Friday, January 30, 2009

Putting F-U-N into A-B-C

My son wonders why he needs to go to school and I can't help agreeing with him. Not because I am an advocate of truancy -- I believe that a quality public education is one of the most important aspects of any cultured society -- it's just that our outmoded methods of education makes me wonder whether the ultimate purpose is to create worker bees or independent, critical thinkers? Don't bother to answer. I just have a really hard time understanding why educational methods haven't changed in the hundred years since I feigned a stomach ache every morning. And I'm not talking about preschool or Kindergarten here, which are heavenly compared to my Dickensian experience. I'm alluding to the tedium that kicks in around Fourth grade, when the fun stops. Compared to the technological progress we've seen over the past thirty years and the tools that we could use to stimulate learning, it's hard to believe that schools still offers the same, mind-numbing diet of politically correct, vapid text books, and endless test prepping now thrown in for good measure, making it simultaneously tiresome and pressured. Aside from the occasional, wildly-inspiring teachers who pop up now and again -- incredible souls who shine like beacons on a foggy night -- we have barely evolved in our ability to tire the pants off our kids so that the notion of freedom, i.e. leaving school ASAP is something to be yearned for, not dreaded by those who aren't considered 'academic.' Surely we can come up with a creative way to inspire and motivate our kids so that they might actually crave information? Wait a minute. Was that a high pitched wail I just heard emanate from the dreary halls of the Board of Ed? Wouldn't it be logical to design educational units that are 'fun' and 'creative' as the springboard for a whole new system so that kids who are into video games might actually learn algebra while they're directing the earth's population into oblivion? How about using the online Lego-building application to teach spatial skills? I am a huge fan of Dr. Howard Gardener's theory of Multiple Intelligences that promotes the notion that each child learns via different forms of unconventional intelligences such as music smart, word smart, number/reasoning smart, picture smart, people smart, body smart, self smart, and nature smart. Schools focus mostly on the word and number smart kids and the rest are left to the guidance counselors, behavioral therapists, and ultimately, to a slow death of the soul, uninformed by education as it really should be -- a wondrous process of intrigue and learning that could seduce even the most unenthusiastic learners.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Network Nitpicking

In this age of information it would be oh so wonderful to get some news. Real news that asks tough questions, probes, investigates and demands answers. There used to be a job for those with the stamina and leathery skin suited to it -- it was known as journalism and it wasn't always a degree program at some elite grad school that got you directly into the field (in case Daddy couldn’t swing it for you). These days, the Ivy League is the fast track and almost a sure way to secure a gig and worthy contacts in the Big Press. It also helps if you have an enormous, teased, and highlighted Texas do – ladies too! But time was when those with a yen for digging in the dirt and unearthing gems spent less time in front of the mirror, bypassed the degree options (there weren’t any when I was in school) and headed to Fleet Street, in London (now gone), where the pubs were crowded from 11am through dinner with the owners of seriously pickled livers, who could sniff out a great story while completely plastered. These guys scoffed at the notion that a BA in English Literature, let alone Shakespeare or Gerard Manley Hopkins could inform your journo skills. But hang around in their shadows for a few years and you'd learn a thing or two about scoops and leads. They didn’t give a monkey’s ass about hacks or PR people, press releases, or spin, let alone celebrities. And to some extent, the English press is still paving the way and holding dear to the notion that there are two sides to every story and that everyone is accountable, no matter their status, wealth, or position. The higher you climb, the harder you're going to fall if you don't play by the rules should be the directive in every newsroom. Alas, this is apparently not the case Stateside, where we bow to Mammon.

Take Madoff, who managed to elude the truth-seekers, wherever they were, for nine years, or Bush and Cheney, who ruled supreme and subverted the laws, goodwill, and safety of the entire planet in full view of us all, to benefit their own interests while the press stood around and picked lint out of their navels. It was interesting to watch the sheer rage and outcry about Clinton's faux-pas with a girl and a cigar, versus the indifference, bordering on stony silence, in the face of the lying, cheating, stealing, and overall corrupt antics of Messrs. Bush and Cheney, not to mention sending a couple of thousand young American service men and countless Iraqis to their deaths. Forget about Palin. In any other country the press would have ended it for her before it all began.

