Welcome to a Chronicle of Culture.

Tag: Cell phones

The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Oct. 31

This morning’s coffee was imported from Mexico, which you may interpret as a statement on immigration policy if you wish. First music of the day, the Debussy opera Pelleas et Melisande. It’s in French. The dog is chewing on a rawhide bone from Brazil.

1, In a front page dominated by analysis of the upcoming election on Tuesday (same stuff you’ve been reading for weeks), Page 1 shares a little space with this story: The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is often “Unexplained Debt and Creditors’ Calls,” resulting from “an inability to understand money and credit, contracts and agreements.”  Remember that, as well, when casting your vote on Tuesday.

2, After the discovery of what appears to be two bombs on planes from Yemen, and bound for the United States, “White House officials do not want to look as if they are seizing on a potential catastrophe to win votes,” The Times writes. “But at the same time, they remember when President Obama was criticized when he said nothing publicly in the three days after an attempt to blow up an airliner on Dec. 25.” You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

3, I do not own a cell phone. It’s endorsing mediocre technology and communication. In the magazine this week, in a piece called “Funeral For a Friend,” Virginia Heffernan voices what we’ve lost as and lines dwindle.  “Your phone voice was distinctive; your phone manner was distinctive. You thought a great deal about people who rhythmically and mysteriously inhaled and exhaled cigarette smoke while they talked, or left long silences or didn’t hang up immediately after saying good-bye.”

4, An elementary school in Los Angeles, which Michael Jackson briefly attended, has removed the plywood obscuring the name on Michael Jackson Auditorium. The support to reveal the sign, covered up seven years ago after Jackson’s arrest on child-abuse charges, was nearly unanimous in the community. One dissenting voice has come from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Already it’s extraordinarily hard for sexually violated kids to come forward,” said the network’s director. “When we honor accused pedophiles, especially one as high profile as Michael Jackson, it risks intimidating even more victims.”

5, The Sunday Styles section, in a story headlined “The Great Unwashed,” describes a movement whose devotees do not shower or wash their hair daily, and do not use deodorant.  “We don’t need to wash the way we did when we were farmers,” says Katherine Ashenberg, author of The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History. According to The Times, “Retention of the skin’s natural oils and water conservation are two reasons.” Researchers may be coming around to this idea as well, noting the skin holds many beneficial germs.”

6, The Week in Review ponders why, as millions of dollars from Wall Street, corporate America and special interests  pour into Republican campaigns, President Obama – raised by a single mom who sometimes had to resort to food stamps to feed her family – is portrayed as an elitist. “The elitism argument is kind of a false one because the president talks about people’s economic interests and middle-class families,” The Times quotes Democratic strategist Anita Dunn, who apparently advises Obama (It’s been my experience, in watching Obama during this campaign, does do exactly that). “And those that are supporting Republican candidates right now – because they think they’ll look out for their interests – are going to be very surprised when they find out what the corporate sponsorship of that party is buying.”

7, On that note, in an editorial, The Times notes that nearly $4 billion is likely to be spent on the midterm elections. By contrast, it’s estimated that $2.85 billion was spent n the 2006 midterms.  “Much of this is a direct creation,” The Times writes, “of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., which has cut away nearly all campaign finance restrictions.”

8, In another editorial, “It is past time to pull the plug on the ‘virtual fence’ that the federal government has been trying to erect on the border with Mexico,” The Times writes. A $7.6 billion project that began with the Bush administration, it’s an overwhelmed piece of non-functioning technology that mistakes tumbleweed for illegal immigrants. “So long as there is a demand for cheap labor, a hunger for better jobs here, and almost no legal way to get in,” The Times writes, “people will keep finding ways around any fence, virtual or not.”

9, Columnist Frank Rich, quoting many old-line Republicans, notes that Tea Party candidates who win on Tuesday will quickly be incorporated into the Republican Party. The greatest service that the Tea Party is providing, Rich writes, it allowing Republican candidates to hide from the massive failures of the Bush administration. By the time the next presidential election rolls around, “the equally disillusioned right and left may have a showdown that makes this election year look as benign as Woodstock.”

10, Thomas L. Friedman notes that while India is thriving in the new economic environment that was launched by American innovations such as what was happening in Silicon Valley more than two decades ago, the U.S. is standing still, and poised to go in reverse. “The U.S. seems sadly unprepared to take advantage of the revolution it has spawned,” he says one Indian editor writes in Businessworld magazine. “The country’s worn-out infrastructure, failing education system and lack of political consensus have prevented it from riding a new wave to prosperity.”

11, It is astonishing the degree to which we are distanced from the events of the world. Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic, a fine book about Civil War re-enactors, notes that Nov. 6 will be the 150th anniversary of the election of Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, Horwitz writes, 75 percent of eligible southern men served in the military, more than 60 percent of northern men did so. One out of three southern men died in the war. The public saw gruesome testimony of the war through battlefield photos of the dead brought to them by this new invention, photography. “We’re spared this discomfort today,” Horwitz writes, “with the American dead from two ground wars air brushed from public view.”

12, The Pee-wee Herman comeback is real. The Pee-wee Herman Show opens Nov. 11 on Broadway, and advance sales are reported to be “solid.”

