Friday, August 28, 2015

In The Bottle

I am nothing if not a singular apologist for social media. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it. I am not an apologist for social media. While I fully appreciate the way that technology has allowed humans to connect in ways that would have seemed ridiculous and obscure thirty years ago. Being able to share ideas and pen pal letters with classrooms across the globe with counterparts they have only encountered online is a genius thing. On the other hand, I do have to spend a certain amount of time, mandated time, each year explaining to children why we have to be extremely careful about with whom and where we share information. The cell phones in ten-year-olds' pockets that cost more than the computers in the lab are highly sophisticated machines that are designed with the idea of keeping the bearer of that technology in touch with the world. No worries there. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it.
We should expect that with kids. We wouldn't send them out with a lighter and tell them to start up the gas grill without some very specific training and admonitions. Come to think of it, we probably wouldn't even give them the lighter. Matches, maybe.
What about adults?
"Life is short. Have an affair." That's the slogan of the networking site, Ashley Madison. This is a web site that actively promotes infidelity. As a proponent of technology (see above) this is just about the lowest form of in-your-face-what's-wrong-with-this-world-sign-of-the-coming-apocalypse moral decrepitude that makes people old and young wish that there was something wholesome left in this world. The Ashley Madison folks even had a "money back guarantee: "Your money back if your infidelity is not completely satisfying." What could go wrong?
July of this year, a group calling themselves "The Impact Group" hacked into the membership files of Ashley Madison. Whoops. No more discretion. Now that data was free to roam about Al Gore's Internet in ways that even Al might not have imagined. What were the human costs? So far, two people have committed suicide as a result of having their private lives being made very public. The door is currently kicked wide open for more extortion, scams and bad behavior brought on by what was probably a lark that turned into a twisted trail of broken hearts and dented dreams. Karma? Perhaps, but it brings to mind the image that a fellow teacher once suggested to me about ketchup in a bottle. If you don't want ketchup all over everything, don't take it out of the bottle. There is no clever way to get the ketchup back inside once it's out. In this case, your personal business is the ketchup, and the Internet is the paper plate that will now become covered in that ill-advised attempt at using far too much of a condiment. Messy. Ugly. Marriages and relationships ended because of poorly managed ketchup.
Keep it in the bottle.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Forward Into The Past

If you had a time machine, would you go back to Germany in the early 1930's and kill Hitler? Maybe you would go even further and put a great big hole in the Mayflower, ensuring at least another decade or two of peace and quiet for the Native Americans who were doing just fine without a Thanksgiving Feast, thank you very much. Or maybe your sights are just a little shorter, and you happen to be very interested in movies and entertainment. You might figure out a way to halt production on any of the "worst upcoming movies in the next five years." Sure, you could prevent genocide, but if in your mind any movie made starring Adam Sandler is on a par with the attempted extinction of a race of people, then you understand what we're up against.
Please understand that I once enjoyed a bit of Sandler with some seventies soundtrack embellishment. I enjoyed "Big Daddy." I liked "The Wedding Singer." I laughed at "Happy Gilmore." And I truly enjoyed and respected "Punch Drunk Love." I truly believed, in 2002, that Adam Sandler had hit upon something that might take his acting skills and his whole act to a new level. I was wrong. Now he has become a punch line in the story of his own career. I was even tempted to see "Pixels," because it sounded like a very amusing premise: a group of aging video game players have to save the earth from aliens who descend upon the Earth in the shape of all those arcade hits from long ago. Except it starred Adam Sandler, and so I stayed away.
If only I had access to that time machine. I could go back to 2002 and sit Adam down. I could show him clips of the bile he has been serving up for the past decade or so and tell him that there is no reason he couldn't follow his comedic muse and still maintain a certain level of quality. He could even keep finding ways to keep his buddies gainfully employed. Hire a writer. Or two. Get somebody to direct you who isn't afraid of you.
And don't give up and stick your movie on Netflix because your new movie has been deemed offensive by those Native Americans whom we spoke about earlier. Come to think of it, if there was a way to keep any of Sandler's relatives off the Mayflower, maybe we could change history for the better. For good.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Founded On Dumb

