the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘rants’

there’s this dude on NPR who bugs me…help!

In humor, life, media, observations, writing on February 7, 2012 at 8:43 am


I like NPR. On road trips, even without hearing a word, I know I’ve come across an NPR station by the sound of its silence. If the station were a film, I’d say it’s the room noise that clues me in, but I don’t know what that transmission sound is called on radio. I’ll just call it The Silence.  Even the conversations are filled with It.  The silly SNL skit aside, people do speak less words per second than they do on most other talk radio. And I appreciate it.  I appreciate The Silence so much in fact that much to the chagrin of my young niece (you know who you are) I run, not with music, but with podcasts from previous shows. I think that proves my fan-status.

So this weekend, just about the time I was getting my butt served to me on a silver platter by a surly student, (see this for more details), I was listening along to On Point.  I like the host, Tom Ashbrook because he seems fair and because he has a sense of humor, which he needs. Like a lot of other fair people (by which I mean people who don’t reflexively take one side of an argument over another) he gets it from both sides. Conservative listeners (yes, NPR has those) accuse him and NPR of being biased, but then, the very next caller turns out to be some activist on the Left, and he lets Mr. Ashbrook have it because he is not skewering his Republican guest.  OK, fine. That’s the job. Mr. Ashbrook is from Illinois, farm grown. You get the feeling he grew up surrounded by people on both sides of the political divide and he knows how to diffuse situations with humor and firmness.  Have I sold the show?  I hope so.

Last week, he had a segment called Google, Facebook, and Your Privacy. It’s about the new changes that Google is going to put into effect on March 1 that affect privacy.  If you’re like me, you have seen these announcements whenever you log into GMail, and you’re probably ignored them just as I have.  Maybe the changes aren’t that important. Maybe they are. Like other On Point episodes, Mr. Ashbrook tries to put the information out there. And not unlike other episodes of On Point, the guests were passionate in their positions. Good. Fine. But then halfway through, I hear Mr. Ashbrook announce that Jeff Jarvis is going to come on to defend the changes that Google is planning, and I know I’m going to lose my NPR-powered bliss.

I detest Jeff Jarvis, which makes me kind of odd and a bit nerdy.  People usually reserve their ire for celebrities, famous athletes, people of note. Not me. In my little put-put driving around the Bay Area, spreading the Gospel of education to kids who don’t need me, I plug into NPR and get angry about a professor that no one knows–no one except for the avid NPR listener. Because if you are my brethren in this regard, you will know who this Jeff Jarvis is, and you will know why I find him objectionable.

you see the evil, don't you?


Here are some facts for the uninitiated and uninterestesd: he’s a prof at City College of New York–my wife’s ex-employer. He is a booster for new media. He has a blog called BuzzMachine.  He is also a bully. I’d be ok with this except for the fact that he doesn’t just bully other guests–experts in the field–he also bullies old people who call in to question his positions, which are questionable.  Prof. Jarvis takes the position that technology is always correct, that any concerns over privacy are old-fashioned and stem from ignorance. Whenever any of NPR’s shows take on discussions of media, the web particlarly, and/or how new media is replacing old, Prof. Jarvis comes in as the star witness to dismiss any and all objections.

I’m not against his positions. He probably has a point about our not needing to fear Facebook and Google and the rest of them.  It’s just that the guy is so damn emphatic even when he admits he can’t really defend his positions.  On the show last week, he likened Google’s privacy changes to Gutenberg’s press. But then Mr. Ashbrook challenged him and asked if that meant that along with the technology, we’d also get the kind of tumult that the press caused.  The good professor who just spoke about how only good things could arise from what Google is planning, who two minutes before got impatient with a caller who said she didn’t like the idea that Google is putting ads for diabetes medicine on her screen because she Googled information on that disease, had to admit the obvious: that he doesn’t know what exactly will come out of the changes Google is planning.

