Breaking Badathon

Kish and I admittedly have been derelict in our hot TV show watching.  We have never watched Mad Men, or Dexter, or the vast majority of the other shows that have dominated the national conversation and shifted the zeitgeist over the past decade or so.

That includes Breaking Bad.  And our out-of-itness meant that, for years, when one of our friends would ask what we thought of the latest episode, we could only shrug and say we don’t watch the show — a response that was typically greeted with a puzzled look and then a heartfelt “You’ve got to watch it!”  But somehow, with everything else on our plates, we just never got around to it . . . until now.

We’ve decided to do a crash course in cultural catch-up.  With AT&T U-Verse as the platform, we’ve subscribed to Netflix, installed Roku, and started our studies.  Breaking Bad is the first class on the schedule, and each night after I return home from work we’ve become immersed in the weird world of Walter White and his pal Jesse and his crooked lawyer and watched mini-marathons of episodes.  We’re now nearing the end of season 3, and things just seem to be getting worse, big picture, for the ever-rationalizing OCD cancer-battling chemistry teacher turned bad-ass meth cook.

Some people argue that Breaking Bad is the best show that has ever been broadcast on TV.  Based on what we’ve seen so far, I would say it is a superior show, although I’m not sure that it is quite at the level of The Sopranos or The Wire.  Still, it’s got all of the elements of a great show — fascinating characters that you care about, great acting, evil, unexpected violence, stone-cold criminals, difficult moral choices, and little touches that just make the show a bit more interesting, like a character who always wears purple.

But here’s my problem:  I simply can’t watch too much non-sports TV programming without dozing off.  I don’t care how good a show is, and whether Hank is in mortal peril — there’s something about sitting on a couch and watching hours of TV that makes me nod off.  Three episodes is about my limit, and that’s OK by me.  I prefer to parcel out and savor the episodes of a great show, rather than watching them all in one big gush.

A Response To Those Angry, Ignorant, Anonymous Comments

Our college friend and fellow Lantern alum Jim McKeever writes for an interesting and lively blog called Irish Investigations.  Yesterday he wrote a post about anonymous internet comments that is worth considering.

The context of Jim’s piece is straightforward.  Among his other positive qualities, Jim is a runner and an active participant in charitable causes.  In his community there is an Independence Day 10-mile run.  Two 12-year-old twin boys with muscular dystrophy wanted to participate in the race by being pushed in adapted “running strollers” by willing runners.  Amazingly, the race organizers initially denied the boys permission to participate, but news coverage and a social media firestorm caused them to reconsider.  The event occurred, the boys participated, and they were cheered along the race route.

But the on-line news stories about the incident elicited some of the angry, ignorant comments that any regular reader of on-line content has seen all too often, all made by people using pseudonyms.  It’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t feel good about letting disabled boys participate in a community event, but the anonymous comments showed that, pathetically, some sad, mean-spirited people did.  Jim’s piece reacts to their comments, but also raises the larger issue of whether websites should permit anonymous postings in the first place.  He thinks that people who post anonymous comments are cowards and websites shouldn’t allow them to spew their venom, secure behind the protective veil of their fake on-line names.

I get Jim’s point, but I have a different take on the issue.  I think there is value in allowing pseudonymous comments precisely because it allows people to expose their innermost thoughts.  Usually those thoughts aren’t offensive, and the posters just want to avoid any concern that they might get blowback or provoke a nut to begin stalking them — after all, the internet can be a scary place.  But even if the thoughts are angry or stupid, like the comments Jim describes, I think it’s worth seeing them precisely because it allows them to be exposed as ignorant and idiotic.  Although Jim didn’t mention this in his piece, I hope that good people like Jim responded to every one of those ignorant posts and, maybe, helped to convince the anonymous posters that their views are terribly out of line.

Technology allows so many people to live their lives in a cocoon, without much meaningful interaction with the world.  The haters at their computer keyboards may believe that their hateful views are widely shared.  When they surface from their dens to make ignorant anonymous posts, we all have the opportunity to disabuse them of that notion.

Our Tiny TV

We own a 40-inch flat-screen TV.  We didn’t buy it; we inherited it.  It seems plenty big to me, lets us watch our favorite HBO shows, and neatly fills one corner of our family room.

IMG_6233By comparison to what’s being sold these days, though, our set is shrimpy and passe.  Samsung now offers a 78-inch curved screen TV — that’s almost twice as large as ours — and other manufacturers are churning out TVs with more than 50- and 60-inch screens.  Big-screen TVs are the growth area in otherwise flat TV sales. Believe it or not, some people are willing to spend more than $1,000 for large-screen units that include internet connection capabilities and that will serve as the focal points of family rooms and, apparently, family life.

I recognize that fast-moving sports like pro football look great on a large, high-definition, flat screen TV, but aren’t we getting a bit carried away here?  Laying out more than a grand on a huge set that takes up an entire wall of a room seems excessive.

Facebook And The Arc Of Coolness

There’s been lots of chatter lately about the future of Facebook. Millions of teenage users apparently are no longer using the social media network. Some Princeton researchers have concluded that social networks are like communicable diseases that infect people rapidly then just was quickly burn out; they predict Facebook will lose 80 percent of its peak user base by the 2015-2017 time period.

