Emily Post and the Earbud

I like technology, but it confuses me.  Not how to use it, but how to handle the users.  If a man is wandering through Wal-Mart talking to the atmosphere in an agitated fashion, is he a psychotic maniac waiting to explode, or a guy arguing with his ex-wife on his Bluetooth?   Is that kid in the third row of history class really just looking down deep in thought, or is he Googling answers on his I-phone?  When the cell phone with the 1812 Overture ringtone goes off in the theater right in front of me, should I be thankful that neurosurgeons are so responsive to human need, or smack the rude beggar whose Twitter feed just went off?

Today, it’s office etiquette.  Our clerk is staring at her computer, muttering softly, earbuds in place.  Is she [a] working on that project I asked her to do, [b] talking down an irate parent on the phone, or [c] just listening to the Grateful Dead?  I need to talk to her.  Do I interrupt?  I simply don’t know!  I was reared not to interrupt another person’s phone call, except by polite visual signalling and waiting until she hangs up.  I also hate to interrupt the concentration of a person hard at work.  And Human Resources has convinced us all that touching another person in the workplace will result in our immediately being shot, jailed, and fired, in that order.  But if all our clerk is doing is grooving on Jerry Garcia, I need her attention.  Trouble is, I can’t tell which is really going on, so I just stand there with my elbow halfway up my arm at her cubicle, hoping she’ll psychically sense my foreboding aura.  What is the etiquette for dealing with the earbud-isolated? 

I asked a college student for guidance, and he offered the following: if a person is staring down at his phone, but his lips aren’t moving, you are allowed to speak to him.  If his lips are moving, he’s in conversation.  Or dictating to his blog.  Or making notes.  So, it would be only polite to wait.  Unless he’s just singing along with YouTube.  Then you can butt in. 

So it has come down to this– with all the communication technology at hand, the only way I can politely communicate with a person who is standing next to me staring at his phone is to stare at him myself… and read his lips.  Which seems quite invasive and not a little creepy.

Or I could just pull out my Blackberry and call him myself.




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Six American Airlines hops in 36 hours. After years of Southwest Airlines and its egalitarian herd, American was a different experience entirely. When the gate agent announces boarding is to begin on your flight, he reveals the multi-layered caste system of which you are now a part as an American passenger. “Now boarding first class, uniformed military, people with babies and pushy old ladies who ordered a wheelchair which currently holds their giant handbags and Neimans’ sacks.” Next, we get the Gemology Department Catalog: “Now, we will board our Emerald Class, Sapphire Class, Ruby Class and Executive Class members, at the red “Priority Gate” only, please. By this time, there is a large milling flock of ticketholders scanning their boarding passes for some clue of their social status. I had the sad task of explaining to a nice lady that her pass said “Group Four”, which was formerly called “Leper Class”. I boarded in Group Three, feeling vastly superior to those poor benighted souls who had not built up enough karma to ascend into Group Three with me.

The apparent reason for this carefully-orchestrated and generally-demeaning process was to seat the people up front first, allowing each aisle passenger to be elbowed, butt-swiped and baggage-whipped by their fellow, if lower class, passengers, as that poor semi-human cargo wended its way to the back of the aircraft. If there has been a better method created to exalt, then debase, people who think too highly of themselves because they have an AmericanAirlines-Plutonium Class credit card, it has escaped my attention. It was almost worth being sneered at by the airline staff for being a lesser passenger. After this foray through American’s premium-caste system, I will hurry forthwith to join American’s marketing barrage, if not at “Emerald level”, perhaps beginning with something more humble, like Plywood Class, or even becoming a Cubic Zirconium Member.

I will say that this constant reminder of my lower-class status did not rob me of the perks of American service. Six flights, two of which were delayed by hours, one long enough to make me miss my connection altogether and earn me a free additional four-hour layover at Chicago O’Hare. I sprinted to one gate which was actually manned, and asked the lonely agent to which flight they had converted my cancelled one. He assured me that any agent could find that out for me– except for him, because he was going on break.

My thanks to the State of Texas for arranging my travel from Waco to Toledo. Meeting time: 150 minutes. Travel time, airplanes and airports: 25 hours. Had they just flown me from Dallas to Detroit, I could have spent a quarter of the time and half the money.

