Chronic asthma caused me to spend two weeks in an oxygen tent a year later. My appendix burst when I was seventeen. A giggling four-year-old girl in Baghdad in July 2003 threw a live mortar in my direction. Into a three-foot pile of other live mortars.
Somehow I have survived until now. Hopefully I will continue to survive for many years to come. (Sometimes I wonder if I am actually indeed dead and just too obnoxiously stubborn to decompose.) I distinctly remember that in the 7.5 nanoseconds after/as the lightning hit (Canadian lightning, by the way) as I felt it course up through my limbs and through my body and as I felt my body get blown off the too-solid Earth, that my internal dialogue was this: “Really? This is it?? This is just fucking stupid.”
I'm a member of the news team for WRFI 88.1 Ithaca Community Radio. One of the stories I had to compile for today was of a woman bicyclist who was killed as she pulled out of a parking lot. Rear-ended by someone who was texting at the wheel. And just last week a dear cyclist friend was broadsided by some pathetic dipshit who was texting as she was making a turn in a very busy intersection. Luckily my friend escaped with nothing more than severe bruises and some very severe shock. And the week before a man I know only tangentially lost two of his grandkids in a freak automobile accident.
As I said, I'm 53. I have outlived Jesus Christ, Michael Jackson, Dylan Thomas, John Lennon, Edgar Allan Poe, Mata Hari (with whom I share a birthday), Elvis Presley, John Belushi, Keith Moon, Gilda Radner, Baruch Spinoza, Wendy O. Williams, Joey Ramone, Douglas Adams, Malcolm X, Steve McQueen, Hervé Villechaize, Che Guevara, Dimebag Darrell, Vincent Van Gogh, Lady Di, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Napoleon, Houdini, Shakespeare, and Frank Zappa.
(But not Keith Richards. Yet, anyway. Rock on, brother.)
The point is this: According to my allergist, I can be completely undone, my ticket cancelled, made cosmologically redundant, shorn of my mortal coil, harried into Potter's field, made to assume room temperature, hear the fat lady finish, pick parsnips with a step ladder—all of these--by a fucking wasp. Maybe. Possibly. No one wants to say for sure, but in the interests of possible malpractice suits, it has to be there on the table.
Because they have discovered that I am critically allergic to yellow jackets and several types of wasp.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with anaphylactic shock, let me catch you up:
According to
Anaphylaxis is a rare, generalized, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to a particular substance (allergen) to which individuals have previously developed an extreme sensitivity (hypersensitivity). The reaction typically occurs within seconds or minutes or, more rarely, up to a few hours after exposure to such an allergen. Allergens may include insect venom, certain foods, medications, vaccines, chemicals, or other substances. An anaphylactic reaction may be characterized by development of an itchy, reddish rash (hives); a severe drop in blood pressure; swelling and obstruction of the mouth, nose, and throat; abdominal cramps; nausea and vomiting; diarrhea; and severe difficulties breathing. Without immediate, appropriate treatment, the condition may rapidly lead to a state of unconsciousness (coma) and life-threatening complications.
Pretty nasty stuff.

