Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

I saw a meme on Facebook last night that was, according to the results of a fast Google search, a shortened version of a 2007 book called 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School, Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education, by conservative columnist and radio host Charlie Sykes. The meme listed only 11 rules, probably because, like most Facebook memes, somebody shortened it for quick and easy digestion.  Whoever shortened it also got the source wrong; it said, “Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a high school about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school.”  So it could be that these 11 rules are in no way like any of the 50 rules in Sykes’ book.  If so, I offer my apologies to Charlie until I get the time to read his book and compare it to the meme.  Until then, though, I couldn’t stop myself from responding to the 11 rules that supposedly nobody will ever learn in school:

Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it!

Way to inspire people, Charlie! This is a great way to start a list of “rules” you want everyone everywhere to learn and live by.  Who wouldn’t look at a rule like DON’T EXPECT FAIRNESS and not feel a surge of hope for the future and a desire to go on, besides practically everybody?

Strictly speaking, though, Charlie got it wrong.  Life is absolutely fair.  Life makes no judgments at all.  If Life were biased and took into consideration how you lived, then people who dedicated their lives to helping others would all live long and happy lives while wicked, selfish people would perish horribly of pestilence and rot.  It doesn’t work that way, though.  There is nothing more impartial than Life.  You’re born, you live, you die, and you get the same chance to do good or bad with your life as anybody else.  Totally fair.

If, on the other hand, Charlie’s talking about whether or not you get a fair shake in human society, and I suspect he is, that’s all about how people treat one another, which is a part of life, but not all of it.  Maybe that’s what Charlie meant:  People will not treat you fairly.  It’s not entirely wrong, but “life isn’t fair – get used to it” seems like one hell of a cynical take on that message.

I would suggest an alternative to Rule 1: Be fair with people, always. They may not always be fair to you in return, but it’s the right thing to do, and at least you’re bringing some fairness into the world.

Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Charlie’s first two rules are DON’T EXPECT FAIRNESS and NOBODY CARES WHETHER YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF.  I don’t know Charlie, but if I had to form an opinion of him based on these two rules, I’d have to say he seems like kind of a cynical person.  I hope he eventually got a friend or a dog or somebody who was nice to him.

I think I get the direction Charlie’s going in: I think maybe he’s saying that doing good work leads you to feel good about yourself.  If he had said that and only that, I would have to agree with him.  However, Charlie might also be saying you don’t deserve to feel good about yourself until you do good work.  He didn’t say that exactly, but that’s how it sounds to me after “the world won’t care about your self-esteem.”

The idea that people do not care whether or not you respect yourself is, frankly, bullshit.  That’s not my experience at all, and I doubt it’s Charlie’s experience, either.  I think Charlie probably knows as well as I do that people will judge you harshly if you hate yourself.  People expect you to hold yourself in high regard.  People care very much about your self-esteem.

And this is just my opinion, but caring about other people’s feelings, whether those feelings are joy or anguish or anywhere in between, is a big part of being a decent person.  My Rule # 2 would be: Bring some compassion into the world in whatever way you can, small or large.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

This is a bald-faced lie. Some people WILL make 60K or more right out of high school. Some will already be unbelievably rich BEFORE they start high school, or junior high, or grade school.  That’s just a fact.

I’m guessing Charlie didn’t make 60K and, for some reason, he doesn’t want you to think you will, either.

Here’s my rule # 3: Don’t listen to anybody who tells you what you won’t do. In all likelihood, people who dump shit like this on you are probably still pissed they weren’t making 60K their first year out of high school.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.

“Wait until you get a boss” sounds like another way of saying “if the boss you get is anything like the boss I got, he will make you more miserable than your teacher ever did.”

I didn’t think my teachers were tough.  I’m not even sure what Charlie means by “tough.”  I thought most of my teachers were pretty great.  Some were boring, a few were jerks, but most of them were good at inspiring me to do good work, challenging me to do better work, and expecting me to do my best.  That’s not “tough.”  That’s nothing more than you would do for a good friend.  I’m not saying your teacher or your boss has to be your friend to be good; I’m saying a good teacher or a good boss will know how to inspire you.  A “tough” boss will just order you to do it.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

And the theme seems to be: Charlie had parents, teachers, and bosses who were “demanding.”

