next to of course god america i

<![CDATA["next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country ’tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

— e e cummings]]>

Behaving Badly

<![CDATA[My favorite quickie news magazine, The Week, reported on Heather Mills, who was on a transatlantic flight when the movie system broke down. She responded by doing a foxtrot with dance partner Jonathan Roberts, reminiscent apparently of her dancing on “Dancing with the Stars“, in the aisle to entertain passengers. The audience did not applaud, or even respond.

In the blogosphere and on websites, the story is titled “Heather Mills bores plane passengers”, “Heather Mills ‘Humiliated’ After Impromptu Dance“, and even “Heather Mills Does a Rubbish Dance on a Plane“.

Now, you might think I’d consider this a non-story, but I am seeing here a distancing of a generation of people from other people. Whether or not she was a celebrity, Mills and Roberts tried to entertain the passengers, and were greeted with total silence. How rude. Non-response after giving it your all. Did the passengers think they were watching TV? Did it never enter their minds that it might hurt the dance couple’s feelings, or be socially inappropriate to not respond?

I have had similar experiences in teaching (I’m sure most teachers have). You give it your all, and are stared at in stony silence. I see a connection between passive media and this sort of behavior. One becomes accustomed to TV and the web presenting without requiring a response. At times I have wanted to dance around myself and say, “excuse me, I am not a TV, but a real live person — can you give me some feedback, please?”

On the other hand, perhaps the performers were used to it. I actually watched a single episode of “Dancing with the Stars” (I am so not a TV watcher), and was stunned. I watched because I enjoy ballroom dancing, and was told in dance class that lessons nationwide are experiencing enrollment growth because of this show. The totally lack of civility (not to mention the minimal time showing actual dancing) appalled me. Amazing levels of rudeness from the judges and contestants, and it was obvious that (a) that was what viewers tuned in for, and (b) everyone behaving badly thought they were being witty. Voltaire would be horrified.

When I mentioned my reaction to people who watch TV a lot, they said, “oh, yeah, all the reality shows are like that”. So reality is performers doing things and getting insulted. Then real reality is people trying to entertain others on a plane and being treated rudely. The implication for civil social discourse is scary. Manners are sometimes called the oil that makes the machine of society run more smoothly. I guess we’re more interested in the friction.]]>

Quotation for Today

<![CDATA[“This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.”

— Albert Einstein, Why Socialism? (1949)]]>

The Sound of Clocks

<![CDATA[Pretty sure all musings will focus on the history of technology, since that's where my main interests lie.

In this case, as I lay in bed listening to the clock ticking, it occurred to me how many people don’t. I have a number of clocks, and the watches I wear are all wind-ups, most of them bought on eBay.

I object to digital clocks and watches on the grounds that they make no functional sound and do not demonstrate the sweep of time. Time moves, it passes, it doesn’t just add up like a numerical equation (i.e. McDonalds’ “24 billion served”). It is cyclical, like our bodies, our lives, our history. The face of a real watch shows the sweep of time; you can see not only how far the day has gone but how far it has yet to go.

And the sound is not only of time itself ticking away, but of the actually function of the device. Not an electronic beep that has to be set, but the tune of the watch mechanism functioning. And when it stops, that stopping is completely predictable — I must wind it every 24 hours. None of this “ohmigod I’m late — my watch battery died!”. I become part of the passing of time.]]>