There’s no doubt that Facebook is not as cool as it once was, but that result always was inevitable — because nothing stays ubercool for long. The equation of coolness is simple: young people add to coolness, and old people who aren’t rock stars detract from it. Once Moms and Dads and people in their 60s started to use Facebook to post boring pictures, send inspirational messages, and attempt to make “hip” comments about their kids’ drunken selfies, any self-respecting youngster would realize that the coolness luster was gone . . . and move on to the next big thing.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Facebook is doomed. My guess is that Facebook wants to end up as a kind of utility — that is, an invention that initially is cutting-edge and used by only a few people and later becomes so broadly accepted that it is unconsciously integrated into everyone’s daily life, like the electric light or the telephone. iPads might not be as cool as they once were, but does Apple care if they are being sold by the millions to uncool people in the business community who love the idea of a lightweight device that they can customize to meet their unique business and personal requirements?

The key for Facebook, or for that matter any other form of social media, is whether it can make that transition. If Facebook sticks around and keeps that critical mass of users, will those coolness-sensitive teens return to the Facebook fold when they hit their late 20s and realize that the social media network is a really handy, one-stop place to keep in contact with high school buddies, college friends, and former co-workers, remember their birthdays, and have some sense of what they are doing with their lives?

When You Realize You Are Completely Out Of It

One of my mentees and his wife have welcomed a new addition to their growing family.  The baby’s name will be Maxwell.

I wanted to make a mild joke about the newborn with my other mentees, so I asked them whether they thought it would be appropriate to get little Maxwell a silver hammer.  In response, I was greeted with absolutely blank stares.  “I don’t think a hammer would be an appropriate gift for an infant,” one of my mentees politely responded.  “Is there some kind of tradition involved in giving a hammer to a child?” another asked.

“You know, the Beatles song,” I prompted.  Additional baffled looks.  “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer?”  I added.  More uncomfortable silence.

Occasionally, an incident occurs that crystallizes the fact that you are getting incredibly old, and the common cultural touchstones that used to be assumed in every conversation are common touchstones no more.  My references to Beatles song have no more resonance with my 20- and 30-something mentees than the latest Jay-Z song (assuming Jay-Z is still a popular artist — which I of course am blissfully unaware of) would have with me.

Bluetooth In The Bathroom

I’m not a big fan of Bluetooth earpiece devices.  I’m not talking about whether the technology works well or not; I just think it creates too many awkward situations.

How many times do you walk around a public area — airports in particular — see someone who appears to be talking vigorously to themselves, and decide to give them a wide berth?  You do so because long experience has trained you that people who talk to themselves are probably dangerous lunatics, and the last thing in the world you want to do is enter their field of vision and become the focus of their deranged rantings.  Bluetooth devices have interfered with that crucial modern survival instinct.  Now you don’t know whether the self-talking person is a nut or a Bluetoother, talking louder than is necessary because that’s just what Bluetooth users always do.

The worst scenario for this is the public restroom.  If you’re a guy standing at a urinal, you don’t want to make eye contract, have a conversation, or otherwise engage in any form of human interaction whatsoever.  So, when a person who at first appears to be talking to himself shoulders his way into the urinal next door, apparently flouting every known rule of male bathroom etiquette, it’s a cause for concern.  You feel that initial sinking feeling, only to later realize that it’s just jerky Bluetoother who is still flouting accepted norms — and also consciously demonstrating for all to see that their call is so important that it can’t wait until after they answer the call of nature.

I’m reconciled to the fact that Bluetooth earpieces and those hanging string-like microphone devices are here to stay.  It’s too bad, because they make public areas like airports gates a babbling cacaphony.  But can’t we all agree to keep them out of the bathroom, for goodness’ sake?

Self-Marriage? Give Me A Break!

I was surfing the net recently when I ran across an odd piece in the Huffington Post about a North Dakota woman “marrying” herself.  Six years after dealing with a painful divorce, the woman went though a commitment ceremony with herself.  She describes herself as “very happy” and “very joyous,” and she takes herself on “dates” to “invest in this relationship.”

At first I thought it was one of those oddball stories about the curious antics of one person — but apparently it isn’t.  There’s actually an entire website devoted to self-marriage ceremonies, with links to sections like “self-marriage unveiled” and “about self-marriage.”

I’m not a hidebound traditionalist about who should participate in a marriage.  I support same-sex marriage, for example.  But I also think that the whole concept of marriage has to involve another person.  A crucial part of the institution is making sacrifices for the betterment of someone else, and legally committing yourself to that separate individual in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer.

I don’t care how many “dates” you might take yourself on.  I don’t care how schizophrenic you might be.  I don’t care how disastrous your prior relationships have been.  You simply can’t “marry” yourself in any meaningful sense.

One reason I support same-sex marriage is that it recognizes the importance of the institution of marriage.  Gay couples who want to marry are eager for the commitment, welcome the legal enforcement of that commitment, and understand that making that legal commitment means something important.  They want to participate in an institution that has been crucial to the advancement of civilization.

Proponents of “self-marriage,” on the other hand, are really devaluing and mocking that institution.  It’s transparent, pathetic, and kind of sad.