Flipping burgers for minimum wage – and it will ALWAYS be for minimum wage – will never be anything but a smelly, sweaty job nobody likes and everybody wants to get out of as soon as they can. Flip burgers if you have to, but when a real opportunity comes along, say to prepare a good meal for somebody who will appreciate it, jump on that.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

I’m in the awkward position of having to agree with this rule on a technicality, because “learn from your mistakes” is good advice. So is “don’t whine.” If Charlie had said, “If you mess up, don’t whine about it; learn from your mistakes,” I’d stand one-hundred percent in agreement with him, but the oddly specific don’t-blame-your-parents vibe gives me the feeling maybe Charlie made some parenting choices that resulted in more pushback from his kids than he thought he’d get.

I disagree with this rule on principal because it’s wrong.  Parents do lots of things that result in kids making mistakes.  Just one example: Hitting kids makes some of them think hitting kids is a thing they can do.  That’s a mistake.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

YOUR PARENTS ARE BORING BECAUSE OF ALL THEY DID FOR YOU! THINK YOU’RE COOL? YOU’RE JUST A LOUSY KID.

I hate this “rule” so much.  The clunky metaphor in the last line is bad enough, but the way Charlie wrote this rule to turn raising kids into a huge guilt trip ought to be a hanging offense.

First of all, those bills your parents paid were never the kids’ bills.  They were the parents’ bills.  Kids don’t owe parents that money.  When parents brings kids into the world, it’s entirely the parents’ duty to feed, clothe, and shelter their kids without any conditions.  There is no, “Well, okay, I’ll do this, but only if you pay me back later.”  Parents pay the bills because it’s what they’re supposed to do! 

And listening to you is not a chore, like washing clothes.  Listening to kids hatching their plans to save the world is also what parents are supposed to do.  Listen to them and talk with them to help them develop those ideas.  If they acted like it was a chore, they were doing it wrong.

Finally, at some point all kids start to act like they’re too cool for their parents.  That’s how they let their parents know they’re getting ready to hit the road.  Good parents recognize this and don’t sneer at their kids because of it.

So if your parents are boring now, chances are excellent they were always boring. You certainly didn’t make them boring any more than they are the root cause of your mistakes. Shove that in their faces next time they trot out Rule #6.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

There is so much wrong with Rule #8.  The idea that there have to be losers, for starters. You don’t have to make everything a competition to feel good about yourself and if you do, I won’t be your loser just because we both want the same thing.

I don’t know how I feel about grades, but I’m all for giving a kid as many chances as he needs to get the right answer. What’s it matter so long as he gets it right? If you think a kid should get only one chance to get the right answer, and be labeled a loser if they don’t, you’re a special kind of warped son of a bitch who needs to fuck all the way off to the other side of the universe.

As far as school bearing any resemblance to real life: Well of course it doesn’t. School is supposed to be the place where you get all the chances you need to get the right answer before you have to go face “real life.”  It’s supposed to be a place to practice for what comes after.  (Whether it is or not is an entirely different rant.)

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

What the hell does that even mean, “life is not divided into semesters?” I suppose Charlie doesn’t divide his life into weeks, either, and spend his weekends in front of the television drinking beer and watching the football game, or whatever he does for fun.

As far as “finding yourself” is concerned, I don’t even want my employer messing with my personal life. If my boss tried to give me personal advice, I’d politely tell him to mind his own goddamn business and let me get back to work.

Here’s my rule # 9: People who don’t take time off from their jobs now and then are considered workaholics who end up guzzling Maalox straight out of the bottle to control their acid reflux.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

I don’t know when these rules were written but I suspect it was before people started hovering over their laptops in coffee shops all day, making money. Kids, you may disregard rule # 10. It’s another bald-faced lie.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Two things:

Either Charlie’s a nerd and this is a warning that he’s looking forward to revenge for all the times he was pantsed, or Charlie’s not a nerd and this is a warning he’s passing along after a boss or two of his got revenge on him for pantsing them back in grade school.

Either way, I thought you were supposed to be nice to others because that’s how you would like others to behave towards you.  (I’m not sure if the Golden Rule applies to people who like it when others pick a fight with them.)  You’re a total shitheel if  the only way to get you to be nice to people is to warn you you might end up working for a person you used to treat like shit.

 

fuck your meme | 9:10 am CST
Category: damn kids!, random idiocy, this modern world, yet another rant
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Saturday, February 11th, 2017

It seems this would be an especially appropriate time to talk about why I believe rounding up undocumented people and deporting them is so revolting to me.

