Snap out of it

Last Saturday I had an early morning flight from DC (Currently being renamed Domain of Charlatans) to Miami. My family and I had Disney World on the brain upon my arrival so making the 6:30 am flight was a relatively easy sacrifice.

Somehow in my 40’s I became the person I was supposed to become in my 30’s ( I’ve always been a late bloomer), so mornings are now my thing. As a general pre-dawn rule of thumb, I do not use my phone the first hour of the day. Besides the fact that I have way too many other things to do in the early hours, including cleaning leftover frying pans teeming with petrified eggs and bacon, I’m not coordinated enough to properly swipe the screen.

Teenagers are different though. They live in an “Unbrave” New World where waking up is easy as long as they have phone battery life and at least three digital devices within arm’s reach. Not that they do anything other than caress those devices the first hour of their day, but that’s not the point..In their minds, despite being entirely cloaked in a digital fog, they are on up and “connecting” to the world around them.

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Which brings me to my point. I had an already been up over an hour so I was sort of fidgeting with my phone. On the plane next to me were two teenage siblings, at least I assume they were teenagers because they were Snapchatting. Yes I know people of all ages Snapchat, including the Ghost of Christmas Past, John McCain, Obama and Napolean Bonaparte. But for anyone to “snap” this early in the morning, they had to be unable to legally purchase a drink much less an R-rated movie ticket

I am unsure what or why they were snapping, but they were snapping away, ten second endorphin boosting, pheromone emitting bursts of digital desire. From the looks of things, they were in snaptopia, almost begging American Airlines to find some mechanical defect with the plane so they had more time to snap. As a foil, I started reading and annotating the newspaper, just to give them a glimpse of what the dinosaurs still do.

They seemed to be uninterested but at least they didn’t point me out as the type of potential disturbance we are warned to report in the pre-flight announcements.

I think part of the problem is that kids are warned but not shown. Hinted at but not directed. Then again the problem could be the phones themselves. Just as nicotine includes addictive agents, the transmitters phones use must send waves of pheromones, more seductive than oysters to a woman, more powerful than the salivatory response when exposed to the smell and sight of freshly baked Krispy Kreme Donuts. In fact, clinical research corroborates this statement, though I’m fairly certain that even Steve Jobs with all of his tactile obsession never intended nor anticipated the compulsiveness his Iphone would generate.

Sure swiping is fun. Far better than smoking or biting one’s nails. But I’m assuming Jobs was far too learned or concerned about making the future a better replace than to intellectually paralyze most of the adolescent population.

I studied a little developmental psychology and from what I reckon the teenage years, despite the obsession with instant gratification are an irreplaceable time to build neural connections, develop academic passions, improve task awareness and establish lifelong study skills. All I know is that the the middle and high school students I teach in DC kind of like learning, but not when it interferes with their constitutional right to snapchat. Unfortunately the teachers for whom I substitute forget to leave a lesson plan comprehensive enough that would minimize the opportunity to swipe, tap and press, then rinse and repeat. While subbing third period last week, I asked one of my 8th grade students who was snapping, how many snapchats she had sent that day – her response, “not very much, like 25”.

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(Study compiled by Donald J. Trump,  Neurobiology Department Head at Trump University)

But back to the air. The flight took off a tad before 7 am and I confess to having a bit of swiping withdrawal. I actually could have used the plane’s wifi to get service on my phone but wanted to at least discipline myself to make the two hour flight without caressing my phone. The teenagers were plugged in, listening to music, playing games and looking at pictures. And then just when I was about to lose hope in all Generation Swipe, something magical happened. Snapchat girl pulled out a biology textbook and what seemed like a set of homework problems. For the next ten minutes, or maybe three, all societal pessimism was suspended as she diligently worked through several problems without any sighting of her phone. Brain activated. Neurons firing, paper and pen restored to the human order of operations.

Studies show that the average adult checks his/her phone over 150 times a day and uses it at family meals about 20 percent more than teenagers. This fact came from an article in Wired Magazine, not Donald Trump. I might be one of those adults, especially if I am trying to figure out what to buy at the grocery store. But once upon a time I could sit and read for two hours without any digital interruptions and write for even longer. I have proof of being able to survive in an analog world.