Really, Professor Jarvis? Is there something you don’t know about technology? No f*&^ing s*%t!!!!!  (I’m trying to keep the rage G-Rated.)

BREATH. OM! OK, I’m in touch with my inner Guru. Keeping it together.

I totally understand if you don’t get the anger–G-Rated or nor. This professor going off about technology–who cares? Right?  Don’t trip, as my kids would say. Well, I’m tripping. I trip a lot.  And the only way I can squelch this anger (beside ranting here) is to go download an older episde of On Point where Ted Koppel, who can sometimes be a bit of a pompous jerk himself, takes the good professor to task about his complete blindness to positions not his own.  You go, Ted. Use that pompous smugness to fight a greater evil–an evil who spells his name, J-A-R-V-I-S.



diary of a wimpy teacher…

In humor, life, observations, teaching & education on February 5, 2012 at 2:48 pm

A short story followed by a question (or three) for your Sunday non-Superbowl obsessed moments:

Because I am not obsessed about football and because I am poor, I am spending my Sunday tutoring the very wealthy children of Silicon Valley. My first session today was with the daughter of a man who I’ve been told is one of the richest men in the area. I believe this by the look of his Italian villa of a house. Stereotypes, being what they are, you might think that his offspring would be a spoiled brat. Well, stereotypes have their time, and this is one of them. The young heiress is not one to be pushed too far–that much was clear from today’s session.

To give you an idea, she has gone through four high schools in as many years and I am the 7th tutor she has gone through in the last year–lucky number 7.  My job has been to lead the princess–she uses the title in her email, btw–through an independent study of her freshman English class, a class that for some reason I never asked about she was unable to complete.

As a teacher, I generally think of myself as being able to walk the line between killing a student with rules  and holding to some semblance of academic standards. I think some educators are just sticklers for the sake of sticklerness, but on the other hand, there are too many burn-out teachers who don’t care and who let their students do anything they want.

Well, Houston, I think we have a problem, and the problem is that I am crossing over. Today, as I was helping my student make her essay stronger, she kind of flipped out. The princess is moody, I knew that much already. But one moment, I’m asking her if she could make her argument better by adding a quote, and the next moment, she’s raising her voice and telling me that she’s getting frustrated and that I’m the cause.

Nothing new. I get a lot of young people getting frustrated–it’s called learning something hard.  As a result, I have learned not to be thrown by the anger coming my way.  I lower my voice and gently but firmly point out that I am on the same team and I want to help. I appreciate that learning is hard at times, and we’re all human and humans can’t always be learning machines. I get that. But I also stand my ground and let the student know that she needs to breathe and not get all aggro at the people trying to help–i.e., me.

Today, however, I couldn’t be bothered. Yes, I felt it. I felt myself crossing into the Lands of the Lost and Unconcerned.  The princess wanted to yell and didn’t want to make her essay better, and I was like, “OK, fine. Good enough.”

Good enough? Really? These are the words of apathy. These are the words of that English teacher who is a lifer and is waiting for retirement and/or death.

So here is your test, dear reader.  Don’t worry, it’s a multiple-choice exam:

Am I

A.  A wimpy teacher?

B.  Getting tired and should I hang up the chalk?

C.  Being all Yoda-like, conserving energy, stressing not? (btw, Was Yoda a wimp?  )

Your answers will be graded on a curve.

is the woman making my espressos really a woman & why do I care?

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on February 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm

A few words for context: a friend is working on a documentary about transsexuals. It’s a topic I really didn’t know much about, admittedly. But I helped him out on the shoot, and he was gracious and patient as I asked my questions beforehand. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but when entering a new community, as I was about to do working on this movie, my biggest concern is not to offend. Then again, I’m a Libra, so I tend to like to be liked, so there’s that.  I enjoyed helping out. I learned a lot. And I’m glad to say that I think the doc will turn out pretty nicely. Check out the movie’s kickstarter campaign if you are interested, but come back if you want to find why it’s made me confused–more so than usual.