Right out of the gate I’m going to refuse to use the term “illegal immigrants” or its shortened form, preferred by lunch-room lawyers and pundits, “illegals.” People aren’t illegal. Their actions can be illegal, but people themselves never are. Describing a person as illegal has got to be about the most revolting way you can possibly treat them. I’m going to stick with “undocumented” because my experience tells me it’s the most accurate way to describe them.

Here’s why: We Americans were raised to believe we are citizens because we were born here, but that is no longer true. We are citizens only if we can prove we were born here, which a shocking number of American-born people can’t do, or at least I think it’s shocking. One is shocking. If only it were just one. I go to work every day to help American citizens prove they are who they say they are. It’s literally in my job description.

The standard of proof is usually a state-issued driver’s license or identification card. When I was just a lad, it was pretty easy to get a driver’s license. I filled out an application, I took a test to demonstrate my knowledge of the rules of the road, and voila! I was licensed to drive. But now that a driver’s license is more than just a license to drive, every state of the union requires you to show documented evidence of your birth, usually a certificate issued by the state. If you lost your birth certificate or never had one, you can get a replacement, but the state usually requires you to show photo ID. How’s that for Catch-22?

Just a note here: For a lot of American citizens (way too many, again), birth records simply don’t exist. There are various reasons for this, but the most common are: the state lost the records (fire, flood, incompetence), or the parents didn’t record the birth, sometimes because the parents didn’t believe in or bother with the legal ins and outs of life, but often because they were so poor they didn’t have the resources to travel to the county seat. If you were one of those people, you could record your birth now by going to court, which takes time, money, and the stamina to jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops.

It doesn’t end with your birth certificate, by the way. To get a driver’s license you also have to prove your identity, which is different from proving your birth. Most people show a Social Security card to prove their identity. If you don’t have one, guess what you have to show the Social Security Administration in order to get one? See “Catch-22” above.

What I’m getting at is that there are way more undocumented Americans than you know. By the letter of the law that I hear practiced daily by lunch-room lawyers and television pundits, these Americans reside here illegally, because they have no documents to prove they were born here, and a lot of them would not be able to produce documents if you gave them all the time in the world to get them, because they don’t have the resources to do so.

This is relevant to the conversation about people who come to America from other countries without documents because the only thing about their situation that is different is, they weren’t born here. They came here because they wanted a better life for themselves or for their children. That is literally the American dream. Know-it-alls who say immigrants are welcome but only if they jump through the bureaucratic hoops set up to do it legally are speaking from the position of Americans who were born here.

It’s a great privilege to be born in America. You are instantly a citizen. You don’t have to do anything at all to be one. You can literally coast through every step of your life, skip school, duck out of work, do nothing at all for your community or society at large, and still be a citizen. Or, you can excel. Either way, there’s no test, or there wasn’t until you had to show your papers to get a driver’s license. (You watch; eventually American-born citizens will be swept up in these “enforcement actions” for the sole reason that they didn’t have the required documents.)

To the naturalized Americans who jumped through the hoops, good on you. You applied, you paid the money, you took the test. I admire your determination to be a naturalized citizen. I also admire anyone who has the determination to walk here from Central America, then work the rest of their life cleaning toilets in a hotel or deboning chickens in a processing plant so their children can live a longer, fuller life. Whether or not they got naturalized or got a green card, American dream achieved. Documents don’t make us Americans. Determination to live a better life in a better country makes us Americans. Kicking people out of the country doesn’t make it better.

documented | 12:19 pm CST
Category: Life & Death, random idiocy, this modern world, yet another rant | Tags:
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Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Yesterday, for what I’m pretty sure was the first time ever at the office where I work now, someone stepped up to the middle urinal while I was at the right urinal and someone else was at the left urinal. I’m almost one-hundred percent positive that’s never happened there before. At least, not that I’ve seen. I’ve been working there a little over fourteen months. Maybe the old-timers know different.

This particular building went up in 1964, back when urinals stood four feet tall and were sunk into the floor. More to the point, they were very often planted so close together that, when every one of them was occupied, you rubbed shoulders with the guy beside you. I had to learn early on not to mind getting nudged while peeing. That hardly ever happens in modern buildings, where urinals are spaced far enough apart to put up a steel divider between them.

