16 August 2009

compulsive documentation of the near past

Up late, and I ran out of lolcats to look at, so I ended up at a sister site, the Nostalgia Win site.
It's a site of objects, movies, food and commercials from the childhoods of its posters - so mainly the 80s and 90s. But the weird thing is the way the descriptive blurbs are written, as if they're documenting some long-lost, nearly forgotten phenomenon, instead of something that is simply no longer the most popular item on the shelf (candy necklaces are a good example; likewise, the monkey bars).
The tone of these blurbs is intensely, lamely nostalgic - mostly "remember this?" as if, say, the first Nintendo was an obscure, long-dead thing that no one really knew at the time, and which has no contemporary counterpart. I think most of the writers must be in their early 20s, because some of the nostalgia win posts are of things that simply are not nostalgic to me - ie, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, TOY STORY, cars without power windows [of which i currently have one]. I guess I'm too old for Nostalgia win, because for me, a lot of these things are just movies I saw in high school. I remember them clearly but with none of that tug of nostalgia.

What is most striking is the desire to document, at all, and the freakish telescoping of time. The writers here seem to think they're writing about ANCIENT HISTORY, and not just things that happened 10 or 15 years ago. There's virtually no historical perspective, which makes me wonder: what the HELL would they make of a similar site composed of items from, say, the 1950s? what term do you use for that?
I've noticed a growing trend to refer to everything as "back in the day," a term meaning everything from 3 years ago, to the sixteenth century. This blurring of all history as simply history - it's all old, it's all irrelevant, except as quirky, funny humor posts - is really troubling. The need to document everything without actually experiencing it - the desire to record - is also troubling. It's what I think when I see people whipping out cellphones to take pictures of fireworks, instead of watching them. Or to take pictures of anything, instead of participating in the event.

The most bizarre - to me - post of all has to do with pre 9/11 airport security. Here's the description, posted by someone who clearly fell off the turnip truck yesterday: "Remember when you didn’t have to take your shoes off, stand in long lines or have Swiss Army knives confiscated because they pose a threat? Remember when you could sneak a flask on the plane so you didn’t have to pay $8 a shot to get a little liquored-up? And all of your family members could meet you right as you de-boarded the plane? It was a glorious time that we all wish we could return to… And if you’re not familiar with this pre-9/11 airport security, go watch any movie from the ’80s or ’90s that features an airport scene and you’ll quickly realize that things were far different back then"

"It was a glorious time that we all wish we could return to… And if you’re not familiar with this pre-9/11 airport security, go watch any movie from the ’80s or ’90s that features an airport scene and you’ll quickly realize that things were far different back then"


Yeah, but shit changes. I mean, things are different now than they were a year ago. I don't need to watch archival footage of 2007 to see how different things were Back In The Day. The security screening crap changed 8 years ago - hardly a lifetime. Hardly even a significant passage of time.

I don't know - maybe one needs to live long enough to see things change more than once, over time, the way telephones and computers have changed in my life, to get perspective. Then it looks like progress, like a process, rather than just some kind of wacky quaint thing people did in the olden days.

13 August 2009

sex ed/AIDS

Having just read AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, I'm remembering and thinking about sex ed and AIDS education. I was a kid at just the right (or wrong?) time - when national discourse about AIDS was really in full swing, and no longer limited to just the "gay plague," being ignored by journalists and the federal government (and a whole host of other people). I was in sixth grade in 1989, right around the time the school started with basic sex ed.

I remember having the bejesus scared out of me throughout my junior high/high school years. we were taken to the AIDS quilt when it visited our area. We had guest speakers with AIDS. we were taught over and over about "the exchange of bodily fluids." I recently watched some, er, illicit copies of the MTV show THE STATE, episodes that aired in the mid-90s; there are a whole slew of commercial intermingled, put out my MTV and telling us to be informed, to use condoms, to be informed of the dangers of unprotected sex. I frankly don't remember ever learning about any other specific risks (other than pregnancy); just a sort of miscellaneous variety of STDs. I DO recall being taught the phrase "VD," and I DO have a very, very vague recollection of some kind of herpes education, but mostly, they scared us with AIDS.