Lawyers for accused terrorist Ayoub El Khazzani reported that their client was "dumbfounded" by allegations that he was on a train last weekend to commit an act of terror. The fact that he was armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, Luger automatic pistol, nine cartridge clips and a box-cutter wasn't fully addressed by the defense team, but I'm guessing that showing up on any sort of public transportation with a box cutter is sending a pretty clear message. That message, according to Mister El Khazzani, would seem to be, "Hey, there are a lot of boxes that need opening on French trains, and if my box cutter gets lost, I can always use my semi-automatic pistol or my machine gun to get them open." That is, unless he had been more successful in his alleged terrorist attack, in which case some rowdy group of militant-types would have claimed responsibility for the acts of this lone gunman. Instead, he turns out to be just that: A lone gunman. Unfortunately for Ayoub, the three American tourists who chose to act together put a pretty solid hurting on him after he got off just a few shots, wounding just one. Not very terror-filled, sorry. At least we now have an answer to the old riddle: When is a terrorist not a terrorist? Of course, I'm willing to bet that when those three college boys were beating him unconscious with his own rifle, there may have been some terror on board that train, but I expect it was pretty centralized. It could also be that the beating he sustained may have been the cause of any "dumbfoundedness."
Meanwhile back here in the states, down Alabama way, Donald Trump was busy stumping for whatever office it is that he seems to be running for currently: CEO, Fuhrer, terrormeister. While wearing his "Make America Great Again" cap and spouting his newly enhanced vitriol, voices in the crowd were crying out: "White Power!" One of these voices later added to the throng of media which now flocks to each and every Trump utterance, “Hopefully, he’s going to sit there and say, ‘When I become elected president, what we’re going to do is we’re going to make the border a vacation spot, it’s going to cost you twenty-five dollars for a permit, and then you get fifty dollars for every confirmed kill. That’d be one nice thing.” That was Trump fan Jim Sherota, a local on hand to cheer the man and his vision. Cheryl Burns, visiting from California with time on her hands to take in the spectacle had this to add: “There is no more California,” she said. “It’s now international, lawless territory. Everything is up for grabs. Illegal aliens are murdering people there. People are being raped. Trump isn’t lying about anything — the rest of the country just hasn’t found out yet.” I live in California, and I didn't know that. You know how I feel?

Dumbfounded. Terrified.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Less Filling

“Never send care packages to the so-called starving families in Europe because they’re not starving at all. Can you afford to live in Europe? No. You can’t even afford to visit Europe. And you know what they do with the care packages you send? They whack them with their polo mallets and kick them in their swimming pools and have a good laugh at your expense.” These are the words that I put away in my memory, along with a great many others, after listening to that National Lampoon record over and over in those formative years. The ones we call "teenage." Those were heady times, back when my world view was still forming, but comedy albums were essential for the generation of that view. Those of you who have kept track of that vision over the years shouldn't be surprised that mine comes with a laugh track.
But now back to that whole starving children concern. I was never truly badgered by my parents to clean my plate, at least in as much as it could have saved lives in some foreign country. In Europe, Asia, or even down the street from where I lived. This lack of hectoring may have been due, in part, to the way my brothers and I devoured the meals set in front of us. We were good little eaters. And my mom was pretty good about putting permutations of meat and cheese in front of us so that we only had ourselves to blame if we went to bed hungry. There wasn't a lot of food being pushed around the plate, unless it was on it's way to one of our gaping maws. Starving children, indeed.
But if there was a place that I had been led to believe was full of children in need of a square meal, it was India. Imagine my surprise when, this past weekend, I opened up this story about "the obesity epidemic" in India. Soda, candy, Flamin' Hot Cheetos and all that good junk is finding its way into the formerly malnourished bellies of the teenagers in Delhi. Okay, so maybe malnourished is still pretty much the case if you take that as "bad nourishment." Man cannot live on Flamin' Hot Cheetos alone. More good news: The United States is no longer number one on the list of childhood obesity. That distinction now belongs to Greece. Italy is number two, followed by New Zealand and Slovenia. Estados Unidos shows up as number five. Sure, we're still in the top ten, but it looks like all those carrot sticks and Wii Fit seems to be paying off.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bon Voyage

