Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"The media"

This is my media rant post.  It'll sound weird, because the stereotype is that it's The Right who complains about the "biased liberal media" and makes a hobby of lambasting it at every opportunity.  And believe me, Ol' Shifter is not traditionally associated with the Right.  But I work in a job that draws a fair amount of media coverage, or at least has in the past 5 years or so.  I mean we're not on the evening news every night, but where I work gets mentioned every month or so, and usually not in a flattering light.  In fact, NEVER in a flattering light.  And there are thing about that which piss me off.

As I write this I"m reminded that one of the things that pisses me off is that media reports paint ALL parts of a huge system with a single, ugly brush.  Having said that, it occurs to me that I could be doing that very thing with discussion of "the media."  So while I will refrain from making any further generalizations about "the media" in a global sense,  I still have to say that all the media reports that have been on topics that I know, I mean really know, has been off.

Where I work has its problems.  And if you've read this blog in prior years, when we were still writing it, you'd have some sense for that.  And there are things about the system I'm working in that absolutely drive me batshit crazy.  I mean running up and down the halls, gibbering and crying, crazy.  So I'm the last person to say there's nothing wrong with our system, or nothing to report.  But what I can tell you, with absolute certainty, is that just about every single news story that I've seen involving my place of business has been dead-on, flat-out, all the way, wrong.  Not a bit wrong, not a bit biased, just flat out wrong.  And it's infuriating, because it perpetuates a stereotype that is harmful not just to those of us working where I work, but also those who we are trying to help.  In a way, in fact, it is not harmful to the employees like me at all.  I pull the same pay check if we get good press or bad press.  And it's a big enough system that it will take more than a few local news reports to really affect me, or those who work with me, at all.  But if you just keep running inaccurate drivel about where I work, then those who really NEED to come and see us and get help are even less likely to do it.  So thank you very much, media.

I really don't think that is because the media is biased towards the left or biased towards the right.  I'm sure those forces are present, but what I mostly see is that there are many elements of media (that I've experienced) that are biased, instead, towards whatever will sell.  What makes a "good story."  And the fact is that "corporate healthcare workers providing good care and coping with challenging circumstances" doesn't make good press.  What also makes poor press are complex stories that cover numerous causes, implications, and elements of context.  Those bore people.  "Smoking gun" type stories make good press.  Even when there's no damn gun.  It's frankly to the point where I've decided that most news stories that I see, those I agree with and those I do not,  have to be viewed with skepticism.  I assume there are some facts in each report, but I also assume there are so many facts that are relevant and not reported, and that misinterpretations of the facts that are presented are so rampant, that a story's conclusion is at best only 50% likely to be accurate.  At best.

You can argue, with some justification, that the problem is that audiences don't have the tolerance and patience and interest for reality.  In other words, some media outlets are responding to market forces, to the will of the people as expressed through their dollars.  You can argue that but I doubt you'll like the implications.  I doubt you get many reporters saying their job is solely to entertain.  Presumably it is to inform, and if that's the case then accuracy and completeness should matter, right?  There should be a reason we watch or listen to news other than Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh, right?

I have no idea what's to be done about this, and if I did have an idea it wouldn't matter all that much anyway, right?  My only conclusion is the one I stated before - don't trust the press.  Not because they love Obama or hate him, because they're pinko commies or fascist pigs, but because the interests of many aspects of the media appear to be complex, multifaceted, sometimes hidden, and to include far, far more than a desire to report "the truth at any cost."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Geek Culture

One of the developments in our society that I think we can blame about 80% on the internet is the geek culture. You see, it used to be that if you were a geek, you were a social outcast who knew a few other geeks you met, say, at school but generally you were on the outside of things.  You had no specific uber-culture to refer to, or if you did it was such a rarified culture that very few people you met on the street would have any idea about it. You were a geek, and that meant you spent a lot of time alone.