So now I have to carry on my person--at all times--a pair of Epipens. (No, this is not a endorsement of a product. Not a paid one, anyway.) Each of these devices contains two things: a solution of epinephrine, and (as you can see) a huge fucking needle with which I will have to stab myself in the thigh in order to introduce said epinephrine. (Knowing me, I'll probably stab myself half a dozen times just to make sure. I'll probably die from blood loss instead.)
I understand that we all live with a basic idea of the fragility of life, that at any given moment, without warning, without decent mental or spiritual preparation, we can be cut off. And no, it's not fair. Lots of things on this planet are not “fair.” But they are inevitable, unchanging, irrevocable, and you sure as hell can't argue with Death. You can't play chess with it, you can't offer up a substitute, and you can't bargain.
But we, that is most of us in the modernized first world, live largely and nearly free from the ever-looming shade of the Grim Reaper. Most of us don't worry about where we're gonna sleep, what we're gonna eat, what we have to wear. Or when the next roving band of psychopathic killers will wheel through our village, bringing savagery, turmoil, and tragedy. Or if some mysterious virus of which we have no access to treatment from will arrive in the form of conquistadors or monkeys and wipe us the fuck out. And on the other hand, while we may not be as rich as Ted Turner, with all of his access to top-level medical care, many of us aren't begging for scraps. In short, most of us are, despite the Rube Goldberg model of medical care here in the good old U.S. of A., in varying levels of relativity, fortunate.
So we go our (somewhat) fortunate ways and we keep the notion of The End in the backs of our heads. Wouldn't do much good to whine about it anyway; it's like relatives; you gotta put up with them eventually. Most of us pretend to forget about it and get on with our existences.
We can't ever truly forget it, though, so we dally with it, in literature, movies, and such. We “explore” the theoretical possibilities of an afterlife through religion or philosophy or paranormal science. We seek answers. Any clue at all would be helpful, but it's all a joke. No one's come back yet to tell us what's on the other side. Could be nothing: could be the complete and utter absence of being and consciousness. Could be reincarnation. Could be fluffy clouds and harp lessons and a giant old guy with a big beard. To posit the myriad phenomenae or to profess its supposed truth, what you will: it's all nothing more than ontological masturbation, no matter what anyone says.
And for the thousands of our kith and kin who are nearing the exit door, who know for certain the direction and sometimes the forward distance of their lives, death becomes a Kubler-Ross progression. Finally settling on acceptance and knowing the end is way more than a theoretical concept, actually seeing it ahead, feeling it, may sometimes help the journey become less frightening; there is a knowledge of what's to come, and demystifying the near future could possibly aid in the mental ability to move through the days that follow.
Our modern day idea of death is unlike any that has come before. Think of it: it's only been within the last hundred years or so, through medical advances, that humankind has managed to stave off the immediacy of death. We've made life last significantly longer. For the first time in our history as sentient, upright beings, we can effectively postpone Death. We also possess the means by which we can make it easier, more bearable, and less painful. We can even refuse it entrance, as in the cases where individuals are kept at a basic functioning level, a technical sort of life by biological reasoning; all by machines.
But even this is no cure; it's only a stopgap measure. We can't cure Death, and I'm sure we shouldn't try. For one thing, we already number over six billion on this planet; just think about trying to find a decent apartment.
I've been lucky so far (knocking wood). Epinephrine and I now have a close, no doubt lifelong, relationship. That's okay. One more thing to adapt to.
And life does indeed go in circles. As with the moment where I met the lightning, I now think: Really? Fucking wasps??? That's just so unbelievably stupid.

Monday, June 10, 2013

POL 358: Civics and Security in Post 9/11 United States • Mid-term exam

You have 15 minutes to complete this exam. Each question is worth 5 points. Use only a number two pencil. Cheaters will be waterboarded.

I. Multiple Guess
Question 1: The line between totalitarian state and judicious use of surveillance is:
a)             Tricky
b)            Blurry
c)             Nonexistent

Question 2: Our president is:
a)  Dedicated to protecting our personal privacy and upholding our inalienable rights as laid
     out in the Constitution and Bill of Rights
b) Completely unaware that the NDAA allows indiscriminate arrest and detainment of any 
     U.S. citizen anywhere in the world
c) The hand puppet of Wall St

Question 3: Totalitarianism only happens in other countries
a)             Yes
b)            No
c)             What other countries?

Question 4: The right to privacy is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights
a)             Yes
b)            No
c)             I haven’t read it recently
d)            I haven’t read it. Ever.

Question 5: The government has the capability to observe you through your webcam
a)             Yes
b)            No
c)             Oh shit

Question 6: The NSAs new Utah Data Center, which can collect and analyze over 5 zettabytes (1 billion terrabytes, or more than an entire year of global internet traffic) is totally unlike the Star Wars Death Star because:
a)             Darth Vader is really some actor with James earl Jones’ voice
b)            Susan Rice does not have cinnabuns glued to the sides of her head
c)             We say so.

II. Essay questions
The next two questions are based on the following passage:
The Fourth Amendment – Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
1)            Define “probable cause”
2)            Does internet use fall into this category of protection? Why or why not?

The next three questions are based on the following passage:
Fifth Amendment – due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, eminent domain.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
a) Are we currently in a “time of War or public danger”?
b) Describe, in detail, the most recent period in U.S. history that we were not in “a time of War or public danger”
c) Explain how a U.S. citizen can, in a criminal prosecution, legally be deprived of his/her liberty within due process of law and still be denied the right to an attorney or a speedy trial

III. True or False
Pick one from either column A or column B:

“It’s for the public good.”                                                     Truth              Bullshit
“There is a credible and distinct difference                      Truth              Bullshit
between ideas that are meant to change
society and terrorism.”                                                        
“Coercive questioning is necessary to detect                     Truth              Bullshit
and prevent terrorist activities.”
“We know where the line between homeland                  Truth              Bullshit
security and fascist despotism lies and we will never
cross it, no matter how dire things become.”
“We don’t spy on Americans.”                                             Truth              Bullshit
It is always best to trust the experts. They have               Truth              Bullshit
knowledge that we don’t and are far more
experienced in determining what’s best
in an emergency situation.
I believe that, in the effort to fight terrorism,
my government has the right to:
a) tap my phone                                                                   Truth              Bullshit
b) read my emails                                                                 Truth              Bullshit
c) monitor my web use                                                        Truth              Bullshit