It’s sad, that we as a nation, have lost our ability to follow through and expose the BS but I guess there is some truth to the aphorism that if you don't get what you like, you end up liking what you get. There is still hope -- Rolling Stone frequently offers excellent investigative pieces, shame about their format -- but the mainstream press? CNN's new promo boasts that they ask the tough questions, but didn’t bother to put any of them recently to officials at the National Association of Evangelicals who booted Pastor Ted Haggard when allegations of his same-sex dalliances surfaced. What happened to Love Thy Neighbor? Poor Ted. But he’s still a believer. And so goes our press. Offering us double standards and keeping us all in a house of mirrors where little truth but lots of crap emerges. As for the real news, the stuff going on beyond our borders, in places that some of us have never even heard of, visit BBC America and discover that there’s a whole world out there that isn’t concerned about whether or not chocolate or red wine will prolong your life.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reflections on the cold, white stuff

Yeaaaa! It's snowing in New York City. It's the weather person's dream come true because they've been warning us for nigh on a month or so about the enormous snow storm headed our way. Temporarily forgetting the fact that in the nineteen years I have lived here the weather people have rarely predicted anything mildly accurate (I'm thinking of that school Snow Day a few years back that turned out to be an incredibly dry, sunny, 60 degree vacation for the kids) I ran out and stocked up on candles, dry milk, flashlights, and canned goods. Filled the spare room with bottled water, batteries, and matches as though it were Y2K all over again and hunkered down, and waited, and waited, and here it is -- at least an inch -- two perhaps! And it's still coming down, more like frigid rain than snow, but there's white stuff on the ground, and the Super across the street was scraping it at 5am this morning, so I can't help figuring, this is IT! Got the snow shoes out, cleaned off the skis and just checking to see if the ski pants will ease over my jeans. Then I'm outta' here, to brave it to the corner deli and see if they still have supplies. And then, wait for it, then I'm going to update my status on Freakbook, in case no one else has noticed it's snowing. As I write this, tires are swishing outside and the conscientious, neighboring Super just can't keep his paws off his mechanical snow blower -- he'll often do a midnight number if he sees so much as a piece of dander fall from a passing bird --and I know why. The "City," as in, the municipal arm of this fair capital, doles out instant fines to landlords who have not cleared the sidewalk in front of their buildings, which causes mania every time the accumulation is more than one flake. And what I have come to realize is that this concern from the powers-that-be is not about care at all, as I once suspected. It is about litigation and more importantly, revenue. As with the parking tickets, it's a quick way to raise cash. If it were truly about improving the quality of life here and making sure that the sidewalks and street corners were passable for the elderly and those with strollers or even clumsy clods, like me, then the salt would be out (which it wasn't) and my daughter would not have pratfalled directly into a three foot mound of cold, powdery snow as she emerged from the bus. I'd like to see a wheelchair mount that lot. As for the steps down into the subway -- a treacherous, icy entrance to hell -- take your choice and hold the handrail for dear life, or shoot down faster than a scud missile. Just the other day I was witness to an elderly man who had lost his footing and became downwardly airborne. But there you have it. The world's greatest capital dealing with inclement weather. Your triple tax dollars hard at work making this place a nicer, gentler environment to live in!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Friend Me on F%$#$#$Book!