Later, of course, I realized there are a gazillion of creepy things one can pick up, but none will kill you like AIDS will. When I was getting my sex ed, the treatments for AIDS/HIV were pretty shoddy; AZT was around, I think, and the "cocktail," but everyone knew those were pretty temporary and would just make dying a little easier.

We were scared into believing that unprotected sex could kill you, and kill you quickly.

I wonder if this is how HIV/AIDS/sex ed is taught now. I wonder if my students, 10 years or so younger than me, had the same kind of education. Do they know who Ryan White is, I wonder? Do they remember those ads and discussions, those serious, earnest MTV reporters telling us to KNOW, to be informed, to educate and protect ourselves, or die?

Or has that kind of intense, fear-based education backed off? (not that it necessarily should; people should have some fear around the kinds of diseases you can get from lack of protection). Do most people now think of AIDS as a "global" problem, something that happens mostly in Africa, or maybe southeast Asia?

I checked the numbers, earlier tonight. Last year, in 2008, the US "came in" 25th-highest deaths from AIDS/AIDS related illness. It was around 17,000 people, I think. There were over 75 countries on the list. The highest-risk populations here seem to have shifted from gay white men to poor black heteros (and drug users) - another population the country, as a whole, doesn't care a whole lot about.

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON wraps up in 1987. The epilogue discusses, briefly, efforts at vaccines, and treatments. That was 22 years ago.

There are no totally effective treatments that will cure you of AIDS. There is no vaccine. It is not the death sentence (and rapid, excruciating death) that it was in the 80s, but it is no walk in the park, either.

It's more chic now to support cancer research, I guess, especially if it means you can buy pink microwaves and talk about being a warrior who fought breast cancer, or if you can wear a rubber bracelet and LIVE STRONG and do athletics.

The AIDS quilt still exists. There are more than 91,000 names on the Quilt. according to their website, the names on The Quilt represent approximately 17.5% of all U.S. AIDS deaths.

There's a list of "names you might recognize." There were some on there, reading tonight, that I hadn't known about.
Sylvester, singer of "You make me feel mighty real," a song that is ALWAYS in my iPod. Eazy E (I had no idea he was an AIDS-related death). Richard Hunt, a Muppeteer (responsible for Scooter and Janice, among others). Arnold Lobel, the children's author/illustrator who brought us FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS.

In the current hubbub of anxiety and reassurance over swine flu, reading about ANY epidemic is pretty terrifying, and edifying. Diseases are scary. And in the case of AIDS, the way we, collectively, respond to diseases is even scarier.

a very worthy cause

If you have any spare dollars and would like to donate to a good, good cause (that I can actually vouch for!), please visit the CAMPaign site on chipIn

The man pictured on the site, and in whose name/honor the funds are being raised, is the (very beloved) dad of one of a friend of mine. He passed away very, very unexpectedly this spring (while she was en route back to the States from DRC; she was met with the news at the airport). Needless to say, she was devastated.

However: the issue at hand is that her dad was an anesthetist, and was continually acquiring supplies, equipment and other aid for organizations in DRC. Her family lived in DRC, where he worked in a rural medical center, until she was 13 or so; and they maintain very close ties to friends there.

This is a really good concrete way to help people who really need help. You don't have to look far or hard to find some pretty terrible stories about medical conditions in DRC.

I myself am rather frequently overwhelmed by Third World health crises (which include things like the absence of drugs and equipment we take entirely for granted here) but also never quite know how to help; the large international aid organizations seem so....large, and diffuse. This project, the CAMPaign, offers a very great way to make a real difference in a localized region. It's an extremely good cause, and because of the nature of the project, contributions will not go in large part to "administrative" costs.