There’s a gang of three urinals in the men’s room off the elevator lobby, and like the rest of the men on our floor, I’ve always used one of the end urinals. Nobody uses the middle urinal, not even when they go in and find themselves all alone, because what if somebody comes in? And if you go in and find that both end urinals are occupied, you either pass by on your way to the toilets, or you do a one-eighty and go to another floor.

I’m not sure why. My first guess was that most guys think it’s gay, but I’m not sure that figures, when you think about it even a little bit. Most guys stand way too far from the urinal while they’re using it – that’s not my opinion, that’s a fact that a quick scan of the floor will confirm – so I don’t think they’re uncomfortable about putting their junk on public display. But maybe it’s the shoulder-rubbing that they’re uncomfortable with. I’m more than a little uncomfortable with it, to be totally honest. I don’t want to be rubbing shoulders with anyone other than my wife in any situation that isn’t a dire emergency.

My second guess, and this one seems a lot more likely to me, is that the social dynamic of the public bathroom has changed a lot in fifty years. Used to be that guys would gab a lot in the men’s room. Especially so at the urinals, probably because they were packed so close together anyway. If a guy stepped into the vacant spot next to you, he’d say Hi, How Bout Them Packers? Or he’d tell you the latest one he heard about the priest, the rabbi and the pastor, and you’d be expected to tell him the best one you heard that week. Doesn’t happen now. I’m not lamenting it; things change. But you can observe it yourself: Guys don’t talk much in the men’s room any more, least of all at the urinals, where they’re silent as gargoyles. About half of them are plugged into podcasts anyway, so you couldn’t trade jokes with them if you wanted to.

Which is why I was absolutely gobsmacked, and just a little taken aback, frankly, when a guy stepped into the middle urinal yesterday. I almost said something to him. Not about the score of the last Packers game, but something like, Did you even check to see if there’s an open toilet? Because I’m pretty sure he didn’t. And because he had Transgressed the Unwritten Law. It’s not like there are a lot of rules to using the men’s room, but this one has solidified over the years to the point that it’s virtually carved into the tiles above the middle urinal: Thou Shalt Not. Back Away. Do It Now.

And yet, there he was. Guy’s obviously too much of a rebel for unwritten laws. Or he’s from another planet. Didn’t think of that until just now.

middle | 9:49 am CST
Category: coworkers, daily drivel, Farts & Farting, office work, random idiocy, this modern world, work, yet another rant
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Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

I’m face palming over white people snottily responding to #BlackLivesMatter with ALLLIVESMATTER. No, you see, we were JUST told they don’t.
     – Alisha Rai


#blacklivesmatter | 6:24 am CST
Category: current events, this modern world
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Sunday, April 20th, 2014

You know how people say there’s literally nothing you can’t get from the internet? I’m literally starting to believe it. My Darling B just bought a case of hummus chips on the internet last week.

Backtracking just a little bit: There’s this snack food called hummus chips that she simply adores, and when I say “adores,” I mean she scarfs them down with a passion you don’t normally see except in teenaged girls squealing with pleasure at the sight of their favorite celebrity boy on the cover of Teen Beat, assuming Teen Beat is still a thing and that you know what is. Put in a more universally understandable way way, all the Jane Austin fans who live or have ever lived don’t give their idol one-tenth of the kind of love that B holds in her heart for this particular snack food.

And hummus chips are just what you think they are: the brown goop derived from mixing chickpeas and olive oil, extruded at high pressure from the orifice of an assembly-line machine into vats of boiling canola oil, scooped out, bagged up and sold as health food because, hey, hummus! Can’t be bad, can it?

But that’s not why B buys it. She buys it because of that passion thing I mentioned. Trouble is, there’s exactly one store in town where she can find them on sale, and that place doesn’t always have them when we stop. (Sorry, the terms of our non-disclosure agreement forbid me from mentioning the name of the store, the street it’s on or even which city it’s in.)

When the chips are all sold out, this makes B very sad, except for the last time we visited the store and found nothing at all but a gap where the chips should have been. That time she decided to do something about it, but she didn’t ask to see the manager to ask him when they were expecting the next shipment and would he pretty please hold back a couple of bags for her and, just to make sure he did, batting her eyes at him to render him helpless to her feminine charms.

No, instead she logged in to Amazon dot come as soon as she got home, searched for hummus chips, found them and ordered a case. A case. And they were delivered to our doorstep within 48 hours. Twelve bags of hummus chips in a displace case inside an Amazon.com shipping box. This is a thing you can do now. Amazing.

cravings | 12:50 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, story time, this modern world
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