I’m still trying to figure out which of the literary conflicts best applies to the adolescent connection to their phones. I think its man v. Man. If the protagonist does really have free-will, it’s no longer man v. himself. So I use the upper case M for the antagonist because the phone is some type of superbeing. It has the 3 O’s which are usually associated with God, yes including omniscience. In fact, why build a $100 million public library when you can just give everyone free wifi?

I could go on and on about all the metaphysics of this new digital frontier. But that’s for science fiction writers to capture.   All I know is that there doesn’t seem to be any way for man to beat the machine or MAN. The machines are getting stronger, more ubiquitous and more manipulative. In contrast, man doesn’t even have time to muster a defense.

Within five seconds of touching ground in Miami, my neighbors loaded up the Iphone and started massaging their apps. I’m almost positive the girl Snapchatted and her brother went on Facebook. I asked the passing stewardess for leftover newspapers. For them, waiting two hours for full phone use probably felt like they had just conquered nature, some type of rugged endurance test akin to running a half triathalon in adverse weather conditions. Meanwhile “the dinosaur” tried to follow his five minute rule of not touching the phone to savor the touchdown experience.

My neighbors seemed happy. I was feeling literal and minor digital hunger pangs.

Although I was home, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I obviously have no place in this digital paradise, I mean dystopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The New Abnormal

Normally I wouldn’t blog twice in a week.

It feels a little self-indulgent, a little bit like posting selfies.

But sometimes extenuating circumstances force a writer-at-heart to be intellectually impulsive, and lend his two cents to an issue which simply cannot be ignored.

Such is the case with Donald Trump’s latest shenanigans. Despite a megadose of absurd reality TV in the past 72 hours, I am still trying to see the political glass as half-full, although half full of what is the question. Yet his latest theatrics got under my skin deep enough that I feel compelled to try to sort it out

In fairness, Ronald Mc”Donald” Trump has already been president for 6 weeks and hasn’t started any world wars outside of the Twitterfield, nor has he ruined the stock market. He hasn’t deported any of those “evil” journalists he so often maligns. And he has promised not to pull health insurance from the terminally ill, at least those who voted for him in the general election.

Back to immigration, he has even fought the urge to deport his wife.

But these glimmers of hope aside, things are a little unsettling for many of us good old fashioned folk who like to operate in the sphere of lets simply say, reality.

Trump’s America reminds me of an old movie with Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger called Blind Date. In it the main character Walter Davis needs a date to go to a company dinner with some very important Japanese clients. A little low on the Romeo pole, Walter is desperate to find a date and so his wife offers to set him up with her cousin Nadia. Nadia is quite the spitfire, but there is one caveat – If she has any alcohol, all hell breaks loose and her alter ego runs wild. Now this isn’t bad in moderation but in Nadia’s case, there is no such thing as moderation. Of course as Hollywood movies have it, fate is tempted, the warnings come to life and the night turns into full-fledged Murphy’s Law.

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But as thin is the line between entertainment and national politics, the presidency is not Hollywood as the stakes and stage are much larger. To me the conditions are simple – Feel free to give a huckster, corner cutting, narcissistic, megalomaniac, Russian black market oligarchial suck up all the air time and business opportunity you want, but if you give him the keys to the White House, I suggest either cryogenically freezing yourself for at least the next four years or escaping to a country in which he has no vested business interest or the prostitutes (on Trump’s behalf were cheap), lets say Belize.

Of course, what’s the first thing the American electorate did when it had the chance? As even Fred Flinstone would have avoided, we gave him title to the White House  with a little help from good old “better dead than red” Russia.

Talk about tempting fate.

As far as I see it, a president should have at least all of the following qualities: Intelligence, diplomatic savvy, charisma, a vast knowledge of American and World History, patience, salesmanship, thick skin, a strong command of current events, a fundamental understanding of the difference between truth and fiction, a robust work ethic, and an almost obsequious reverence for the position.

I will give Trump the benefit of the doubt and say that he possesses two of the above qualities.

I also accept that the rules of the primary season especially, that one needs to pretty much say and promise anything to win the nomination. I also accept that with such a large pool of candidates as the GOP primary had (my most accurate count was 9401), the more outlandish the behavior, the better. But once you are in the general election, the pivoting must begin and if by some 2017 Oscars-styled miracle, you actually defy all the odds and you get elected, with a little help from the Russian Napolean/Lord Voldemort, you better believe you should start looking the part.

Unfortunately, Trump has been in full Don Quixote mode since “taking over” the White House. Sure his beef with the media has some merit, after all most of the print and cable TV media loathes Trump even if he has been the optimal news generating cash cow. But if the law of karma ever applied to American presidential politics, this was it.

His Obama birther bravado, which I have mentioned before, essentially started the viral fake news phenomenon. I can’t tell you the number of FOX news gobbling, highly formally educated though jello-brained voters who still think Obama was born in Kenya or some other foreign country like Arkansas or Miami.

The fact of the matter is Trump doesn’t even deserve the Don Quixote label. The book is far too elaborate for his jello brain. But we can at least call him Pinocchio and Steve Bannon, Geppetto. And speaking of reading, presidents should read. A lot. Even the intellectually challenged George W. Bush frequently read. Yes he was reading Mother Goose when 9-11 happened but he read  books most of his spare time

. Trump hardly reads in the conventional use of the verb. And he really blows his load any time he gets challenged in his comfort zone, the 140 character sized pantheon of Twitter.

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This week Trump’s alter ego gave a half-respectable speech to a joint session of Congress. Granted he may have given out free joints but basking in the afterglow, even the media toyed with the possibility  that Ronald Mc”Donald” might actually be able to look the part, at least on special occasions.

This illusion lasted about 12 hours. And then Trump forgot to give Steve Bannon a kiss goodnight and once again, he turned into a pumpkin.

In the past few days, Trump has gotten even more testy about his affair with Vladimir Putin. I mean the Donald of all people should know best – if you’re going to have a mistress, make sure she is not more wealthy and better connected then you are.

Perhaps I am too close to middle age to take it all in stride. Perhaps I am simply not seeing the con game Trump has so deftly played in the past. But I cannot stomach the pathological Pinocchio sized-lying when millions of your constituents are more gullible than a teenage girl and the other 100 million are grossly affected by your blatant, perhaps blind disregard for the truth,

Mr. Trump, it’s Lent. Given your epiphantic and clearly “genuine” religious conversion, you of all people should be leading by example. In honor of Lent, which is not a fake holiday concocted by the media, why not pick something near and dear to your heart and surrender it to God for the next 40 days?. And no I am not talking about giving up grabbing the American people by the “p-$$-“.

I mean actually giving up something that you consider sacred. Since you have a few noteworthy vices, I will choose it for you – lying. I’m not talking about little white lies, lets say telling Melania you couldn’t return her late night text because you were Googling “How to Submit a Tax Return” when in fact you were spooning with Steve Bannon. I mean the really fiber optic friendly lies that somehow cross the blood-brain barrier faster than Bacardi 151 and thus irreversibly alter the judgment of millions of fact challenged Americans.

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Yes these kinds of lies, like saying during the campaign that you “saw thousands of Muslims dancing in the streets of N.J. on 9-11”, that 90 million Americans are unemployed a number includes a combined 75 million Americans under the age of 14 and over 80. That an election that you won by 80 electoral votes was “rigged” in Hillary’s favor and that there was major fraud in the popular vote which explains your deficit of 4 million votes in the popular vote. And the latest of your weekly tall tales – that the Obama administration wiretapped the phones in the Trump Tower during the election to learn of confidential phone calls with Russian officials, a claim blared through nearly every media channel without any basis in fact

As if Obama had nothing better to do with his political capital then tap your phones.

Enough is enough. We get it. You like to grab the truth by the p-$$- and then chuck it aside. You like attention, dislike bad press and start to rabble rouse every time the heat in the truth kitchen gets a little hot. We get it.

But come on Donald. It’s Lent. And you are supposed to be some version of a born-again Christian.

You gotta give it up. That God you so fervently worship in places like Orlando and Cedar Rapids Iowa expects you to surrender that cherished habit. These are just the rules of the game buddy. That’s what true believers do during Lent.

