Sunday, February 13, 2011

Annoying Things of the Week

These are the things that annoyed me this week:

5. Movie Theaters - They're ugly. I went to the Paramount Theatre in Oakland on Friday night to see Casablanca. If you haven't been to the Paramount (and you live in the Bay Area), you need to make plans to get there. It's a beautiful art deco theater. The picture to the right is of the amazing lobby entrance. Once inside, they play live organ music until the movie starts. You then get to watch the newsreel, see some old previews, and watch a cartoon before the feature actually begins. I guess that with the number of people who just go to movies to hang out instead of actually watching the movies, I doubt the effort would even be worth it these days.

Speaking of the experience, watching Casablanca with a crowd was pretty amazing. I've noted that comedies can really be enhanced when you watch them with a good crowd. I knew that there were a few funny lines, but I had forgotten how funny of a movie it is, in addition to everything else. I could have done without the applause when each character first enters, but I enjoyed the laughter after just about everything said by Captain Renault.

4. Hosni Mubarak - As it turns out, the protests in Egypt were all about making me mad. Yes, you read that correctly. It had nothing to do with freedom or tyranny. The people of Egypt wanted to make things mildly annoying for me.

Somewhere in my past, I think in middle school, I actually learned the name of the president of Egypt. I could name Mubarak if asked. It was always something I could answer, should it come up in conversation or Jeopardy or whatever. And now that's gone. I know one fewer world leader than I used to know. This comes at a time when I can't think of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. I should be able to remember his name, and it might even pop into my head later on. I just know it isn't Gordon Brown (and pretty sure it isn't Winston Churchill either). And yes, I could easily check it right now, but that would be against my point. Good bye, Hosni. My trivia mind will miss you.

3. A Cold - This week, I seem to have some sort of small cold. It started with a mildly annoying sore throat, but it wasn't painful. it was accompanied by a bit of a cough. Now I have a mildly runny nose and the occasional sneeze. It has all been so mild that I can barely call it a cold. So what do I call it? Let's see - it's just showed up, was annoying, and didn't do much. I shall call it the "Eighth Grader Virus." Speaking of,

2. Eighth Graders - Can't anything be done about them?

1. Facebook - It's the fear of Facebook that concerns me, and some of you who I know read this share that fear. The protests in Egypt, and their results, were because of social media. The fire for revolution was lit by Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, but it spread by way of the internet. When the internet was shut down, people found a way. The protests in Iran over the farce of an election were widely reported by Twitter and Facebook.

But let's go smaller scale. We don't need to think of anything as big as the vigor for revolution. What about opportunities for jobs, friends, relationships, and just getting to know people better? Yes, in person is best. But this is the way the world is moving. Today's students are going to find most of their jobs over the internet, and I would guess that a LOT of the ones they will actually get will be because of some form of social media. It might not be Facebook or Twitter, but some future form. It isn't the networking of the future. It's today's. I use both for my class. I post daily assignments on Twitter. I get asked homework questions on Facebook. And because it's one there, someone else might not need to ask the same question. Both are excellent tools.

But we're afraid of it. In particular, I'm referring to my school district. Facebook and Twitter are both blocked. I can't update my Twitter with regularity, even though many parents like it and use (and some absent students have found it helpful as well). But there's also the fear of students finding teacher Facebook. We were given a message in the past week to make sure that personal stays personal - students shouldn't have access to our Facebook. Oh no!

I guess if you really do have naked pictures of yourself, or if you do take pictures of yourself getting wasted or whatever, or if you do post about these things, I guess there could be a conflict of interest. I get that. But most of you don't- in fact NONE of you do. From me, the worst anyone is going to get is the regular sarcastic comment, they might learn about the joys of atheism, or I might drop an F-Bomb or two. The argument that I will accept is that you just don't want kids to be a part of your personal life. That I understand. But the fear - that worries me.

We control what we say around kids all the time. We know when something is appropriate to say. When you get online and away from school, that line can blur. It's okay to go up to the line every once in a while. Sometimes, "shit" is just the best and most appropriate word. And we're generally pretty good people. You aren't posting pictures of that time in Vegas when you chopped off the hands of that prostitute and sewed carved pumpkins in their place. That's the sort of thing you save to post on Myspace.