13, In a review of Grant Wood: A Life, Deborah Solomon describes Wood’s most-famous work as “a pale, homely farming pair posed in front of their white house, looking as if their dog had just died.” That’s as fine a summary of “American Gothic” as I’ve ever read. R. Tripp Evans’ summary of Woods’ life seems equally interesting. A strange, taciturn, incoherent man who lived with his widowed mother, always misplacing his keys and wallet, addicted to sugar to the point that he’d sprinkle it on lettuce. The painter’s brief marriage, described as “calamitous,” to a light-opera singer 10 years older that he prompts Evans to postulate that Wood was a repressed homosexual, but the evidence suggests merely a repressed human.

14, I was puzzled by Lee Siegel’s “Beat Generations” Oct. 10 essay in the Book Review, which suggested that Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac and Tea Party chanteuse Sarah Palin had more in common than is immediately evident. In a letter to the editor, Seton Hall professor of English Jeffrey Gray found what troubled me. “Presenting the Tea Party as hip bohemia obscures the fact that what the Beats ushered in, in the 1950s, was the beginning of the end from a Tea Party standpoint,” he wrote. “Rejection of capitalism; flight from jobs and family in pursuit of mystical or sexual ecstasy; fascination with ethnic others; experimentation with illegal substances; and general descent into hell in a handbasket.”

The Critical Mass

Colostomize your Personal Television

Last night, I learned a new phrase: “Personal television.” This is exciting news for social misanthropes. They can now have entertainment to go along with their personal pan pizzas. Neither one need be shared.

This discovery goes hand in hand with last week’s news that there are now five billion cell phones on the planet. If I understand correctly, that estimate does not include the countless cell phones now in landfills. To put that number in perspective, the world’s population is now estimated at 7 billion.

There may be an upside to the worldwide proliferation of cell phones. Lack of infrastructure has helped keep Africa a poor continent. But cell phones operate without land lines. In Africa, cell phones mean communication, and access to the Internet. They are a matter of advancing civilization, or perhaps even a matter of survival.

But for our totally wired Western civilization, this all adds up to dismaying news. I remember a bizarre scene in a restaurant in Florence, Italy, a few years ago: Six young Italian men sitting at a table, each yammering away on their own cell phone. Who were they talking to that was so important at that moment? Did those six guys go out to eat with each other that night with no intention of socializing among themselves? Were they bored with each other?

Texting has compounded the issue. Are you with the people sitting at the table with you, or R U with someone miles away, pecking away at your 140-character limit? It reminds me of a few years ago, when everyone seemed to have a “Call Waiting” application on their phone. You’d be in the midst of a conversation, hear a click, and the other person would say, “Hang on, I have another call,” and put you on hold. It was technology that encouraged us to be rude to each other. Cell phones, and texting, are similar social rudeness.

I have a friend who says the Internet has destroyed the art of joke telling. Two lines into a joke, and someone interrupts to tell you that they read that one last week in their office e-mail.  Bar arguments used to go on for hours: Who was Bewitched‘s first Darrin, Dick York or Dick Sargent? Now someone pulls out a Blackberry, and instantly has the answer: Dick York.

A couple of years ago, the American Dream was to own your own Home Theater. You’d never have to venture out into the rain, or deal with messy people again, if you wanted to see a movie or watch a game. A huge, flat-screen TV, with speakers in every corner of the room, that’s what we wanted. Now the entertainment authorities are telling us we want a television with a 3.5-inch screen that we can hold in the palm of our hand or stick in a purse, like one of Paris Hilton’s dogs. To go with our little, bitty pizzas.

It’s the essentials of life – baseball on TV, bar arguments and food – being accessorized. I’m not having it. I’m living large. I don’t own a cell phone. And I like to share big pizzas with friends.

The Critical Mass

I crushed the bottle on the side of his skull

This afternoon, Margaret and Connie are sharing a pizza at Camille’s. One piece was left. “Are you still workin’ on that?” the waiter asked.

This evening, Margaret and I are eating at Tavern 58 at Gibbs. I had the turbot, a mild white fish with an equally mild yellow curry sauce, and black rice. “In China, they only served it to the Emperor and his family,” our waitress assured me. That made me feel pretty damn special.  The food was good, the service folks nice. Even the woman who, while reaching for my water glass, was oblivious to the fact that she was allowing the water pitcher in her other hand tip toward me, until water spilled onto my leg. I didn’t say anything. That’s how I am.

Then some guy – not even our waiter – sashays up and spotting a couple of uneaten chicken wing appetizers (sirachi sauce with reduced balsamic vinegar, excellent). “Still workin’ on those?” he asked.

With one swift move, I grabbed the empty bottle of Ravenswood Zinfadel and crushed it on the side of his skull. He clattered to the floor like a stack of dishes. That’s also how I am.

What is it with this phrase,”Still workin’ on that?” It’s as omnipresent as your waitperson complimenting you with “Excellent choice!” after everything you order, as if she admires you. You’re the most discerning and erudite gourmand to walk in the door that night.

I can live with that. But, “Still workin’ on that?” really roiles me. It makes it sound like, instead of enjoying a great meal, you’re digging a post hole.

And another thing. When you’re out with someone, put the cell phones and text-a-ma-jiggers away. Focus on the people you’re with. I call it ADR. Attention Deficit Rudeness.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén