Thursday, November 18, 2004

All talk and no listening

I can't help but think, as I listen to people jabber about this Monday Night Football thing, that the discussion is a perfect example of what I have been trying to teach about argument, that the hardest thing to do when participating in a debate is listen. It seems impossible for participants on both sides to do so.

This morning I listened to The Mike and Mike Show on ESPN radio, and again I'm struck by comments by both Greenburg and Golic. Both continually say they "respect" other opinions, then spend considerable time arguing with their guests (many of whom do not agree with them). Then when the guest is no longer on the air, they keep arguing their position. If they really respect what other people believe, then they need to listen. What seems to come out is that they respect only the basic right one has to express an opinion. They, and others, do not seem to respect the belief system or opinion itself.

To their credit, however, they do give real air time for others to actually express those thoughts on their show, and this morning began to question themselves (without reversing their stand, something they do not need to do). I can't say the same thing for the panelists on another show I usually very much enjoy, The Best Damn Sports Show. On the show last night, each member of the group weighed in on why pretty much anyone who was offended or upset about the introductory promo is an idiot. They completely ignored opinions or ideas from the other side, only asking guests who already agreed with them to comment. Chris Rose pretended to "play devil's advocate," but the attempt was obviously a set up for Tom Arnold's humor, not an honest attempt to accurately portray the other side.

On the other hand, there are those that seem to think that the segment signals the end of civilization. Many are are vociferous and even mean spirited. Many employ rather odd reasoning to support their conclusions. They talk about having to explain the scene to their children or how the segment teaches young boys that it is okay to have sex with just anyone. Groups have called for fines to be paid and heads to roll. Most are concerned that pre-adolescents will be irrevocably harmed by this incident. I don't hear too many of these people demonstrating by their comments that they have looked at the subject objectively. They seem to forget that the segment, rightly called "inappropriate" by blushing (and check cashing) ABC executives, featured a talented, but classless football player promoting a tasteless, campy television show (and himself). They pay very little attention to the fact that there is a significant difference between a star or icon and a role model. Most young people, despite the images they see every day, still see their parents as primary role models. In one of my composition classes, I have my students write about role models. I would say that eight or nine out of ten choose to write about about a parent.

Those lambasting ABC might look for the evidence a young boy is going to forego his football dreams to have sex with someone because he watched Terrill Owens appear to do the same thing. I understand that a bombardment of such images can drastically pull a young person's vision away from complete reality . But if a teenager has sex, it is most likely because he/she is under the impression that sex is good. The segment may very well contribute to that idea, but isn't the only reason that teenager thinks so.

The Mike and Mike show features a segment called "Just Shut Up," where listeners are polled to decide which person they believe should stop talking about whatever he (usually) is concerned about. Because people on both sides of this debate seem to listen so little, I'm tempted to shout the same thing. But there is no need, is there? When I began to write this little rant, the sports world was a buzz with this controversy. As I finish, Friday's near riot at the end of the Pacers/Pistons game and Stern's decision have taken center stage. I think it says something ugly about our society that important issues are pushed out of consciousness by the next big thing. Not that this isn't big. It is very big. But expect lots of talking in the coming days and precious little listening. Don't expect the problems to get solved or the real issues behind this or any other controversy to get discussed in any detail. Expect a lot of answers to questions no body asks.

I tell my students that in order to write an effective argument, they must look carefully at all sides and avoid being reactionary. Opinions are important. Informed opinions are better. Opinions developed after listening (or reading) carefully are even better, not only because one is more likely to persuade (provided the reader is actually listening as well), but because one can be at peace with one's decisions having brought not only their words, but also their minds and hearts to a stronger sense of truth.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Thoughts from the cell -- number 2

The CSI fiasco. Well, I did get emails from both CBS and the Dallas affiliate sort of apologizing for preempting my show last week. The official statement reads: An overly aggressive CBS News producer jumped the gun with a report that should have been offered to local stations for their late news. We sincerely regret the error. The episode of CSI: NEW YORK will be rebroadcast Friday, Nov. 12 at 9:00 PM/CT."

Okay, so that settles that particular problem, but doesn't address the larger issue. Isn't there a difference between "breaking" news and "important" news. I'm sick of these people, for no real reason other than greed, deciding what is and is not important.

Thanksgiving. Looking forward to seeing the family this weekend and a few friends from college after thanksgiving. Yee-freakin' hah!

Attitude. This is that lovely time of the semester when people have a lot of attitude. It is past the drop date so those left are stuck. Some students begin to realize that some of this stuff matters. Some lose their concern for anything. Some feel more comfortable expressing their outrage that an English teacher actually expects them to read something. A few students show up at whatever time suits them and then complain that they didn't have enough time to complete the pop quiz. Teachers get frustrated and wonder if they are just spinning their wheels, particularly when so many (not just students) indicate that the class is just a hoop to jump through. We ask, "Then why did I devote my life not only to the subject, but also to teaching it to others?"

Then someone, not always the best student in the class, says something, writes something, does something small, but magnificent. And we are answered.

God. God is real. His mercy is fantastic. I'm a lousy Christian. The world is a lousy place, made so by people like me. God does not stop being marvelous.

Titans. The soccer season has come to a close, and Alex's team had its party last week. I'm thrilled to help coach them. Thanks to Ms. Spradlin for the nice necklaces for the girls. Thanks to the girls who hustles so much and made the season fun for me.

Max the Tiger Cub. Click here to see pictures of Max with his troup visiting the fire station.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Breaking news that could have waited

Four minutes! I want CBS and Channel 11 in Dallas to give me back my four minutes.