As usual, a lot of the fear comes from a lack of knowledge. The one person I know who has made the most comments against Facebook doesn't have an account. I don't think he knows what it is. I think he might think it's a dating site. Or perhaps he might think that posting pictures of yourself while intoxicated is mandatory. Maybe the school district thinks the same thing.

The newest issue of Foreign Affairs has a cover story about the impact of social media on the events in Egypt and beyond. the blurb inside states, "Social media have become coordinating tools for really all of the worlds political movements, just as most of the world's authoritarian governments are trying to limit access to them." The school district? It's just trying to protect kids, right? That's their excuse, right? Just like the Egyptian government was just trying to protect its people when it turned it off? Right?

We're still teaching in a 19th century world. Ignoring, even vilifying, social media is crippling American kids. It's one thing that we aren't teaching these kids nearly enough about technology. Yes, there are electives, but the core subjects should be integrating a lot more computer activity. That's a financial issue. This is an issue of ignorance and fear. But mostly ignorance, I suspect.

So what annoyed you this week?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Annoying Things of the Week

These are the things that annoyed me this week:

5. Internet Kill Switch
- Since last June, the government has been considering a Senate bill to create an "Internet Kill Switch." This would give the government the power to shut off the internet if it deems it necessary. This past week, Egypt enacted something similar, shutting off the internet in the wake of the protesting. Seeing it happen first hand, we should have some new insight into this idea. We, as Americans who believe in the First Amendment, were looking forward to the return of their internet to receive more news about what was happening from the people. But what did our government do? Start pushing the bill through more eagerly.

Great job, government. This is a reminder of exactly what the Bill of Rights is for. The government wants power. The people have rights. The Bill of Rights isn't a blueprint for the government to follow. It's PROTECTION for the people FROM the government.

4. Superbowl Ads - Superbowl ads hit their peak probably ten years ago. Yeah, there are a few funny ones, but they've lost their surprise factor. So all of you who go to the party "Just for the commercials!" - you're a corporate shill. Go watch the game just because you like a party. Go because you like the food. Go because you like the company. Go because you like football or one of the teams. But if you just like the ads, it's time to stay home. They'll all be online.

3. No Offense - This seems to be a newer thing, within the past couple years, but I'm hearing with much more frequency the past month or so. Kids have learned that they can tell anyone anything, no matter how horrible or rude, as long as they start the sentence with "No offense." Such as, "No offense, but you are really ugly," or "No offense, but you smell like french cheese left in a gym sock and passed through the system of an aging elephant with ulcerative colitis."

My problem isn't the directness of it. I wish more people would say what's on their minds. We need more Kramers in the world. Remember the episode in which George was dating the girl with the huge nose? She would still have that huge nose and wouldn't have gotten the nose job if Kramer hadn't told her. He just didn't try to sugar coat it by saying, "No offense, but your nose is huge."

I think they actually believe that if they throw those two words in front of the sentence, then it's perfectly OK and no one is offended. They need to know that people are, in fact, going to be offended. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

2. Eighth Graders - The odor alone is enough to kill.

1. Failure - We passed out report cards a week ago Friday. I overheard a student telling her grades to her mom. For the record, I didn't know this student. She read them off something like this: A, B, A, F, F, B, A. What do you notice? I don't know about you, but a couple grades in the middle seemed to pop out to me. Yes, the other grades are good. but this child failed two classes. This girl failed two classes in middle school, where passing grades are pretty easy to achieve. Her mom's response was something like, "Good job, sweetie!"

All right - on one hand, she did have five good grades. And as I mentioned, I don't know this girl. Maybe last quarter it was all seven F's. And maybe the mother went home and kicked the girl's ass from the car to the front door. But knowing our society, knowing our students, and seeing the interaction made me believe that these guesses aren't true. This mother was OK with the child failing. And that girl is going to be content with her failure her entire life and expect recognition for it.

I was just listening to Adam Carolla talking about the kid who shot Giffords and others in Tucson, Jared Loughner. Carolla believes that Loughner's parents should stand trial for manslaughter. His reasoning is that his parents didn't deal with Loughner's mental illness in a way that made him safe to be a part of society. I agree. And parents of kids who fail, cut class, or are a menace, need to have some sort of consequence for crapping out this crappy kid and failing to take a few minutes to learn a few basic parenting skills. Yeah, it's OK to fail. But it's not OK to fail and learn nothing from it.

So what annoyed you this week?