Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Age of Personalization

This post on MetaFilter, and the subsequent exploration of the Rockship 7 show website, got me to thinking about my youth, and how the world is different. I was listening to the Rockeship 7 theme music (go ahead and click it so you can listen as you read) linked from the site, and it triggered my response to the MeFi thread: "that cymbal crash [at 1:42 into the music] was the beginning of the day for every weekday of my early life, and is heralded the promise of each new day."

Two things jump to mind, as a follow-on to that music.

First, listening to this 6-minute piece of music, entitled Air Power by Norman Dello Joio, one listens to a pre-Vietnam era vision of our nation and its military. This is the military that just fifteen years before had saved the world from Hitler and Hirohito, bringing in an age of prosperity. When we were jolted out of our smugness by Sputnik, our military was there to answer the challenge (as issued by JFK) of not only equalling the Soviet accomplishment of launching a satellite, but topping them by putting a man on the moon! The music conveys this naive sense of trust in an honest government, an efficient military. This music conveys America at its most optimistic moment.

Second, it occurs to me that our world of instant communication has irrevocably altered the pace of our life. We can watch news whenever we want, listen to music whenever we want, watch cartoons whenever we want. We can get it all, all the time.

When I was younger, there were three commercial networks, PBS, and eventually an independent station. That was it in our local market of Buffalo, unless you had a good enough antenna to pick up Toronto. You had to watch what was on, when it was on. It seems limiting, almost un-American now. But we began our day with a local children's television show, Rockeship 7. That cymbal crash I alluded to earlier was, without my realizing it, part of my morning ritual. We didn't always get up early enough to catch the very beginning of Rocketship 7, but on those days when we did, that cymbal rewarded us for getting up, and signaled to us that we were ahead of the game- the day could bring anything!

We would get home want watch Commander Tom, the afternoon version of Rocketship 7. Those two shows were the bookends around our school day. Then there were other blocks of time- the afternoon movie, the evening news, the game shows, prime time and the late news. Then, it was time for bed, simple as that.

Saturday and Sunday had similar rituals- the Saturday morning cartoons, college football, then it really was time to get out and get some air. If we had one of those antennas on the roof, there was Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night. On Sunday, there was Rocky and Bullwinkle, then church, then either NFL football or a movie. If we actually got up early enough to go to the early Mass we'd be home in time to watch Skippy the Kangaroo before the movie started. Then, at night, there was Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, where "Stan" was the proto-Steve Irwin- the guy who had to manhandle that week's insanely wild animal. And finally the Wonderful World of Disney. Our family further added to the ritual- on Sunday we went to Grandma's where my Dad and Grandpa took on my Mom and Grandma every week to play pinochle. So Disney was often punctuated with bidding, counting and scorekeeping. (They played viciously for dime stakes every week.)

There was a certain cycle in the day. It was dictated by TV, but it wasn't limited to TV. There was a comfort in the routine..... in fact it was almost a ritual. The ritual was regimented by the television. Radio was a part of it, but in the 60s and into the 70s, TV was it. Now, if we want to watch something, we can have it whenever we want through any number of outlets. Broadcast, cable and satellite TV, with more channels than the stars. DVDs let you have permanent copies to enjoy at your pleasure, whenever you want. If you can't find what you want, or it's too seedy for broadcast, time to go to the internet and download it. Or even better, participate in it- talk on a forum, type in your blog, play an online game.

What does this do to the life of the average person? We've reduced our lives to split-second sound bites. We don't talk person-to-person anymore, even with our own families. In fact if the four of us are in a room, there are probably five different things playing, each person wearing headphones so we don't have to deal with each other. This isn't the age of Globalization, it's the age of Personalization. Each of us has an inalienable right to our Own Private Idaho.