I'll be making my donation after Friday's payday.
please think about making even a small contribution of $3 or $5.

11 August 2009

crush on Xenu

I have one celebrity crush of the utterly frivolous, 13-year-old girl kind. The kind of crush that mainly has to do with thinking the celebrity in question is SO CUTE!!! mixed with a bit of much older "man i'd like to get with THAT" crushiness. It's all predicated entirely on physical hotness.

The crush in question is giovanni ribisi, who most people don't know from adam. He plays scarlett johanssen's photographer husband in LOST IN TRANSLATION. I know him from Saving Private Ryan (he's Wade); when I saw SPR in the theatres back in 1998, I developed an instantaneous crush on him.

I had occasion recently to google him, or look him up on imdb. and I was informed that Giovanni Ribisi, my Celebrity Crush, is in fact a scientologist.
and i groaned, thinking: oh no! he's crazy!

and i thought briefly about how crazy these wacky scientologists are.

Last week, it dawned on me that - yes, scientologists are wacky, but no more wacky than any other group who believes in some sort of Higher Power. For scientologists, it's some kind of weird sci-fi fantasy scenario; for Christians, it's the Zombie son of god. I don't really know WHAT it is for Muslims, or Jews, or Hindus, or anyone else.

The point is: it's incredibly unfair of me - hypocritical even, maybe - to slam Scientologists more than any other group. I'm a nonbeliever down to my toes - and in my secret heart of hearts, I scoff at pretty much every group of religious on the earth. I'm just too skeptical and too rational to accept these pretty stories about Gods and angels and Xenu.

But the point is: mainstream religions have scoffed down Scientology in ways that parallel MY scoffing down of mainstream religions. And it is wrong of me to have a hierarchy in my scoffing. if it's nuts to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it's equally (no more, no less) nuts to believe in resurrected middle easterners, or dudes emerging the from the bellies of whales. Or that awful Abraham-and-Isaac story (what kind of sickos came up with THAT one? seriously).

Feeling sympathy for Scientologists was not where I ever intended to go (crush on dashing young Giovanni Ribisi notwithstanding), but I DO. Let's be equal-opportunity scoffers, if we're going to scoff. I can single out certain of scientology's beliefs that I find particularly harmful (ie, their hatred/disbelief in psychiatry and psychiatric medications), but they are no worse, no weirder, than certain beliefs I find particularly harmful in other religions (ie, Catholicism's anti-birth-control ideas, Christianity's anti-homosexual ideas).

So: a cautionary word to myself, and to other nonbelievers. Even smaller sects, like Scientology, should be afforded the same respectful contempt and skepticism conferred on larger, more established sects.

10 August 2009

teachers work hard for their money

Full disclosure: I am the child of two public schoolteachers, one of whom was very active in his district union (as well as serving on negotiating and grievance committees).

For the first time, this summer while I was teaching one of my last classes of the summer session, I realized how hard I'm working even while I'm sitting in class listening to my students discuss. I noticed one girl checking her text messages, and I realized the luxury students have, of letting their minds wander. Thinking about this later, after class, I thought about how I never even DOODLE on my notebook while teaching. Not even tracing the circle of the punched hole in notebook paper, which is just about the most mindless doodling there is.

I've worked other jobs, most notably a year as an administrative assistant at a national nonprofit in DC. I spent a lot of my time there doing nothing much, reading the internet, calling my mom (free, untracked longdistance - why not?), secretively reading novels. This was not from my lack of enthusiasm, or my willingness to slack off; it was just that my position did not require a full-time assistant. But there I was.

Studies have shown that US workers spend at least 35 minutes a day of their work hours (adding up to about 3 1/2-4 hours a week) doing non-work stuff, like scheduling doctor appointments, checking personal email, etc. I suspect, with the explosion of social networking sites like twitter and facebook, and with the abundance of handheld web-enabled devices, this 35 minutes will or has gone up.