First day of school? Probably somewhere in the low three thousands by now, and those are just the days I've been teaching. There are a few thousand more if you include the days I spent on the other side of the fence, being a pupil. Now it feels more like hitting the reset button. Last week, along with the rest of the teachers and staff at my school, I scurried about preparing for this eventuality: the day when the kiddos come tumbling through those doors en masse. We meet on the playground, after we have double and triple checked those class lists just to make certain that we really are going where we thought we were going. Downstairs? Third, fourth and fifth grades. The Kindergarten and first grade rooms are all upstairs. Second grade? Just down the hall. We all know because we have spent the better part of a week, some of us more, making those rooms ready for all the learning that will take place inside.
New paper goes up on the bulletin boards, like leaves falling from the trees, it's a sure sign of autumn coming. The pencils are as sharp as they are ever going to be, and all the name tags are still firmly affixed to the top of every desk. Nothing is tattered or torn. Books without covers have been replaced with shiny new ones in hopes that the new class will handle them with love and respect. These are the wishes of every student and every teacher in the building: love and respect. If we start out the year that way, there's nothing we cannot learn.
I know all this potential will have some big twists and turns in the next nine months. Before this school year is through, there will be tears. There will be disappointments. There will be victories. There will be joy. And Spring Break will take forever to get here.
That's okay, it's pretty much the way it's always been. Sure, we don't have chalk boards anymore, and the computers the kids carry into the school, the ones we make them turn off and put away while we hand them vastly inferior models that don't have nearly as amusing or diverting software, make me wonder how I can teach these whippersnappers anything.
But I'll figure it out. That's part of the reason they give us one hundred eighty days to make it work. By the time we pull this train back into the station in June, we will have seen the world, or a nice slice of it, and we will all be richer for the experience. Every journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step. Today is that step. Bon voyage!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Anchors Aweigh, Baby

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is nearly two hundred years old. That doesn't mean that it is part of the firmament and can never be challenged. Section One, for example, reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." All that talk about liberty and protection of the laws, that's good stuff, right? 
What it means is this: If you were born here, you belong here. You're a citizen of the United States because that's where you were born. It even counts for Hawaii. It hasn't always been a popular notion. Not everyone thought, after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed and slavery was abolished, that newly freed slaves ought to be citizens. What to do with nearly four million new immigrants who were very tired, hungry and poor, looking to breathe free? Pass another amendment to the Constitution that would allow them to become part of this ever growing republic. According to one well known politician, "no sane country" would allow automatic citizenship. That very conservative sounding thought comes from the mouth of Senator Harry Reid, Democrat from Nevada. Of course, what sane country would produce Donald Trump?
It is the Donald's opinion that Heidi Klum is no longer a "ten," and that this whole Fourteenth Amendment business will not stand up in court. Having recently spent some time on jury duty, I have to imagine that he's pretty up on his jurisprudence. Mister Trump, whose name comes from playing a card that wins a trick, and in this case the trick is on us. Or maybe it's all part of an elaborate plan to be rid of that awful wife of his. But his kids, born to the Czech immigrant would still get to hang around here, right? But not if he keeps mouthing off at Bill O'Reilly. Bill gets the whole wall thing, but not the mass deportations. Can somebody please call Herman Cain and get him into this mix? At least he brought pizza. Good old American pizza

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Guilty Pleasure

Imagine, if you will, that you are a college student somewhere in the Midwest. Your prospects, as a tubby glasses-wearing fellow seem limited in the extreme. Until one day, you have this genius idea: What if I ate nothing but one particular fast food for months at a time? This kind of diet nearly killed Morgan Spurlock, but did win him a best director award at Sundance. This Midwest kid did manage to lose a bunch of weight. Enough to impress a former dormmate who wrote about him for the school's newspaper. That article was in turn picked up by Men's Health magazine, and from there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Madison Avenue where a weight loss program that was tailor made for a before and after campaign was born almost out of necessity. This guy lost a whole extra person. A big one. He subsequently became the face of that fast food chain, starting way back before the turn of the century.
The story doesn't end there. This fellow used his new found fame and wealth to establish a foundation to create awareness about childhood obesity and find ways to help stem the tide of this national trend. This guy was a celebrity, due primarily to his willingness to consume the same basic meal over a span of years. If the story ended here, it would be heartwarming, but since it is America and our heroes seem to have a ticking time bomb affixed to them, it makes sad sense that there would be an end to this inspirational tale.
Jared Fogle plead guilty to paying for sex with minors and receiving child pornography. This came just a couple of months after the executive director of the Jared Foundation was taken into custody on similar charges. At this point, decorum suggests that we limit any further discussion of five dollar footlongs. It is now a sad story, and one that cannot end well. I will assume that the "black card" that Mister Fogle bragged about two years ago that would give him free meals at Subway for life has been revoked. And his marriage has ended. Jared's own children will probably never see him the same way they used to. Child pornographer is not the way most people want their story to end, but you can probably stick a fork in this one, because it's done.
But I can't help wondering if he had never bothered with the sub sandwiches or the interviews or the TV ads. Would he have had a happy ending, instead of that happy but ugly middle? F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American lives. Jared got his. Unfortunately, it was followed by a third. The end.