What a pity.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Another manifesto

I think an essay I wrote yesterday belongs here. It was in response to this story about a proposed ban on gay marriage in Wisconsin, particularly this quote:

Jenny Baierl, the Evansville mother and pro-amendment activist, said she knows from experience the challenges of having two women as parents. Baierl was raised by her mother and grandmother after her father was killed by a drunken driver when she was 5.

Though the two women loved her, Baierl had no uncles or grandfather to fill the void her father had left, she said. That searing experience, the teachings of her Christian faith, and her marriage to her husband John, leave Baierl with a powerful certainty about the value of traditional marriage.

"I had no male role models," said Baierl, 33, who now lives in an all-male household with her husband and two young sons in Evansville. " I feel like I was really cheated."

Here is my response:

I don't know why I feel this passionately about gay marriage. I'm a straight, white, heterosexual guy with a lovely wife and two teenaged sons. I am a Christian. And yet............

I guess the reason this pisses me off so much is that the Christian right has made such a big deal about it, and in so doing make it sound like ALL Christendom is behind them. WE are not.

Is homosexuality a sin? Let's look at it from a Christian perspective. If you look at the Bible, Jesus speaks out against all manner of misbehavior, but he seemed especially bent on injustice toward the disenfranchised. If homosexuality was such a big deal, why did Christ rarely, if ever, speak on the subject?

When asked to boil down his teachings, Jesus quoted Dueteronomy and Leviticus:

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

This, to me, is the starting point of Christianity. This is it, right from the horse's mouth. Here is what this means to me: A person should love God, the Divine, the Goddess, the Ultimate Power, whatever you call Him or Her or It. A person should love God enough to use his life to pay homage to his Creator.

Then, there is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. WTF does this mean? It means we treat others with dignity. We treat them as human. We treat them with compassion. WE DO NOT JUDGE THEM. These two commandments are amplified in the 12th Chapter of Paul's Letter to the Romans. I won't quote it all here, but the key points are these:

1. Hold yourself to the highest possible standard. In your heart of hearts, do what you can to honor God.

2. Deal with others charitably. Do what you can to help them and make the world better for them. Even your ENEMIES. We are not to judge our enemies; that is God's job. Therefore, as a heterosexual male, it's not my place to judge something I do not, I cannot, understand.

All this stuff boils down to a single thing to a heterosexual Christian: Integrity. We are to treat others well, we are to serve the cause of Goodness in the world. So as a heterosexual Christian, I think we should allow gay people follow the same standard: Act with integrity to make the world a better place. Follow your soul; be who you are. As long as you treat those around with integrity, what more can be asked?

Because that's what all the laws and commandments boil down to: Integrity. Treat others well. Do your best. We teach our kids this in kindergarten; how do we subsequently lose our way?


*Goes off into a corner and weeps for what Christianity is becoming.*

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Okay, so.... it's been a while

What's going on in the family? Well, Mrs. D. took that job at the big school district big high school. She is teaching 10th grade World History at a school in a... um.... (thinking of euphamism)... disadvantaged area. She really had a tough time adjusting.

Being in a large urban public school is better in some sense compared to the charter school she was at last year. The charter school didn't pay as well and never had the money for even the basic stuff so she ended up spended a good chunk of her pay on school supplies and such. On top of that, the owner of the school was a real dipwad.

Her new school doesn't have those problems. She's paid quite a bit more and the school is much better about providing the basics. Instead, she has to contend with overcrowding. She's a "floater" who doesn't have her own classroom. She teaches in three different classrooms. The other thing that just gets to her is the level of apathy- both among the students and the faculty. She has 10th grade students that have never been made to write an essay. And considering the part of town it's in, there are a lot of students who don't care about their education, and neither do their parents; in fact, for many of these kids, the parents aren't even a positive aspect of their lives in any way.

She's made some progress, though. She's challenging the students like they've never been challenged before. There are still the deadbeats, but she's getting through to some of them. I just hope she doesn't burn out.