It’s been about three weeks since the shoot, but a question has arisen for me more than once while walking the streets of San Fran: how many of the women I am seeing are actually women?  And to make things more interesting still, what do I mean when I say, “actually”?

If I learned anything about the transsexual community, it’s that the whole distinction between real and not-real is not as real as I once thought, or at least, the standards by which I define real and not real may not be as steady as most of us like to think they are. The women on the movie–post operation or pre–are women. They see themselves that way. They live their lives that way. So they are women.  And then again…I say this and I hear the voice of one of the producers of the doc who in private admitted that though he would never want to disrespect the individuals he was filming–i.e., he would refer to them as women to their faces–he didn’t really think they were.  I think this is where my conservative friends would jump in with a nod and say, “yup, just ’cause you call yourself something, doesn’t make you that thing.”  You probably can hear those voices chiming in, using the argument by extension: “if someone said he was a llama, and ate like a llama and hung out with llamas, would that person be a llama?”  My flip answer would be, if a person could have an operation in which he was transformed to look like a llama and have sex like a llama, then, I’d probably be willing to think of that man as a llama.

But let me go back to the producer and his point because though I don’t want to agree with him, I do find myself having some sympathy for what he said. Maybe sympathy is the wrong word. But here’s the thing, I have another friend who kind of got into this movement called, transhumanism, which pushes the idea that eventually, humans will incorporate robotics into their bodies, thus erasing the human-computer divide. Generally, I think that’s creepy, and I don’t want to accept the premise that me and my Apple will soon be indistinguishable–though I do love my Apple, it should be said.

So, why is it that I can accept that a person who has an operation to erase the gender divide is ok, but not so much for the guy who wants to become bionic?  Isn’t kind of the same thing?

The only difference I can come up with is that in the case of the transsexual, there is this heartbreaking idea of being born into the wrong body. I cannot imagine being a physical man who feels he should have been a woman, or vice versa. Maybe the transhumanist thinks her body is not right without some kind of robotic thing inserted into it, but those people seem a little more cold and clinical, as in the sense that they feel their bodies should be more perfect and can only be so with some computer chip swimming around their bloodstream. In one case, the operation points at being happier and humaner; in the case of the transhuman, the goal seems to be to become less human.  Of course, this is probably my bias.

And so, as long as we are referring to biases, let me add another to the list. Because for all my talk of acceptance, I find myself wondering about this one women I see almost every day.  She makes my awful espresso at the local Starbucks. I don’t know why I suspect her of being transsexual. I don’t know why I care. Maybe I don’t really. I don’t know what it is I feel. Is it rude for me to think of a person who feels like she is born in the wrong body as a misfit? I count myself in that club. I have always felt that way, but the misfittedness that I feel is more internal, and I know how to cover it up. Its dumb. I’m probably an asshole. But there is a part of me that wants to break down the covering-up that I am doing and that I think she is doing and get up on a faux-rickety table while the faux jazz plays at my Starbucks, and powered by my faux espresso, I want to reach out and tell this person that I am one of the club, that I feel the pain of not fitting in.

Of course, I am not part of the club. Not her club. She may not even have a club. She may not see herself as being anything but a she. She may have been a she since birth for all I know. So, I guess it all boils down to me. I’m the misfit, and that’s really all I know.  Now what?

what we talk about when we talk about God…

In life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on January 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm

lilywhiteamongthorns , a blogger who read my recent post about the God-haters on Facebook posted this comment:

I have a question. I would like for you to answer it, but I will understand if you don’t. What is your defiinition of a believer? Because you say you are one, yet you say,

“I just don’t get the idea that I have to believe that a man died on the cross for my sins, and even if I do believe it, I really don’t get why I have to think that the next guy is damned because he doesn’t. That just sounds tribal to me and against any notion of the infinite nature of divinity.”

So my bottom line question is, what DO you believe in?