Flash forward 30 years and geeks have grown by leaps and bounds.  They have their own TV shows (Big Band Theory, anyone), their own lingo, their own references (well, they've always had Monty Python, but they've expanded), in short, their own culture.  Again, the internet is fabulous for this because any geek, anywhere in the world, is just a click away from thousands of others with similar interests in science fiction, fantasy, gaming, math, computers, what have you.  Geeks are out of the closet!  They're geeky and they're proud.  And if they still get beat up after school from time to time, at least they can email hundreds of others to commiserate.

Now overall I'm very fond of geek culture.  I think it's awesome that Joss Whedon has an avid following of people who watch vampire TV shows and wear shirts proclaiming him to be lord over all.  I love that Lord of the Rings is now a much larger part of our day to day references and lives than ever before.  I smile when I hear even non-geeks using "w00t!" and other geekisms. Yup, overall it's a good thing to have around.  There's only one small problem.

Remember how the definition of a geek used to be someone who was on the outside of everything?  Well, what happens if all those outsiders get together and start their own little culture, their own country, so to speak? As soon as they do that, then it's possible to be on the outside of that culture.  And what do you do when you're too big of a geek to hang with the geeks?  That's gotta be an especially lonely place.  It's like getting told you're not cool enough for the wedgie-of-the-month club.  Ouch.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The talent show

Some people dread holidays.  They find Christmas to be sad, Easter to be pagan, whatever.  Others have certain anniversaries that cause them pain and apprehension - the death of a loved one, the day George Bush was elected (any of those days), and so forth.  Still others hate birthdays, as they remind us we are a little bit older, a little bit hairier and a little bit balder, and a little less fun,  all at once.  But me, I don't dread any of those.

I dread talent shows.  Those of you with children, you understand.

It is possible that the modern talent show is an example of the proliferation Lewis Carol's Dodo Bird in our society in which everyone wins and all receive prizes, because 80% of the "talent" that is demonstrated is just not.  It's about at the level of "you put on your own socks!  Good boy!"  So it's possible that 30 years ago talent shows were fun, impressive events where you really wanted to be there, not just for your own kids, but for all the kids who made it into the show, because they really were talented.  It's possible, but I doubt it.  My personal belief is that talent shows have always been this bad, and that this is proof that there is a not very kind God.  Talent shows exist, you see, so that the sinners have a chance to peek into one of the circles of hell and realize that it really is time to repent, isn't it.  Yup, I think talent shows have always been a chance for the parents, instead of the kids, to build some character and even save their souls.

Now don't get me wrong - I have two very talented children, and I'm proud for them to show their talents to the world.  And I suppose the whole auditorium or cafeteria or gym or cell block where they hold the talent show is just full of parents who think that very same thing about their kids.  The only problem is, all those other parents are, and don't go tell them I said this, dead wrong.  80% of their kids are about as talented as my left middle toe.  And you know what is special about my left middle toe?  Absolutely nothing.  It does what every other left middle toe in the world does, and not even a smidgeon more.  Now there's nothing wrong with that - it's a perfectly adequate left middle tow.  I'm happy with it!  If it died, I'd miss it.  But I don't feel a need to show it off.  And I certainly won't allow it to sing to a captive audience, or hula hoop to a horrendous pop song, or tell jokes that no one would laugh at even if you paid them and threatened them with a gun at the same time.  Or massacre Hot Cross Buns on the piano.  Nope, I keep it in its sock, where it belongs.  It's a good left middle toe, but you don't really need to see it, ya know?  You see my point here?

But given that I have to go to support my own talented girls, I have a few suggestions for modifications for talent shows to make them, well, less terrifying.  Some are obvious, but hey, they need to be said.

1. All talent shows should have a cash bar.  This will accomplish many things.  A) parents will be better able to sit and clap for the children.  Drunk people will clap for anything.  Even the crap at the show.  B) parental suicide after the show (or during the show) will be less likely.  C), and this is the most obvious part, it would make the school TONS of money.  Where else do you have such a large crowd of adults, over 21, absolutely DYING for a drink, who are NOT ALLOWED TO LEAVE?  It's like selling ice water in the Sahara! You could charge $20 a beer and still sell out.  I think this would help to reduce the need for a school levy as well.  By the way, if they ever legalize marijuana, sell that too.  Then the shows could even bu fun.