Monday, June 26, 2006

So the drama fizzled out

Mrs. Doohickie talked to the principal at the school she was leaving and there was no plot to keep her there against her will. The letters were sent out to the few remaining teachers to let them know their jobs were still there and to try to convince them not to leave. It didn't work.

At this point, all the educational staff has found other jobs or are close to doing so. I don't think the school will reopen in the fall, which is a damned shame considering what they did on a shoestring budget over the last year. Even so, that shoestring was too much for the CEO of the charter school corporation. Tightwad.

So he had something that was benefiting kids, but that wasn't good enough. For some reason, he didn't seem too interested in educating kids at his charter school; he just wanted to max the profits.

Anyway, time to look forward. We drove by the school where Mrs. Doohickie will be teaching this fall. It's a public school with quite the Blackboard Jungle look about it. She is convinced she can do some good there and is actually eager to start. This amazes me. I don't understand it, but I love her for it. The charter school was similar (though not as hardcore) and she did some good there, so who knows?

Well anyway, that seems to be settling down. I was going to discuss my boys. I guess I'll just start with the basics. The older, 18, one I'll call Viola Player (or just VP) because, as you may have guessed, he plays viola. The younger one, 15, plays piano, so I'll call him Piano. (I decided to call him Viola Player because with the "a" on the end, viola carries a feminine connotation.)

So VP... if you read MetaChat (or click on the links in my second post), you know he had a rough time his freshman year at school... straight A's in high school, stumbled in college a bit, took a leave of absence....

So the big question is how he would land... would be a bounce back onto his feet, or a splat? He landed a job (his first) waiting tables at Cracker Barrel. And he seems to be doing okay. I think it's perfectly fine if he just needs to take a break from having to excel for a bit. All through high school, all those Advanced Placement course, all the pressure... let him regroup and decide what the hell he wants to do with his life. It's nice seeing him unwind before our eyes. He's starting to earn some decent tips, and I think that's good for his self-esteem.

As for Piano... well, he's visiting friends up in Michigan. We shipped him off Friday and he'll be gone for another week. It's amazing to me that he just gets on a plane and leaves us, without even looking back. From the phone calls, it sounds like he's having a blast. And he's found a few pianos to practice on while he's up there. He comes back on July 3, and Mrs. Doohickie leaves on the 4th for a trip to visit her sister and her new nephew. She's pretty geeked up about that, especially with the job search behind her.

Okay... that's enough for now.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

More drama!

Why am I obsessing over the wife's job you may ask? Because there are so many twists and turns- it's like a roller coaster.

State law says a teacher has to resign 45 days before the start of instruction. The charter school my wife had been working for always aligned its schedule with the local city school district schedule, so by that she should have by the end of June to resign. If she resigns after that, the state can suspend her teaching credentials for a year. She got a letter today "confirming" her employment by which she thinks they are trying to imply that she is already under contract (i.e., within the 45 day window). We looked at the calendar, and unless the current school moved it's start of classes up by more than a week, she can still resign.

I hope she can, because the good news is: She got an offer today! w00t! The principal of the city school district extended an offer to her for a social studies position; exact grade and course to be taught is TBD since there may still be some openings that pop up (after all, teachers have until the end of June to resign).

We're hoping the old school doesn't try to say her resignation is too late by moving up their start of classes or something. (If this is the case, they haven't notified Mrs. Doohickie.) She will be calling them tomorrow and let them know she is resigning, and will also be sending a formal letter. If the school gives her a hard time, she will be reporting them to the state, since they don't have a foreign language program, no physical education or athletics, no counselors, and actually, almost no teachers right now. (When the sh!t hit the fan at the end of the school year, most went out and found other jobs; there are only a couple left.)

Why do these things always have happen with so much drama?

Oh... to top it all off, my son got a ticket today for expired registration.... my fault, actually, since he was away at college when it expired, and I forgot to take care of it since no one was driving the car regularly. Damn.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Looking up

Fingers crossed, toes crossed, eyes crossed, everything crossed!