It’s a good question, and I am going to try to be as direct (read short) and honest (read I’m digging deep) as possible. But to do so, I think I better clear up a couple things first.  1. I think I should remind people that my previous post about the Facebook Atheists, for lack of a better word, was pointed at the facile way they dismiss belief, and the quote above refers to a smaller point I was making that these Atheists are not the only ones guilty of condescension.  There are a lot of conservative religious people out there who can be just as dismissive of positions that aren’t their own. For the sake of this post, let me also say that when I refer to “conservative” religious folk, I am referring to Christians not because they are the only ones, but because I know that tradition best. I am sure that there are conservatives of the kind I am referring to in all traditions.

The other point has to do with the words, “believer”and “belief”. In the other post, I was using a very broad definition for the first word–something like, anyone who believes in some thing, some force in the world that is greater than any one of us and that is greater than the physical world. Yes, it’s vague, but I was using the term in opposition to people who don’t believe in any such force, or God, or whichever word you think appropriate for divinity.

As to the word, “belief” and how I use it, (OK, wake up,lilywhiteamongthorns, because this is what you were looking for) let me say that I think of belief in terms of hope. There are a lot of Christians (they are probably not the only ones) who use the word belief when they really mean knowledge. For my taste, they are just a little too confident in their proclamations. When it comes to God-talk, I think vague is the best any of us can do. So if you ask me what I believe when it comes to God and to an afterlife, to the metaphysical, to the spiritual, my general answer is, I hope for a lot, but I know nothing.

Now,if that sounds like I’m being safe and non-committal, let me be more specific. Let me put to you a scenario that sounds like a joke, but isn’t. I think this story will get at what I hope for when it comes to God.  So, imagine a bunch of mystics from all the religious traditions of the world coming together in a room to discuss the idea of God. You pick the panel.  Can you imagine it? A Sikh Guru, John of the Cross and his grimace, some Buddhist sage–it’s like a collection of religious superheroes from all the ages. At first, all of them argue with each other. The Buddhist says there is no God, the Christian claims that God can be known in three aspects: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The Jewish mystic thinks all of that is mishegaas. The Hindu looks on amused and imagines that all Gods are just some version of Vishnu. But as they keep talking, as they keep trying to boil down what they are after, all these individuals find that their language is the problem, their words are the obstacles to their coming together. In other words, their ultimate concern, in order for it to be ultimate, is actually the same thing.

NOW, I AM NOT SAYING THAT ALL RELIGIONS ARE THE SAME. Religions are made out of culture and they speak to the concerns of the culture they come out of. They are for this world, at least that is what I believe, by which I mean, that is what I hope. So, to loop back to the question above, the blogger points to my reference to Jesus. As a Christian, I should say that I believe in the resurrection–by which I should be saying I KNOW Jesus rose on the third day. I cannot say that, but I can say that I hope he did. I hope for this not because I think that that event washes away my sins if I accept it, but because it is an act of God piercing through the cold rationality of this world, a type of proof that there is something greater out there that awaits us. I hope for this with all my heart, but I also hope that God spoke to Mohammed and told him to recite, and that the Buddha was able to grasp Nirvana through contemplation one day long ago, etc. I believe/hope in things unseen, but I know nothing. Is God some old guy with a beard sitting on a throne surrounded by angels? Maybe, but maybe he is not a He. Maybe God is some force in the world that acts in the world, or maybe He/She/It is none of these things.

This hopeful doubt is the only way I can imagine a God that exists without also thinking that my Jain friend, or my Buddhist friend, or even my Facebook, condescending Atheist friend is going to suffer hellfire because they don’t share my beliefs. Again, I might be wrong. Maybe God is a his-way-or-the-highway kind of God, but I hope that is not so. I hope so more than I can express here. But who the hell knows? (pun intended.) I know I don’t. That much I know. And I’m wiling to bet that no one else does either.

%d bloggers like this: