Sunday, March 29, 2009

Belligerence: New And Improved!

How did the testing group decide the fate of "Standard Aggression"? Did the original look more like Joey Fatone? Did someone point and say "sissy?" Does the crew-cut, shaved-chest look really make it look that much meaner? "Deluxe" ought to at least have razor-cuts in its forehead, and brass knuckles as an accessory. At least it comes with a metal folding chair. We should anticipate the release of the limited edition "Stranglepunching Deathdealers" boxed set by about 2012, if not sooner.

Seriously, though. There are angrier toys out there, to be sure. But for some reason, "Deluxe Aggression" feels a part of the same lexicon as "Mission Accomplished." Scary, and wrong.

As the first few months of the post-Bush foreign policy era get underway, I am re-reading James W. Loewen's Lies My Teachers Told Me, which I love. I hardly needed to revisit Chapter 8 to dissect the "international good-guy" US foreign policy model propagated in our high school history texts. I need only visit the toy section at Target. Even as we gain a few "international slightly less arrogant guy" points, can we finally blink our eyes and come down from this old hallucination? This is the phrase we've been attaching to our kids' toys: "Deluxe Aggression." It was only half, but even Cold Warrior G.I. Joe put money down on knowing.

You may chuckle and cleverly point out the irony suffocating inside the packaging. Our hero was likely manufactured in China and mimics Japanese kabuki, but still embodies American hubris at its most egregious. Neither truly sport nor truly theater, his cohort of steroid-puffed, mob-worshipped idols jaw clench and finger point with all the pre-packaged pathos of the multi-platinum one-hit bubble-gum boy bands. Yes, there are heroes and villains, but each have their fans - and while the "villains" tend more to cheating and fighting dirty, none are really above it when necessary. If a chair, ironing board or waterboard is handy, get busy.

Of course, it's all a lot of power and a lot of bluster, his strings surreptitiously pulled from afar. And all for a brief flash of glory: the used-up, wrung-out carcass portrayed by Mickey Rourke has no use to the string-pullers in the end. His physical makeup is designed to withstand a few months of a child's violent pantomiming and then spend a millennium in a landfill, a permanent plastic embodiment of American nothingness.

I'll feel less gloomy about all this if they bring back The Singing Bee for another season.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bumper Crop Yield

This Jeep was parked on 89th near 1st Avenue while I visited Manhattan last month. With such decor, I thought at first that it should, by rights, have been a Volvo. But the Jeep brand--the name of which originated with the US military abbreviation GP, for "General Purpose"--fits and plays with each of the other symbols in a visual essay on the sublimity of process. Each tag serves to teach the same lesson to a different audience - the nation emerging from the shadows of its past, the community organizing for the future, the eternal species (or all species), and the ever-present, ever-traveling individual.

The license plate. Connecticut, the Constitution State. John Atlee Kouwenhoven's 1954 lecture "What's American About America?" connected a set of distinctly American artifacts, the common thread binding each to each the celebration of process - and the strength of structures that allow for self-creation. Examples included the city grid and skyscraper, the assembly line, the mutating repetitions of the jazz riff, and the elastic taste of chewing gum. Even the US Interstate Highway System celebrates the innumerable possibilities open to the American car and driver. The quintessential American trait is the desire and ability to reinvent one's very identity. The very law on which the nation rests boasts the genius of unfinishedness, and places tremendous faith in future wisdom.

The campaign sticker. Personal ideology aside, the election turned on the desire for change, as difficult to define or promulgate as it may prove. Obama's political philosophy played out thus far hinges on charting a difficult course with honesty and integrity to bear the ship into calmer waters - on placing faith in the process to achieve the desired outcome, rather than its Machiavellian opposite. Perhaps naively, I hope we can stanch the torrent of impatient vitriol, clot the vindictive cries of "Yet?" and embrace the regenerative power of the communitarian "Now." What and how we do now will get us what we say we want from "them."

The walking fish. The propagation of a political posture such as "Intelligent Design," by focusing on the wondrous outcome of Creation, misses Darwin's point entirely - that God's incredible achievement was not the result of biological diversity, but the process by which it arose - from a single, infinitely mutable strand of DNA. We observe conflict in the natural kingdom and erroneously presume all life to be in a constant state war for survival and triumph of the innate strengths of each organism. In doing so, we miss the irony that death created all that is presently living.

The Tolkien poem. From Lord of the Rings, the poem begins,
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.