2. It should be an absolute rule that EVERYONE attending a talent show - student or parent or proud friend, MUST bathe before attending.  Those rooms are small, they're hot, and they stink.  They should just do a BO check at the door.  Nuff said.

3. If a student wants to sing, they should have to demonstrate that they can sing better than a beagle before they're allowed on stage.  It's not a high bar, but half the singing students can't make it over it. No amount of alcohol or marijuana can mask some of the sounds I've heard in a talent show.

4. This one is just to be honest. You may as well put barbed wire fences and armed guards around the talent show, to keep the parents in there until it's over.  We all feel like they're there anyway.  Many of us suspect that they really are.  So just get it out in the open.  That will also help keep the unsuspecting public out.  You don't want some innocent soul without kids wandering in and getting exposed to all that talent unawares.

5. At the cash bar, if they also wanted to sell ear plugs, they'd make even more money.  Way, way more money.  Some people wear ear plugs at concerts to avoid hearing damage.  Talent shows make you wish for hearing damage.  They have made some people drive nails through their own ear drums.

6. I think it really only takes 1 minute to show true talent, don't you?  I mean if David Gilmour had a minute to play guitar, I'd know he was talented in that minute.  If Picasso had a minute to do a sketch, even though he wouldn't finish it, I'd get to see his talent in a minute.  So all of our budding young talents out there should have a minute each to demonstrate their talents.  And I wouldn't shoot them or anything if they went over their minute.  I don't want to be mean!  I'd just drop them into a pit below the stage and let their parents pull them out after the show.

7. And finally, instead of giving all the kids in the talent show a trophy at the end - give it to the parents.  They've just completed a marathon far more painful than the grimmest trail run out there.  They should get a medal.  Take my word for it on this one.  I've run a lot of marathons, and I've been to a lot of talent shows.  I have felt sicker after the talent shows.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Those of you who know me, i.e., anyone who reads this, also know that I am an absolute pioneer when it comes to getting lost.  I have an uncanny, innate ability to confuse left from right, North from Sideways, and East from the smell of pork.  I have, quite literally, gotten lost on the way home from work.  That, by the way, took some real skill.  I had driven the exact SAME ROUTE for the past SEVEN YEARS and I somehow got lost.  Not just anyone can do that, mind you.  A monkey couldn't do it - nope, damn furry thing is too smart.  Likewise a trained lab rat.  Nope, only someone like me could do that.  Pure talent.

Which is why, for me, the GPS device is the greatest invention since bipedal locomotion.  You mean my CAR can tell me HOW TO GET THERE??  It can tell me when I make a wrong turn, and after I do it anyway, it can tell me how to make it right??  It's the dream!  So a GPS is not, in and of itself, worthless.  Quite the opposite.

No, what is worthless is the "traffic alert" feature of my Garmin GPS.   It's a feature that monitors somehow or other traffic conditions so that it can let you know when your route is taking you into heavy traffic congestion, traffic accidents, that sort of thing.  On its face it's a brilliant idea.  Not only will it tell you the route, it could help you pick a route that won't lead to a missed appointment, waste of fuel, and a coronary.  In fact, when I bought this Garmin I was very excited about this feature.  Yes, on paper it's an awesome addition.  

In practice, however, there is only one time the Garmin ever tells me "traffic alert."  It tells me that after I've slammed on my brakes because I've just hit a miles long zone of slow-and-go or maybe even don't-even-go traffic.  In other words, it doesn't warn me when I am approaching traffic.  It warns me when I'm in traffic.  It's a bit like having a lookout in a watchtower who waits for the enemy to come inside and start shooting at you and then yells down "The Germans are here!"  Or someone who slaps you in the face and then yells "Duck!"  Or, even worse, someone snidely telling you "did I mention you're screwed?  Traffic alert!  Good luck getting home ... sucker!"  Yup, that last is more what it sounds like.  In its snooty computer lady voice.  Personally, I think it's trying to get back at me for all the times I ignored its driving advice and it had to do its "Recalculating" thing.