Are you on F@@**book? It's my new term for the hip new way to stay in touch with your preschool friends from a century back, when phones were rotary and an answering machine was basically someone being home to pick up the call. Now the Mountain comes to Mohammed, sitting at home in front of the computer, clad only in Ghandi-style underpants while trading witty barbs or boring updates with the rest of the planet, but Frickbook has its pitfalls, the biggest being a declaration to the world that you have no life. "I'm headed to the grocery and I'm picking up the 1 percent," has been the general level of status update discourse from those channeling Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. Frickin'book has allowed us all to peep into every boring nanosecond of everyone's life, each time that person decides to share, and some people are taking it very seriously indeed. Which is great. Communication is what it's all about but in general, my suggestion is...TMI!!! I'm happy to hear that you found a parking spot, well done, but do you own a car is my question? Or are you planning to lie in the space until Passover when parking is suspended for a week? Perhaps you are driving a tractor-trailer today, in which case, you found ten spots in a row, and boy, am I impressed! Otherwise, keep it all to yourself, and I will do exactly the same. And furthermore, please learn the difference between writing on someone's wall and sending them a private message, which means less of "I just had a colonoscopy and I had no idea they didn't go through my mouth" and more of "wow, you are looking so hot in that new profile pic." And when you hang out with friends of friends, which is totally fine on the Frickin'book, have the subtlety to make your plans with them offline, or in private and then think twice about posting a record of the event.
"How come I wasn't invited to that dinner at your place last week?" a friend asked, having seen the Frickin'book photos that the people who were invited decided to post online.
"Because I don't like you," is not a conversation you want or need to have. In other words, can we leave something of our lives to everyone's imagination? A tempting tidbit here, an insinuation there, maybe? And then we can all preserve the idea that, sitting before our computers, underpants or fully-dressed, we are as fab and exciting and important as we actually think we are.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Liberty and Justice for All

Saw Milk over the weekend and I was mesmerized, not only by the outstanding performances, but mostly by the message that stayed with me long after the two hour nostalgia trip back to the seventies. The biopic focuses on the first, feint seeds of a national Gay movement, kindled by persecution, fear, and finally, the incredible and unlikely defeat of Proposition 6, an initiative to ban homosexuals from working in the public school system. Like any other witch-hunt, the story of Harvey Milk's rise to become the country's first elected gay official in the face of opposition from the country's Christian Right, is all too-familiar, particularly as we celebrate the nation's first black President. But California's November 2008 vote for Proposition 8, which overturned a state Supreme Court's decision to uphold the legality of same-sex marriage, suggests that although benchmarks come and go, the fight for equality and justice for all continues. Milk raises the importance of activism at every level. Progress begins with one brave or heroic person, driven by passion and injustice -- whether it's Rosa taking the seat, MLK's making a speech, or a guy called Harvey Milk deciding that he just couldn't take it any more. It only takes one person to start the noise, but it takes a moral majority to turn that noise into a cacophony and take the cause to the finish line. Milk is a must-see because it offers a universal truth about something incredibly fundamental, that we take very much for granted -- our civil rights -- and the message is loud and clear, that there, but for the grace of god, go we, be it black, white, Jewish, Moslem, Christian, male, female, or any group that has endured, or will endure persecution. No person should sit in judgement of another, let alone ratify that judgement as law of the land. In a world gone awry, with the Taliban on the rise and our basic rights and freedoms under assault from yet another form of fanaticism -- there are so many, pick your evil -- this movie could not have come at a better time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Small Change

My eight-year old daughter commented quite casually yesterday afternoon that little had changed since President Obama was sworn in on Tuesday. "Not that big a difference," she said, as one who might be assessing our household budget or monitoring the impact of our nation's foreign policy on a daily basis only to find it wanting two days after the administration change. And it struck me that as an ADD, Web-addicted, information-overloaded society we have  come to expect instantaneous results from everything, be it our medical tests (do I have the disease or don't I?) to that plane that surfed the Hudson last week -- behavior moulded on a diet of video games, sensational headlines, and an  American Idol philosophy in which talent can trump time spent honing that talent. And when those who provide this information are in such a rush to get it out, surely something gets lost in the mix? Time was when there was time. Real time. Without the immediate access we are afforded by our 24-7 technology. And so, as we examine every facial tic, mispronounced syllable, incorrect syntax and nuance of the Inauguration, from beginning to end, and we chronicle, examine, and analyze every second of the our new President's waking moments, I have a strong compunction to turn off the radio, put the newspaper away and steer clear of the TV for a day or two and hope that, by the end of the week, there will be some real news to report. As for change -- let's not be impractical here. You have to clean the house before you can decorate it, after all, and this is one filthy dwelling that will require so much more than one guy with the world's biggest mop.