Mrs. Doohickie is taking a course on teaching Advanced Placement courses over the summer, and mentioned to one of the other teachers that she's trying to find a new position. So, last night, the principal from that school called and wanted to set up an interview!

Mrs. D went to the interview this afternoon after the course let out and things went really well. She said it went much better than the previous interview she had when thought she would get an offer but didn't. It's at a high school about fifteen miles from home, and she and the principal really hit it off. The principal said she'd be calling references and letting Mrs. D know by the end of the week. So keep your fingers crossed!

Then..... went she got home, there was a message from a new charter school she had applied to. The downside is that it only goes up to 8th grade and she wants to teach high school. the upside is that it's only a couple miles from home. She has an interview set up for Monday, so hopefully she'll know whether the high school has made an offer or not by then.

After a terribel week last week, things are definitely looking up!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Number one son

Well, Mrs. Doohickie is doing a little better; she's still on the muscle relaxants, but except for right after she takes one, she's doing pretty well. She has a course in teaching Advanced Placement this week, so hopefully she'll be able to hold it together for that.

I mentioned other happenings in the family... my older son didn't do so well after a year away from home at college. He was almost 900 miles away. The college didn't prove to be what he thought it would, and with the distance, well, he just didn't do so well. He's trying to figure out what comes next. The first step was to get a job. He started looking shortly after getting home from school, and it seemed like all his friends (who mostly got back a week after he did) landed jobs pretty quickly.

He finally landed a job at Cracker Barrel as a waiter. He started training last week, and starting tomorrow he'll be following someone around as he learns how to wait tables. A year ago I don't think he would have been crazy about the job, but he seems to be looking forward to it.

He started taking viola lessons again, from an instructor at a local college. If he wants to return to studying viola at some point, he needs to keep the lessons up. The plan is for him to take a few courses at community college in the fall, and decide on a four-year school after that. The school where he's taking the lessons is one possibility, so how he works there may influence his college plans.

It's been a period of adjustment. If you click some of the links in the previous post, I talked on MetaChat about how he kind of bombed at college. He had a nice scholarship, but that's gone now. He was a great student in high school, in the top 10% and all that, and we all just kind of assumed he'd skate through college as well. I guess he, and we, have had to recognize that you just can't skate through life and he's having to learn to work for what he gets. A good life lesson, I suppose, but as a parent it's hard to watch your kid stumble.

That gets us caught up on him, I suppose. I guess I'll have a post soon on my other son.

Friday, June 16, 2006

It's a family thing...

I've been finding myself getting wrapped up lately in the family dramas. For those who haven't been aware, I started this blog partly because I didn't want to turn MetaChat into my personal web journal with stories of what's going on in my family.

Well, this was quite a week for Mrs. Doohickie.

She started out on a high note on Tuesday, with a great job interview at a high school that she left feeling very confident. They said they'd be calling the candidates back later in the week for second interviews (since the department head wasn't there).

Wednesday went downhill a bit; she answered her jury duty summons. The way it's set up, you park at a baseball field a mile or two away, then they bus you over to the courthouse. She was told at 10 am to go to lunch and return at 1:30 for a possible afternoon assignment. So she had several hours to wander around downtown. It was a level Orange smog day, and she started getting a tingling in her right arm. She called the doctor who made an appointment for Thursday afternoon and gave her the instructions that if the pain got worse or went to the left arm, to go to the Emergency Room.

Wednesday night, well, you guessed it, tingling in both arms, shortness of breath, time for the hospital. We ended up there until two in the morning and they told her she had a pinched nerve in her arm and because she has fibromyalgia, the irritation spread, and the fact that there was a lot of ozone in the air only made it worse because it affected her breathing.

Because of the shot they gave her for pain, she slept most of Thursday. She's still not feeling well, but followed up on her job leads. The interview from Tuesday- they hired someone else. She started checking all her other irons in the fire and they all seem to have gone cold. So she started to wonder what's going on, and discovered that even though she is History and Social Studies certified, her certs only showed the History because she apparently didn't register her Social Studies certs properly when she passed the test back in April.