While Tolkien referred specifically to Strider/Aragorn, the "true king" masquerading as a tracker, the sentiment reverberates with those who traverse a meandering, circular, or spiral path: we remind ourselves not that "life is a journey, not a destination," but rather that every point along the journey is the destination. As Buckaroo Bonzai affirmed, "Wherever you go, there you are." The point, again, is the process of wandering.

The wrap-up. The weekend I spent in New York was short - about 36 hours - and I had intended not to get caught in the general sloth of my best friends and hosts. I wanted tangible experiences to boast about when I returned home, so I spouted plenty rhetoric about going to the Met, or "Gugging" it, as I hadn't yet visited either. Ultimately, the cost in dollars and time proved too steep to sacrifice the time with friends. As I crossed the northern end of Central Park and walked down Museum Row on 5th Avenue, I mused into my dictaphone:

In the end, the art was in the moment,
Not the MOMA, nor the Met,
But with friends and laughter
And my funny line or two
That now I forget;
We weren't lost in abstraction
Or found in complexity
Or in any plans
For next time's visit
To New York City.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Other Sides of the Bubble

On his Leno visit to the Tonight Show last Friday, President Obama recounted how funny it is that the Secret Service won't let him walk 750 yards over an open field. Was he amused by their paranoia or ambivalent to the possibility that someone, somewhere, might be aiming at least a shoe in his direction?

Understanding life on the other side of the bubble is clearly a work in progress. To us, on the convex side, he is gigantic in all things, and so is our like and our dislike of him. He, on the other side, risks seeing his reflection as smaller than it truly is.

We must strive to see him as a regular man: energized by his accomplishment and the goodwill it has largely inspired and almost brazen in his confidence at turning right (or rather, left) angles from his predecessor's style and substance; yet, a man, at times so comfortable in his own skin that he forgets the suit that covers it.

Last week he temporarily forgot himself when he referred to his lame bowling attempt as "something like the Special Olympics," in response to Jay's derision. Many of us have or would have made that or a similar joke. One thing I hope he learns quicker than President Bush is what things the President can and cannot say (one can only hope he need not learn the same hard way what he can and cannot pronounce).

He must not forget that he is the President, even as he temporarily unwraps the bubble from his comfortable ego. He is no longer the hip Senator.

At the same time, we must not forget that he is a man, and that we will hold him accountable as a man because he asked us to do so.

On the plus side, he has potentially created the greatest fundraising opportunity the Special Olympics has ever seen. They need only ask him to appear and bowl at their next national event.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wordrobe Malfunction

[a word of caution: this post is meant for the Twitter-literate (#twitterate?]

Is there a #tcot equivalent to #therestofus, I asked. #trou?

Would #trousers fit properly? Or would #tcot brand us as #slacks?

Personally I'm a little tired of being treated like a #blouse [Bleeding Libs & Other Sissy Equivalents] when I feel more like a #shirt [Still Hopeful In Real Time].

My brain is struggling to adapt to #blogtime: the perceived compression of time in proportion to discussion of a particular person, event, or trend. In the right stream, a news item, insult, or other meme explodes in popularity in a matter of minutes, and saturation (or passe-ity) may set in long before many otherwise astute folks even set ears on it.

How to carry oneself in the same tunnel as such a fast-moving train? Hard to judge the speed with which events should actually occur relative to the volume of discussion anticipating, marking, or postmarking their occurrence.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Accommodating or Incorporating?

There is an ongoing debate in a corner of one of the classrooms in which I teach, as to whether ADD and ADHD really exist, or whether they serve as "excuses" for lazy students. The debate is all student led, and today -- humorously -- was juxtaposed with another debate between students debating whether ghosts and other supernatural phenomena exist.

I was summoned into the debate and shared what I know of the medical consensus, and of my own struggles. They seemed surprised, but didn't ask much. A few hours later, I got a call from a good friend who described her brainstorming weekend with two other social media marketers. She said that all three experienced many moments the conventional world labels as "ADD," but that they accomplished a good deal. If we're not overselling our productivity, what else are we claiming with our "multi-tasking" but the non-linear productivity pioneered by "ADD" brains?

Many ADD consultants talk about ADD as non-linear processing. And many educators talk about "meeting the needs" of ADD students, but are educators planning lessons for the WHOLE class based on the non-linear learner? Are we helping these students merely brace for the NON-nonlinear world, or are we training them to harness their nonlinearity to its fullest potential?

Afterthought: Can non-ADD "linear" learners benefit from such an approach?