This footling around is not an option, not really, when you're teaching. I've never taught a full school day, since I teach at a university; my longest classes have been 3 hours and 15 minutes (I give us all a 10-15 minute break about halfway through). But I do know that after my class - whether it's a 3 hour class or a 50 minute class, I'm wiped out. I'm almost always hungry, and usually want a nap. Some days, of course, I'm completely wired and motivated, and I zip over the library and gather books and read articles and feel very productive and brainy. But usually, I'm tired. And it's because for that length of class time, I am utterly, and entirely, focused on the task at hand.

I do not have this kind of concentration at home.

Now, a schoolteacher has breaks - lunch, and usually a free period for grading, planning, whatever the hell teachers do in their free period. But these are short bursts of time. And everyone gets a lunch, no matter where you work, if you work in this country. Which means that you are ON when you're teaching. You're working hard every second. Even a crappy teacher is working, because if you aren't, chaos happens fast, especially in elementary classrooms. Teaching is a LOT like being an actor, a performer; when the students are present, YOU are onstage. And the spotlight is never off you, even when students are writing in class, or discussing in small groups. There's no jotting down your grocery list, or checking your To-Do List for the rest of the day. there's no checking email, twitter, booking travel, scheduling appointments, doing your billpaying. you WORK while class is in.

It's an intellectual work, and that's hard for a lot of people in this country to quantify, mainly because there is no way, really, to quantify it. So they - recalling their experiences as students - think of teachers as people who sit around all day. Doodling, maybe, texting their friends, staring out the window in a trance. And that doesn't sound like a hard job at all, now, does it?

If that was what teaching consisted of, I wouldn't be tuckered out when I got done. I'd be antsy, like I was in high school, when boredom and bad teaching, and subpar classmates kept me in a stupor, staring at the bare branches of winter trees, all day long. If teaching was just footling around, I wouldn't want to DO it.

I wish there was a way to communicate to the people who spend 35+ minutes a day doing Other Tasks while on the clock, that teaching is demanding. That even that free period is spent doing work. That teachers carry cases and bags between home and school almost daily, with grading, planning, correcting -WORK - to do at home.

People bitch and moan about teacher salaries, but I don't see those people rushing out to get these cushy, high paid jobs. if teaching was so plush, there wouldn't be a lack of science & math teachers. There would be enormous competition, and only truly excellent, well-qualified people would get hired. there'd still be bad apples - there are people who are crappy at their jobs in every profession - but there'd be fewer. And they'd be deluxe bad apples.

The one real big perk of teaching in a public school is the holiday breaks and summers off. Holiday breaks do usually bring with them some level of take-home work, but it's still a vacation. And the summers a glorious break (unless you're teaching summer school). But there are no other perks. I'm fairly sure there isn't even free coffee in the break room. A coffee pool, maybe, where everyone chips in to pay for coffee and supplies, but it's not employer-provided. Even as a lowly AA, I had perks to my job that my folks, with their advanced degrees and 30+ years of experience never had.

06 August 2009

crime query

The guy who went into an LA Fitness club here in Pittsburgh and started shooting (killing three women before killing himself), and injuring at least 8 others, left a fair bit of electronic diary material behind, detailing his plans.

Evidently, George Sodoni was bitter and full of hate & rage at women. He wrote, on his website, "I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne yet 30 million women rejected me over an 18 or 25-year period. That is how I see it" (my emphasis)

I'm not at all clear on how this nutjob reached his number of 30 million women, but his attitude is pretty clear (and if you didn't pick up on the subtleties from reading his website, shooting up an exercise class full of women should fill you in).

Here's my query, though. He was specifically targeting women, for perceived wrongs he'd experienced over the years at the hands of women.

Does this make these murders and shootings hate crimes?

Pittsburgh is holding a vigil tonight for the victims of the shootings. Organized by the Women and Girls Foundation, the National Organization of Women, National Council of Jewish Women, and Pittsburghers Against Domestic Violence will also be participating.