Your tax dollars at work.

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Two dangerous types…

One type is the politician, who tells us “this is what is best”.  The redeeming feature here is that politicians often contradict one another, so a healthy and educational discourse can ensue if we will just pay attention and sort facts out of the exchanges of verbal artillery.  Two opposing politicians each tell us the other is just flat wrong, and we get to sort it out for ourselves.

The far more dangerous fellow is the scientist, who tells us “this is utter inarguable fact” and “here is what must be done about it”.  This fellow then conflates his empirical fact (or his approximation thereof) with his conclusions and cannot sort these apart any more than he can sort out the salt he accidentally dropped in the sugar bowl.  Today, I listened to reports about how science has been telling us to prevent fires in our forests when at all possible…until now, when different scientists announce the conclusion that the resulting unchecked undergrowth is currently fueling wildfires of incredible dimension.  So, the news report said, in essence, “We thought we were right, but now that the whole thing has blown up in our faces, perhaps we were wrong all along.”  In the very same report, these same scientists insisted that today’s wildfires are the result of global warming.  How long will it take them to back away from their position this time? What foolishness will we undertake before the next “oops”? 

The scientific community is more dangerous than the political community because if you disagree with them, you are not thus merely wrong, but an ill-educated superstitious savage to boot. Non-conformity is considered proof that you are not intelligent enough to contribute to the discourse.  There is only one prevailing view allowed at a time, riding its popularity until it is brought crashing down by the next observation which proves things to be different.  What science tells us is the not-to-be-questioned truth.  Until it’s not. Science builds its cities upon the ashen ruins of the cities come before, but refuses to look at the history under its feet to instruct its further efforts.

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C S Lewis, revisited

I just finished re-reading CS Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” and his later magazine article “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”. If you can shake off the dark concept of the book, it offers a great deal of insight, not into the demonic, but into human beings with their foibles and their unexpected strengths. Too many people can’t read this through the “ick” factor, which Lewis readily admitted was an issue for him as well.

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SSI and the mentally unbalanced people who run it

There is nothing more addictive than spending other people’s money.  And nothing makes us feel more grand than distributing other people’s money to other “other people” whom we think could use it.

Social Security used to be a basic pension.  Pay in for the rest of your working life, and we’ll take care of you after you can no longer work.  That paying in created a large pile of cash at the Treasury, which is rather like supplying a kindergarten classroom with buckets of brightly colored paint and removing all adult supervision. The results are easily predictable.

So your representatives started fingering the Social Security loot like Scrooge McDuck and one of the brilliant ideas they came up with was adding no more payers, but more payees– this time, it was people under retirement age who were unable to work through no fault of their own.  Roy fell through a scaffold at work, broke his back and will never walk again.  Social Security is gonna help Roy by replacing some of that income he can no longer earn.  Well, there can’t be that many Roy’s out there, and it’s a good cause, and there is just SO MUCH MONEY here, that we should do it. So, we did, and it did make a certain sense.

Fast forward to 2012, when the fastest growing segment of SSI recipients are children who never earned a dime in their lives, but who are diagnosed with a disorder like depression or ADHD or ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) or Conduct Disorder or SYGACF (“Something You Get A Check For”).  The bar is incredibly low.  Momma takes you to a special doctor recommended by a nice lawyer, and she tells you, “Just act crazy and we’ll get money and then we’ll get you those new Transformers!”  This is not an exaggeration, as a Child Protective Services worker, I have heard this from the children’s mouths.

My biggest problem is not the fraud, although it is galling. It is the gross stupidity that preceded the decision to take money intended to replace missing income for folks who need it and to give to kids who never earned any and don’t need it.

That’s the addictive power of OPM; it makes you lose your mind.  Other People’s Money is the crack cocaine of Congress.  Never do you hear a crackhead step back from the pipe and say, “Well, no more for me, thanks.  That should be enough for anyone!”  And never do you hear a congressman say that, either.

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Bigot’s Rights

Melvin Bedford Blunt is a bigot. He hates just about everybody who differs from him in any significant way. And it’s high time he got some respect.