Believe me I love to tell stories too. I wouldn’t have majored in English if I didn’t, much less weave a short story or two when inspiration hits. But Lent has none of my fictionalizing abilities.

Besides, other than weaseling myself out of parking tickets, my Lenten promise is not to lie either.

You can do it Donald. Really just try. In fact they say the truth will actually set you free.

 

 

 

Whining their way to victory

Disclaimer:  I wrote this Monday morning so as you read, pretend it is Monday afternoon or whenever you usually have a few moments in your hectic day to read the brain droppings of someone who isn’t the most linear thinker, but earnestly tries to make the most of that. Enjoy and feel free to respond.
I didn’t see last night’s Oscar Awards, but from what I gather, it was the ceremonial version of a Freudian Slip.
Besides, there is one thing I cant really understand about the Oscars. How can a night that celebrates the year’s many cinematic achievements, including edge of your seat action thrillers, be so tedious? Actually maybe the entertainment value is 7 stars out of 10, and if they showed the award night bloopers, even an 8. But given my limited time, it makes no sense to watch a drawn out, maudlin and seemingly scripted awards ceremony instead of one of the nominated films themselves. Its like choosing to watch the NFL Draft instead of the Super Bowl.
But back to last night. Apparently Jimmy Kimmel channeled Steve Harvey and so Warren Beatty was handed the wrong scorecard. I wish this had happened with November’s Presidential Election, something akin to “My fellow Americans I apologize but when we were declaring who won two key swing states, Pennsylvania and Florida, we accidentally said who won the primaries there, which in fact was Donald Trump. But the winner of the the Sunshine and Cheesesteak states were, drum roll please, not Donald Trump nor even a male. The actual winner and thus next president is Hillary Clinton.”
It’s nice to fantasize
But last night Oscar’s were Hollywood’s version of a NFL make up call.  Apparently the across the board nominations of non-black actors in 2015 and 2016 caused such backlash that Hollywood’s most prized actress, Jada Pinkett Smith, the one who made her husband Will so famous, boycotted the awards. Smith was joined by the usually taciturn Spike Lee who said, “if I wanted to see black people get ignored, I would have hung out a ski slope.”
I have vowed to keep this blog under 500 words so I won’t go off a long rant, something that lets say Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee might do if they felt racial justice wasn’t being served. But I do want to poke a few holes in their logic. They and other well-intentioned liberals ( I guess not as well-intentioned as the liberal writing this blog) believed Hollywood needed to be sent a message about its lack of inclusion. Now chances are historically the awards have not reflected the diversity on which America’s performing arts scene has flourished, considering how few Asians, Latinos, Native-Americans and Hindus get nominated even though collectively they constitute about 30 percent of the American population. But contrary to all of the dissension, African-Americans have done well at the Oscars.
Since 2000, a black actor has won the best actor award three times, Denzel Washington, Forrest Whitaker and Jamie Foxx. Lebron James would have won last year but they are not too happy about him in California.
Three of the last five best supporting actresses have been African-American and 12 Years a Slave and Crash, both Afrocentric films, won best picture.
These numbers may not speak to a truly representative list of winners, but they do suggest that blacks have had consistent placement in the winner’s circle.
Which brings me to the point I wanted to make in the first place. In the 21st century, the concept of diversity has to be examined beyond surface appearance. Schools, workplaces, and cultural institutions all seem to define diversity in terms of race and ethnicity. This may be semantically true but I think it undermines what diversity really encompasses.
First, diversity is an established fact of American life. It is not a quest nor a paperwork requirement. Diversity, especially in the modern age, should foremost be approached less superficially, including heterogeneity in thought, strategic approach, personality, taste and experience level. In fact, trying to define diversity in terms of skin color actually contradicts the intention, and if anything homogenizes the issue .
I recognize that much of what Hollywood does it scripted, but if it wanted a diverse sample size for each category, then make decisions which are color blind, P.R. neutral and instead based on what the people who go to the movies actually think.
Anyway, take nothing away from Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali who won best supporting actress and actor respectively, but those awards really should have gone to Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee. And no offense to Moonlight and kudos to the city of Miami, but now that the Hollywood referees have evened the score, hopefully we can find a way to judge art and artists on their merits, not on what is politically correct.