Not sure if this is what's going on, but she's convinced that principals are looking up her certs, seeing the Social Studies isn't there, and assuming she's been lying on her resume. Between this, and the fact that her muscle relaxant is taking a lot out of her, she's just kind of irritable as all get-out.

From someone on the outside looking in, I think that even if the cert thing cost her the job from the interview this week, this is something she's taken care of and things will sort themselves out. But she's feeling the pressure. She wants a good teaching assignment come fall, and she's convinced she won't be getting one at this point. I guess I gotta get her through the weekend and hopefully by Monday things will look brighter. Wish me (and moreso, her) luck.

I have more family stuff to talk about, but this turned out longer than I intended so I'll save the rest for later. Hopefully things will pick up soon and I'll be a happy bunny soon.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A manifesto, of sorts...

This was originally posted a few days ago by me on DemocraticUnderground.

I am a Democrat, always been. I am a church-going, traditional family kind of guy... pretty mainstream really. As I've said, I've always been a Democrat; my dad was a local Democratic councilman (who had his run-ins with the Republicans on the board) when I was a kid. So from an early age, I viewed the Republicans as "them", the "enemy".

Getting back to the "traditional guy" thought. Like I said, I live in a traditional family. I've been married for 22 years to the love of my life, I've got two teen-aged sons, two medium-sized dogs, a decent, not showy, house, a couple sensible cars. Nuthin fancy. But it's all nice, decent stuff. And like I said, fairly traditional.

I sometimes think that socially, status-wise, etc., I should be a Republican. I fit the profile. But in the end I just can't do it.

The Bush years haven't been fun. I live in Texas, and the support Bush still enjoys is shocking, considering what a slime he's being revealed to be. (We've known that all along, but the Repugs are just now starting to get suspicious.)

Lately, though, I've begun to be proud to be a Democrat again. The days of slinking around are ending. I'm not saying the Democrats will take over; in fact I still worry that the Repugs will continue to rule in Bush's aftermath. After the redistricting in Texas, the Democrats will have a tough time winning seats back.

I post on several other forums. A couple of them are automotive forums. Lately, strange and wonderful discussions have broken out on them. In the middle of discussions of new models, questions about Bush's knowledge of the absence of weapons of mass destruction pop up. Amid discussions of suspension mods, threads pop up about gay marriage.

There are supporters and detractors on both sides. But I've found that through reading DU, posting on (of all places), and debating Bush's policies with my Texas conservative coworkers, I've become better informed than the average chimp-lover with respect to many of the issues of the day. I'm not by any means a policy wonk; I just pick things up.

Now, I have no intentions of marrying another man; I've been happily married to a woman as long as I remember. And that woman, by the way, called W on the WMDs when he first cited them as a reason to execute a preemptive war. I'm just this middle-class guy who quietly lives his life. But lately, after putting in my two cents about Bush's deceits in the buildup to the war, after justifying why I, a heterosexual Christian man, am against an amendment banning gay marriage, after embracing other causes where I, as a Christian, try to advance the side of the least, the last and the lost, I've noticed that when I make these stands, I get fan mail of sorts.

I got a nice email from a guy in NYC thanking me for my questioning of Bush's justification of the war. I get supportive and grateful emails from both straight and gay guys on an automotive site for articulating a mainstream case in support of gay marriage.

I don't think holding these views makes me a liberal freak. If anything, I hope it demonstrates that not every heterosexual middle-class family man is a gun-toting homophobic bigot. I hope it demonstrates, and sets an example of, compassion.

I am mainstream and proud of it. I am Democratic, and proud of it. The Republican revolution has just about spent itself. I'm glad, and proud, I stuck with my values, even when they weren't popular. They're starting to be popular again.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I started at the beginning

(Insert obligatory first post here.)