I want to thank the politically-correct editorial writers of America for giving me the courage to speak out and demand that Americans everywhere respect Melvin’s bigotry. After all, at least ten percent of Americans are bigots. (We know this to be a fact because it has been repeated innumerable times in print.) Many of these bigots never come out of the closet, fearing public ridicule. Some closet bigots even maintain relationships with people of different religions and ethnicities, hoping to mask their true orientation. But bigotry is a lifestyle as old as mankind, and those of us who value diversity are obligated to stand up for the bigot community and insist that they be accepted in the American mainstream just as they are.

Melvin Blunt never asked to be a bigot. He just is one. As far back as his childhood, he remembers not liking black people, brown people, blond people, Bolivians and Baptists. As he moved through adolescence, some adult bigots helped him get in touch with his true identity by taking him to Klan rallies and marches (otherwise known as “Bigot Pride Parades”). His horizons expanded as his latent bigot consciousness grew to include a distaste for Lithuanians, Libertarians, and lovers of Louis Lamour.

Melvin’s personal orientation has always elicited scorn and rejection from his community. Preachers rail at bigots from their pulpits, self-righteously judging their lifestyle choice. The whole bigot community is shunned by civic groups and discriminated against in the workplace.  Hispanic employers don’t want to hire Melvin just because he calls them “burrito benders” in the privacy of his own bedroom. What about Melvin’s constitutional right to privacy? What happens in an American’s own chat room between consenting adults is nobody else’s business. You cannot punish a man just because he rails against Republicans, Romanians, rent collectors and the Rotary Club. Where are you, ACLU?

Even when Melvin served his country with valor in the Fort Dix motor pool, he was subjected to the humiliating “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule. He longed to stand proud before his fellow soldiers and explain why America was all about protecting his right to hate anybody he chose. But that door was slammed in his face. No, Melvin didn’t want to recruit new bigots. He just wanted the Army to respect his desire to dislike doctors, Democrats, doormen, and Dodge dealers. But Melvin’s commanding officer told him point-blank that the Army would not tolerate intolerance, and that the only way Melvin could keep his stripes was to keep his bigot lifestyle a secret.

Over the years, various people have suggested that Melvin could stop being a bigot, if only he wanted to. Self-proclaimed “former bigots” offer counseling to “help” people like Melvin. Such arrogance! Why can’t they just accept him for who he is? By discriminating against Melvin, such people are just exposing their own hidden bigoted urges, no matter how much they deny it. Every diversity proponent doesn’t like somebody. The popularity of David Duke, Louis Farrakhan, and White Men Can’t Jump speaks for itself. I say it’s high time to expose the hypocrisy.

America needs to stop the hate and antagonism of bigoted people as part of the mainstream of public discourse. It would help if we retired the term “bigot” altogether, in favor of a more culturally-sensitive designation: Selective-American. But our government is the key. Americans should expect, no, demand that the next administration appoint at least one Selective-American to a cabinet post. We could get Selective-Americans to lecture in our elementary schools during Cultural Diversity Week. Let our children decide for themselves whether the Selective lifestyle is for them, free from the parochial pressures of parental prejudice. It’s time, America, to strike a blow for legally-mandated tolerance of intolerance. Intolerance of intolerance must no longer be tolerated in our bright and shiny land of the free.

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On the decline of Christianity

Jay Guin, in his blog, One in Jesus, opened the topic of the observed decline of Christian observance. My take on this:

I agree that the answer is in the church… it’s just not in the churches. I cannot say I see any solution which lets organizations which are less than the church continue to claim to be what they are not and continue to try to carve out a larger segment of the religion market, all with divine unction. It is not the church which is in decline, my friends, it is “Christianity”, the hydra-headed religion we have built with a variety of admixtures of the ethics of Jesus and approaches to scripture.

Our challenge is neither to save this passing form, nor to tear it down because of its fatal flaws. Our challenge is, for lack of a more elegant term, to shed our skin. We are called to be disciples of Jesus, the younger siblings of the King of Glory, the sons of God. We have become something far less, the faithful keepers of shrines– historical, cultural, theological, doctrinal shrines. We have attached ourselves to buildings and bibles and beliefs, to symbols rather than substance, to places and purposes rather than to a Person, to that which is revealed more than to the One Who Reveals. For about 600 years, God has continued to bless this form, knowing, as we have not known, that it is just that– a form.