Last night, I was watching CSI with my wife and one of my kids. The killers had been revealed, but the stories had not been resolved. And resolution is very important to an English teacher. It is a little like ripping the last page out of a novel. However it does not seem to be important to CBS. So if they can't give it back, I want an explaination, and if they are so inclined, an apology.

CBS interrupted the broadcast to share the news of Yasser Arafat's death. After noting the Palestinian leader's passing, we were treated to a montage about his life and politics and commentary about what this might mean for the United States, Israel, and Palestine. Now I am not saying that this isn't important news. I do not wish to argue that my personal entertainment is more significant than the tense situation. But this was not really "BREAKING NEWS," and so it could have waited four minutes for the completion of the program. (By the way, the other major networks recognized this fact. )

Nearly anyone who watches television knew that Arafat was dying and could indeed, pass at any moment. Many people care about how this situation is going to play out. But was it really necessary to interrupt the show just before it ended? They didn't go back to the program and provide viewers with the ending. They didn't even continue with the news, though by the time the montage was over, it was past ten o'clock. No, CBS then aired its commercials, including a teaser for next week's episode of CSI. (Of course, when was the last time a commercial was interrupted for breaking news? You think that any network is going to compensate our loss by replacing four minutes of commerical time with more of the show we missed?)

On the home page for the Dallas CBS affiliate, under the heading "Top Stories," there isn't even a link or headline about Arafat's death. That link is further down the page under "World News." If it isn't an important story, then why in the world would they deign to barge into my living room with news that could have waited four minutes.

As T.S. Eliot wrote, "All time is unredeemable." Okay, so it might be unreasonable for me to expect CBS to give me my time back. I somehow doubt that any of their executives or the station manager at Channel 11 will take the time to read this blog. However, I do hope that I will not be the only one to register my complaint with them. CSI is for entertainment, and I know its place. But I believe people in television have an obligation to take stock of what they mean by "Breaking News." It should not be about who first gets the story out, but also about the right time and place for intrusion.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Thoughts from the cell -- number 1

Okay, as readers of this blog already know, I hope for most of my postings to be about a single subject, kind of like a mini-essay. However, I've decided to also blog with a collection of miscellaneous thoughts and musings, from time to time. Here is "issue" number one.

The election. Okay, much to my chagrin, Bush won and Kerry lost. Guess what? The world is not coming to an end. Well, maybe. I suspect the terrorists will have something to say about that. Emperor (a second term merits a small promotion)George has already renewed attacks.

I am glad that Kerry was willing to concede. Sure the math was against him, but he could have made things worse by prolonging this. He would have solved nothing, likely caused greater division. And despite Bush's "appeal" to those who voted for Kerry, I do not expect him to actually work on healing. Our monarch seems to love/thrive on divisiveness.

The Red Sox. This has been a long time coming, but I finally have to say it: Hoooooray!!!! Glad to see them win, but mostly I'm glad to see the Yankees lose. My daughter, whom I'm trying to teach to be a good sport, has pointed out my hypocrisy in loathing the Yankees so much. When she's older....

Listening to: a shuffling of Miles Davis. Have listened to John Scofield's Works for Me and Pat Metheny's One Quiet Night the past couple of days. Have been listening to miscellaneous piano jazz at the house. Realized I didn't have any Thelonious Monk on the computer at home. Fixed that little problem mighty quick.

Speaking of music. The Pat Metheny Group releases The Way Up in January and will be in town in March. Hope I can get there. Since the disc is to be a single 68 minute track, I don't suppose I'll be able to get it from Napster. I wonder if there will be an extra track available like there usually is on the Japanese imports. Waiting is not fun, but I'll try to be patient.

Well, dear readers, I must go for now. Time to try to get the kids to do their homework and to avoid stepping on the kitty (pictures forthcoming). Peace.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Check 21: The dog licking itself in public

Like many Americans, I was caught off guard by the passage of the law now known as "Check 21." I'm a bit upset at myself for not being better informed because I have been telling anyone who would listen why the practices of the banking industry, in general, are immoral and corrupt, so I should have seen this coming. But I have noticed that many people keep up with current events either found themselves not knowing what "Check 21" was about or they did not see why it is such a big deal.

"Check 21" allows banks to withdraw funds from your account immediately after you write a check. This means that if you are one of those people who practice floating, writing checks a couple days before your own paycheck is deposited, then you are likely to find that the processing time you have previously counted on is not there anymore. People who are used to floating may find their checks bouncing all over town.

I can certainly understand the argument that one should not write checks for money that one does not have. Though in the past I practiced floating, I don't have a problem ceasing (not that it actually applies to me). My problem is that the practice does not force banks to apply to themselves what they make others endure. They are not compelled to immediately credit an account when a check is deposited. In fact, they are able to "hold" a check as long as they please. They say they do this to make sure the check is processed and to see that the check clears. But the same technology that allows a bank to take money out of my account should be available to put money into that same account.

As with anything regarding the banking industry, the motivation is greed. The longer the money is in one bank, the more money the bank makes. The quicker they can take the money from you, the more likely you are to have to incur fees for bounced checks. And don't expect them to reimburse you for lost money should they make a mistake. Don't expect them to fix your credit history when the error is their fault. I've never known them to do so.

The arguments for this practice tend to either be 1) one shouldn't write checks for money one doesn't have and 2) it is legal, therefore it is okay. The first argument, as noted above, is off the point. I can grant the point if banks are willing to make it work the other way. The second argument is circular reasoning.

It reminds me of the old joke: Why does a dog lick himself? Because he can. Well, unfortunately, these same dogs playing with our money. Don't expect me to kiss or pet such a dog.