The Squeeeee! Factor

Yesterday I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when I noticed two women  who apparently were surprised to see each other.  Their eyes opened wide and they each made, in perfect unison, high-pitched noises that sounded like “squeeeeee!”

I’m assuming that they then hugged each other — which seems to be the standard practice under those circumstances — but I couldn’t tell for sure because my glasses cracked.  I also don’t know whether they made any additional noises thereafter, because every dog within a 10-block radius started barking simultaneously and my ears began bleeding.

Seriously, what’s with this form of female-to-female greeting that unfortunately seems to be growing increasingly commonplace, regardless of the age of the people in question?  What is it about the prospect of seeing a friend that causes vocal tones to be raised at least one full octave?  I don’t want to quash anybody’s happy greeting, but can we at least lower the decibel level on the squeeeee! factor to some kind of point that is reasonably tolerable to human beings?

Should We Show The Door To Common Core?

These days you hear a lot about “Common Core” — a set of national math and reading standards that have been adopted in more than 40 states and are supported by the Obama Administration.  One recent article described a “populist uprising” against the standards.  In Louisiana, the state board of education and Governor Bobby Jindal are suing each other about whether that state can nullify its agreement to participate in Common Core.  This week, in Ohio, House Republicans have introduced a bill to replace Common Core standards, which could set up a clash with Governor John Kasich, who has supported the Common Core initiative.

The stated goal of Common Core is to develop critical thinking and better ready students for college and careers and — as its name indicates — establish a common set of standards between states.  Supporters say the Common Core approach to learning about math and reading are better, and in any event it would be foolish to retreat from the standards after the participating states have spent years developing and implementing them.  Common Core opponents object to “federalization” of education and raise questions about costs.

Richard and Russell are long past learning math and reading, so I don’t have a dog in this fight.  I’m not automatically opposed to trying new approaches or promoting standards that ensure that kids learn the basics; I remember taking “The Iowa Test of Basic Skills” when I was in grade school in the ’60s.  At the same time, I’m often skeptical at claims that new approaches are better, particularly when it comes to subjects that have been taught for centuries.

With respect to Common Core, I’m more interested in the human element in these changes — which, I think, often get overlooked when huge national forces and politics enter the process.  I became aware of that human element when I had lunch several weeks ago with two colleagues who have youngsters in grade school.  Neither is a Republican or a reflexive opponent of “federalizing” standards, but both had serious concerns about Common Core.  One related a story in which she sat down with her daughter to look at her math homework, which involved addition and subtraction problems.  When the mother started to use the familiar right to left process, “carrying” numbers from column to column, the daughter said:  “Mom, we don’t do it that way!”  The Mom was embarrassed, and wondered why we are making this kind of change.  NPR recently carried a report that raised that same issue of disconnect between parents and their kids that Common Core presents.

I think parental involvement helps to encourage kids to work hard in school, and homework assistance can also be one way of strengthening the parent-child bond.  Those of us who learned the “carry” method have somehow managed to balance checkbooks, perform the basic math skills needed to function in modern society, and contribute to the economy.  Why change the basic approach to addition and subtraction in a way that shuts parents out of the homework process even in the very early grades, and suggests to young children that their parents are old-fashioned and out of it?  Isn’t it at least possible that there is an ultimate social cost in such a change that outweighs whatever incremental learning benefit the new approach is supposed to realize?

The Existential Reality Of Tofu McNuggets

In Japan, McDonald’s is introducing Tofu McNuggets: a mixture of fish, tofu, onions, edamame, carrots, and soy beans that is deep-fried and served with a ginger sauce.

I mention this not to comment on the gastronomic merit of Tofu McNuggets. I haven’t tried them, but I don’t need to taste them to know that they sound god awful.

Instead, I note this development only to point out the absurdity of modern corporate branding, and how it has become completely unmoored from roots or reality. Long ago, McDonald’s was a local hamburger joint. Then it grew into a chain. Then it became a franchise with outlets from sea to shining sea. Then someone at McDonald’s decided that the “Mc” in the original name had branding value, and the Big Mac and McRib and other annoyingly named menu items were born. Then the “Mc” branding was applied to new menu items like chicken, in the form of Chicken McNuggets. Even though the chicken was flavorless and crappy, the Mcbrand apparently had value — and Tofu McNuggets sold in Tokyo are the inevitable result.  It won’t end there, either.

And so, a little business that once probably made and sold pretty good hamburgers to locals became a mega business that sells awful-sounding fried tofu in Japan, using the same brand that means . . . what?  Everything, and nothing. In their own appalling way, Tofu McNuggets tell us something essential about our world.

When Death Knocks, And Knocks, And Knocks

When you reach your 50s, as Kish and I have, part of life is dealing with death.  Whether it is more senior members of your family succumbing to age-related conditions, or colleagues who die in inexplicable, tragic accidents, or friends who finally are taken down after long battles with cancer, at some point death becomes a significant, unfortunately recurring part of the reality of your life.