In any case, it turns out to be an absolutely worthless feature that, one of these days, is going to lead to a flying Garmin as I chuck it out the window.  If it happens to smack anyone in the head once I throw it out the window it will probably announce smugly "Incoming projectile alert" right after it brains the poor bastard.  Oh, so by the way, you may want to avoid my car when I'm caught in a traffic jam.  I'm just saying...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Who's who in America

No real reason why I picked that title except that the one post I've done on WWIA tends to get one or two weird comments a year.  Which means every year people get the damn letters and turn to the internet to try to figure out WTF with WWIA.  The last comments we got, which we didn't bother to publish was, no offence, written by Ted Kaczynski's kindred spirit.  Or ghost.  I mean real unabomber manifesto kind of stuff.  The world is ending due to the horrible chaos of meaningless similitudes and medicrities upon which we subside bla blady bla kind of stuff.  So again, no offence to the gentleman who wrote the comments, but not something I really wanted to publish.

But on the other hand if you are someone else who is trying to figure out what WWIA is and why you got something about it in the mail, well, you've come to the wrong place!  A few year's back I did some digging, decided it was a self-glorifying kind of thing, probably only read by other people who made their list, and left it at that.  But stick around!  Maybe you'll find something in our roughly 2 posts per year that you'll like, right?

But that's not what I was going to post about.  I was thinking just now about just how freaking huge the internet is, and the shear magnitude of the number of conversations that are taking place on the internet all the time.  And I'm using the term conversation broadly here - perhaps I should say social interactions with language or soemthing - but as an example I view this blog post as part of a conversation.  It's just that you probably won't answer back *grin*.

Pondering the number of conversations taking place made me wonder if anything that any one of us says on the internet, any blogger, tweater, poster, whatever, has to say, is in any way original.  I mean what are the odds, for example, that I'm the only one doing a post about how there is guaranteed to be an absurd amount of redundancy in the communications taking place between so many millions of people who quite often think all too much alike?  I believe those are pretty long odds.  Almost any time I have an idea, if I do a Google search, I can find someone else who had that idea, wrote about it, and either made money off of it or was mocked mercilessly for it.  And what are the odds that only happens to me?  Pretty small again, right?  And the point is that if we have a population of millions and millions of conversations, there is just no damn way anything you or I may have to say hasn't been said already, and typically dozens of times in about 4 languages and maybe even Klingon (depending on how dorky your idea was to being with, of course).

I figure in most conversation that is NOT recorded and posted on the internet for everyone to see that is not such a big deal.  I don't talk about how much I love a certain kind of beer with a friend only to wince as I realize that someone else, probably oodles of someone else's, have said that very thing about the beer.  In fact, I probably want that to be the case.  Then I know that my good taste is vindicated!  But if I post about that beer, if I place my half of that conversation on line, for some reason I want that post to be at least a little different than all the other posts.  Somehow unique.  And I suppose that is because I'd like the post to be a contribution to the universe of conversation that is not entirely redundant, and so as a consequence also entirely unnecessary.  It is probably arrogance on my part, but I have this goal to want to say something new or different or even interesting.

Lately I've come to feel that this represents a probably unreasonably high bar.  We live and blog in an era of professional bloggers, and a surprising number of those bloggers are both very interesting and very skilled.  Which means that whatever I am saying has probably 1) already been said and 2) already been said better.  And if it hasn't been said by a pro, and better than myself, it may mean it wasn't all that interesting to begin with (insert your sardonic agreement here).

What does one do about this conundrum? This desire to be distinctive combined with an awareness of the staggering multiplicity and inevitable redundancy of ideas?  Not sure.  It's probably best to just stop worrying about it.  Quit over analyzing and either type or don't type, share the ideas or don't.  After all the consequences for failing to do so could include further boredom for those unfortunate few readers tricked into this post by the WWIA title and maybe even eventual mental breakdown for poor old Shifter.  I'm sure someone out there has driven themselves nuts thinking about this stuff.  If we just do a Google search, we can track that poor bastard down too.