But the limitations of that form become more and more apparent, all the more for the desperate attempts by its current custodians to caulk all the cracks, to alternately armor it and remodel it in an effort to save it. While we have been absorbed with perceived threats which are actually just intramural squabbles among the shrines, the sons of God have been quietly leaving those shrines. Some, certainly, in selfish seeking, but more because what has been advertised on the label has not been that which we have found in the box. “Sir, we would see Jesus,” will not forever be answered with, “Come and sit here under my feet. Pay for our shrine and we will let you serve her.”

My brothers, the new theses of Christ’s disciples will not be nailed to the Wittenburg door, but will spread both behind and far beyond such doors. This is both incredibly encouraging and troubling. Undoubtedly, wolves will come in among the turmoil. These seeking saints have courage, but this does not make them invulnerable. So much the more need for true shepherds of the Great Shepherd, not just managers of a local sheepfold. So much more the need for mature believers whose faith transcends doctrine and tradition; so much greater the call for grown-up believers who will cease gathering into their own barns and who can see the Kingdom of God as reality.

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Quote O’Day 8

“John Donne said, ‘No man is an island.’  But with the growth of virtual connections and the explosion in social networking, we are rapidly becoming a large archipelago.”
Actually, that one is from me.

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Now, or sooner

Debate today is about increasing the interest rate on student loans. If you listen to the news morons, you will believe this is about people being able to get a college education.  This is the rhetorical equivalent to suggesting that if the credit system collapses, we will all starve to death because nobody will be able to swipe his VISA card at Safeway.  Arghhh.

When did college education become a constitutional right?  Was it before or after student loans became a constitutional right?  And was that before or after we were told that anyone who does not get a degree will be left to feed the rats for medical researchers at $1 an hour?

Here’s a totally out-of-the-box concept: if you want to go to college, get a job first, save your money, get started and then work your way through school.  Before you say it’s not possible, I have kids who have done just that.   How about the idea of buying something you actually have the money for?  I know, Stone Age, right?  Not at all modern like these 20-somethings who are racking up $100k in debt to get an education that trains them for a $30k job, which there are only two of in the entire country.  And why are they doing this?  Not because they are stupid–well, not all of them– but because they have been mal-educated by their parents and teachers, and by the marketplace.

Ever since the advent of anonymous consumer credit, we have been told to buy now and pay later.  They never actually said, “Borrow a lot of money for crap you don’t like well enough to save your money to buy, and pay more in interest on the debt than you paid for the original crap. Repeat until dead.”  But that’s what they meant.  Same goes for student loans.  Except that student loans are like debtor’s prison.  They cannot be escaped, except through death.  Some day soon there will literally be Americans who are having student loans garnished from their monthly Social Security payments.

Okay, enough gripe.  Here’s an answer:  Go from high school to WORK.  Just because all your friends are drinking from Alices’ bottle so they can get small enough to get into the party, does NOT mean this is a good idea.  Young people, here’s some advice.  Humbly beg your parents to let you stay a while longer while you work to earn college money.  Take your meager paycheck, give Dad a fourth, use a fourth to pay your cellphone bill and car insurance, and save the other half.  When you have some actual money to buy some actual education, then go for it.

Parents, stop encouraging your kids to go into debt.  You are throwing the boomerang yourself.  In 2016, when little Maggie gets her degree and her first $600 student loan payment notice, she is going to do the math and find out her entry level job can’t pay the government AND the landlord.  So, she’s coming home to you!  (“Hi, Mom!  Here’s my laundry!  I’ll be in my room!”)  You better just hope she doesn’t bring her equally underemployed boyfriend and his kid.  So, instead of waiting five years to look at one another and say, “What are we going to do?” , look at one another now and say to your darling daughter, “It’s time to pay for what you want before you get it.”

She will have a light stroke, having never heard this concept before, but she has good odds of surviving the shock, and if she takes it to heart, a darn sight better odds making it in the real world after college.


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Quote O’Day 7

You won’t find a group with which you can agree on everything.  And even if you did, that just means that you are wrong about the same things.–kmv

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