IMG_1087The question is how to deal with the losses, particularly when the deaths come in bunches — as so often seems to be the case.  People find themselves grappling with complex combinations of emotions that they don’t typically experience at the same time — such as grief, and guilt, and also anger — and everyone needs to deal with them in their own way.  When multiple deaths hit in a short period of time, and strike down people who are about your age, you can’t help but think of your own mortality, and wonder. 

Kish and I try to go to calling hours or memorial services, as a kind of tangible sign to the surviving family members of the significance and impact of the departed; I’m not sure whether the family members appreciate it or not, but it makes us feel better.  Collecting your thoughts about the person, mentally composing your own personal tribute, and focusing on the good, also seems to help.  And as we’ve gotten older, and seen how people respond to such losses in different ways, I find that I’ve become a lot less judgmental and a lot more accepting about how people respond.  

Ultimately, though, you just hope that the period of bad news finally ends, and a period of good news begins.  We’ve got a family wedding coming up, and we’re looking forward to it.

Just Desserts

Have you ever been driving, noticed one of your fellow motorists driving like a jerk, and wished there was a police officer there at that instant to catch them?

I witnessed that very scenario this morning, and I felt a sense of deep satisfaction.

I was humping along on I-670, heading into downtown during rush hour.  Ahead of me and one lane over an Ohio highway patrol car was part of the normal traffic flow.  Suddenly in the rear-view mirror I saw a guy in an overcharged pick-up truck weaving from lane to lane and speeding.  I figured he would see the patrol car and slow down — but he was so intent on reveling in his testosterone fix that he kept on, stupidly passed the patrol car on the right, and even sped up as he did so.

I think it’s safe to say that, at that point, every other car on the road was hoping that the patrolman would do his duty and catch the jerk.  Many fists undoubtedly were pumped when the officer turned on his lights, lit out after the reckless driver, and pulled him over.  I gave him a wave as I passed by.

Anybody who is so inattentive to their surroundings that they don’t notice a police car as they go speeding by deserves what they get.

The Modern Approach To Supporting Artists

Richard has written a lot of really good stories for the Chicago Tribune this summer, and this recent piece is no exception:  it’s a story about how artists, writers, and musicians are using social media sites, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, that allow them to raise money to complete and publish their works — and also how such sites impose certain burdens on the exercise of the creative spirit that didn’t exist before.

Of course, being parents of an artist, this kind of story is of particular interest to us.

There are many talented artists, authors, and musicians out there, and as a result being noticed, and then appreciated, can be a real challenge.  In the old days, wealthy patrons would “discover” and support artists by funding their creations; many of the masterpieces of days gone by were commissioned by Popes, or nobility, or wealthy guilds.  Alas, there aren’t enough such benefactors to go around these days.  Social media sites allow artists to reach beyond the galleries or record labels to reach popular audiences that may enjoy their pieces and be willing to commit funds to allow artistic projects to be completed.

It may not be as easy as being supported by one of the Medicis, and the websites may take a cut of the proceeds — but if they allow art to be produced that wouldn’t be produced otherwise, they seem like a good thing to me.

A Germophobe’s Analysis Of The Relative Health Advantages Of Fist Bumps Over Handshakes

It seems as though scientists are always trying to get us to change our time-honored habits.  Now they want us to reject handshake greetings in favor of “fist bumps,” because a study has shown that a firm handshake transmits far more germs than a quick knuckle clash.

In the study, a scientist stuck his gloved hand into a vat of bacteria, let it dry, and then shook hands, fist-bumped, or high-fived other participants and measured how many germs ended up on their gloves.  (Apparently the scientists didn’t think the “bro shake” or the “down low” were sufficiently common to warrant testing.)  The results showed handshakes transmitted 10 times more bacteria than fist bumps and two times more germs than a palm-smacking high five.

Am I the only person who is relieved at the fact that scientists who developed this particular study didn’t decide to also examine the germ transmission of hugs and kisses, and thereby avoided sticking their faces, lips and entire bodies into vats of bacteria?

No one will be surprised that physical contact with humans involves potential germ transmission.  Of course, contact with just about anything outside of a sealed white-room environment involves potential germ transmission.  Do these scientists ever use a public restroom or take a crowded subway train and have to hang onto a pole?  Unless you want to be a recluse, germ transmission is just something we accept in modern life.

And, in the professional world — at least for a 50-something guy like me — there really aren’t any viable alternatives to a handshake.  I’m not going to be high-fiving opposing counsel when they arrive for a deposition, and in many situations advancing toward someone with your hand clenched into a fist could be misconstrued and provoke more immediate and painful health consequences than a little germ transmission.

If we’re really that concerned about public germ transmission, why not start a campaign to avoid hand contact altogether and encourage everyone to use the Fonzie thumbs-up sign, the double finger-point, or something equally ludicrous?  I’ll just accept the germ-infested reality of the modern world and stick to handshakes, thank you very much.