03 August 2009


I attended a wedding last weekend, the wedding of a very, very good friend. [disclaimer: I have no objection at all to her getting married, and I am in no way criticizing her, or anyone else, for choosing to get married].

As I was driving to the reception (a 3-hour trip), I had a sudden flash of unease. In my rearview mirror, I can see (reflected properly, so it's perfectly legible and not mirror-writing) the sticker I got a few weeks ago from a gay-rights group. The sticker is a little lame - it says: I (heart) (heart) [images of hearts), and below, says: i support gay marriage. The I heart love sentiment is a little goopy for my personal tastes, but since I do indeed support gay marriage, i figure it's a sticker my car can wear with pride.

Anyway, I hadn't - until that moment in the car - made the connection between my friend's wedding, and the movement for gay marriage equality. For one very small second, I felt actually sick, thinking about how easy it is for my friend to get married, have this big party with dinner and dancing and cupcakes and a legal document from the state, and the blessing of her church, that officially seals the deal. I wonder - though I probably won't ask, and again, am not criticizing for it - I wonder if, as she made her reception plans, she ever thought about how many people are not allowed this "privilege."

I wonder how many brides or grooms think of this. Getting married and having a wedding/reception seems like the most obvious, natural thing to do, doesn't it? Like why should you stop and be thankful or grateful that you're allowed to do this thing that is simply plastered everywhere in our culture?

I've never been especially interested in a wedding for myself. I don't have big fantasy wedding plans in my head. once, someone asked me what kind of wedding i'd have, what kind and color dresses would the bridesmaids wear - and I was utterly stumped. I don't think I'd HAVE any bridesmaids. or a wedding at all. But hypothetically, if I was in a position where marriage was on the table - I wonder if I could do it, when I know that thousands of people aren't permitted to - are, in fact, explicitly prohibited from doing so? I had this funny/wry moment when I thought: "Oh my god! Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are right - I get why they won't get married!" (both have explained their refusal to get married as a kind of protest, a refusal to participate in a culture that denies marriage rights to everyone).

I do not think I have ever in my life understood how Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie might feel.

But then I wonder: is this like - oh, say, eating the big feasty dinner on thanksgiving? or eating, at all - food is a fundamental human right (not that the US has signed on, but the United Nations declaration of human rights tells us that food, and education, is a basic human right). But there are millions of people around the world who daily go hungry. Does this mean I should refrain from eating, or eating luxuriously (going out for dinner, eating elaborate or large meals, even ordering pizza or eating sweets, those empty calories)??

why not?
why/is marriage any different?

At one point, another friend mentioned his ability to tie a bow tie. I wondered when that skill could ever possibly come in handy in my own life; he (jokingly) replied: "If you're ever part of a lesbian wedding."

and it made me think, again: But lesbians can't get married. And I thought of my good friend, who is a lesbian, and how unlikely it is that I will attend a wedding for her that looks like the wedding for my friend who just got married. At least, not in the very near future.

I don't know. Maybe things are looking up. Facebook users, in a recent poll, overwhelmingly polled both that gay marriage should be legal, and that gay couples should be allowed to adopt children. But the Facebook users of the world are not, mainly, the people in power. And the people who are not gay activists, but who - like the Facebook crew - think gay marriage should be legal are not at all strident and vocal, as are the opponents of gay marriage.

I also thought, briefly, of Martin Luther King Jr's "Letter from Birmingham Jail." I've heard many people - family and friends included - say that the time isn't right just yet for gay marriage to be legalized. That it's coming, but "they" (meaning, I think, the very visible, vocal, very queer, gay marriage activists) need to just wait.

King writes, in his letter, that "For years now I have heard the word "Wait!"... This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." "

And I can't help but agree with him. It's very, very easy to say "wait" or "don't be so pushy about it," when you're wearing a white wedding dress, and the marriage license is signed and sealed.
But when that license is forbidden to you....how easy is "wait" then? how much like "never" does it sound?