Could Do Better

6 May 2002

Subheadline on the front of the Merc's business section: "All jobs won't be filled." Aack! All jobs won't be filled? All traffic does not stop! Boom! Aaack!

Ahem. Good morning. I think I've said this before, that my mother and I are tempted to take spray paint and correct the logic of a stop sign near them, but my dad won't let us because "there are only three people in the city who would do that, and two of them are here."

It really does seem that they could do better, though.

And speaking of could do better...Lord Lord. We read last week that a gentleman from Turner Broadcasting -- the chairman and CEO, in fact -- believes that it's theft to skip ads. Not my phrasing, his: "Because of the ad skips.... It's theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial or watch the button you're actually stealing the programming." When asked about bathroom breaks, he says, "I guess there's a certain amount of tolerance for going to the bathroom. But if you formalize it and you create a device that skips certain second increments, you've got that only for one reason, unless you go to the bathroom for 30 seconds. They've done that just to make it easy for someone to skip a commercial."

Yep. That's what he said. I wouldn't have made it up in fiction. (Timprov might have, but he has a more realistic sense of these people than I do.) This guy (whose name, by the way, is Jamie Kellner) thinks that we owe his company ad time. Which has brought us no end of fun speculation around here: for example, can my advisor from Oregon ride on BART if he's down here? He's blind, see, and there are print ads all over BART. So isn't that theft, too, by this guy's logic? What if we turn on a show and decide we don't like it? Do we have to watch a pro-rated number of commercials before turning it off? What if the network promises that a show will be popular and then we refuse to contribute to its popularity? Does that mean we've stolen their ad revenues from them?

What we have here is a man who has managed to become chairman and CEO without having any clue what he has promised his advertisers. That's scary in itself. If advertisers believe that the people who watch the show will be watching and listening to their ads intently...hell, I don't even watch and listen to the show intently.

I'm a thief, of course.

What's really sad is that I've been known to listen to radio commercials lately. I have five stations programmed into preset buttons, and as soon as I get around to tuning in the one that lied to Evan, I'll have six. But the jazz station is begging for money all the time lately, so I'm stealing from them by not listening to it, and the classical station seems to think it's their duty to convince the listening public that classical music is always boring. Which leaves Oldies -- convinced that I need another chorus of "What the world needs now is love, sweet love" -- and two stations that I wish were alternative, but aren't. That sometimes hit me with 80s dance music and worse. So just about every other time I'm in the car, I end up tuning in a commercial, because if there's a commercial on, I can hope that when it's over, a good song will start playing, and I'll get to hear all of it.


I really need to remember to take CDs in the car more often.

We went back to the new church yesterday. We're supposedly joining on the 19th, but I'm really not sure. I started dreading church in the middle of Saturday afternoon. I think that's a bad sign. Mark and I had one of those conversations in the car on the way home: "Do you want to go somewhere else?" "Where else can we go?" "I don't know...." I really don't know, either, but I'm sitting here looking at the envelope with the membership forms and...pulling it out of the mail stack to discuss further when Mark gets home. I'm really not sure I can do this. We have had literally nothing positive to say about this church. We keep saying things like, "They aren't horribly offensive" and "Well, Pastor C gave a better sermon than Pastor S [at the same church] did last week." I can't say that I like anything about it in particular. The high point of yesterday was contemplating whether to pick a fight with the pastor about lay presidency. (I didn't. Yet.)

We're Prots. We don't have High Holy Days of Obligation. There are literally no days on which we are obliged to go to church or else we will be sinning, or getting on God's nerves at the very least. (I know, a lot of Catholics ignore all that. But not institutionally.) We go to church because we want to.

With this church, I really don't want to. That's not a good thing. I know that no church is perfect, but I also don't want to be the wind-up-on-Sunday kind of Christian. I don't want to do something I hate because it's sort of like something I've always done. Seems like a bad precedent.

Churches already have the problem of being institutions founded on some basically anti-institutional ideas, and of being organizations that attempt to implement ideals for actual flawed human beings. They really don't need more problems.

Sometimes it's easy to get hung up on the details and forget what the big picture is, what the important objection is. People have tried to tell me that I "have" to be in favor of drafting women for military service, since I'm in favor of treating people who have the same capabilities in the same way regardless of gender. Well, no; I'm opposed in a big way to drafting men, so it would be silly of me to favor drafting women.

The line gets fuzzy, though, when you come upon things like this article (which I found via Zed's weblog). Yes, I object to the school suspending a kid for taking out her feeling in a perfectly appropriate manner. But I also object to the school treating her as if her interests and ideas are worthless. I object to the idea that learning is something that has to be forced into children. I object to a lot about the way the school is either already treating this kid or can treat her the minute they feel like it. I object to a lot about the way that whole system is run. Schools already have an amazing amount of power over what kids can do or say on their grounds, much of it misapplied.

But in this case, making things a little more tolerable for the kid in question is important. It's worth the effort. In this case, the small things can be steps towards the large things.


What gets me here is that the parents did exactly the right thing. They told her that she couldn't take her feelings out on other people, so she should write about them or draw them. Which makes perfect sense to me, and I don't know how many times I've done the same thing. (Mine usually take the form of e-mails starting, "ARGH! You wouldn't believe how *stupid* the clerk was at the grocery store today..." rather than drawings with arrows through people's heads, but you know, same general idea.) And the kid didn't give the teacher her drawing. She kept it to herself, in her binder. She did the right thing. Possibly the best thing, under the circumstances.

And she got screwed over anyway.

I guess in one way it's a good lesson: you can't trust an institution to behave in a rational or compassionate way. You can't trust that rules will be applied for the benefit of everyone involved instead of for their detriment. This is something this kid will have to know. It's probably the main lesson I learned from my public school experience.

Yeah, I'm feeling a bit cynical this morning, why do you ask?

Ah well. I finished Angry Young Spaceman yesterday, determining once and for all that I am not Jim Munroe. (Anybody surprised?) I was interested in the book he wrote, but I was also interested in the book he didn't write -- in the story that came after the story he told. In fact, I was more interested in that. Ah well. I'd hand this book out to Peace Corps English teachers, though, just because I'd like to get their thoughts on it.

Started reading Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas and Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale. The latter is a very amusing book. Dr. Propp is labeling components of folktales with letters and superscripts, then giving examples -- "THE HERO IS RECOGNIZED. (Definition: recognition. Designation: Q.) He is recognized by a mark, a brand (a wound, a star marking), or by a thing given to him (a ring, a towel)...." Okay, first of all, a towel? Is this common in Russian folktales, that the hero is presented with a towel? Or in what type do towels pop up? Can someone point me towards some towel-related folktales? Because I'm interested here. I really am.

Other than that...well, I can see why it might be useful to be able to say, learnedly, "Ah, yes, this is a N8Q sequence." But...not to me. Not useful to me at all. Rather silly, in fact. He has some stories entirely categorized in one of the indices, long strings of Roman and Greek characters with superscripts and occasional subscripts and arrows, and it just seems to rip the heart right out of the story. But this is something one of the NTMB main characters would have read, so I'd like to have a feel for it.

Oh: if any of you feel intimately familiar with the stores of Berkeley, San Francisco, or the southern part of the East Bay, can you please e-mail me? There's an item I'm looking for, but I can't say what it is because it's for Mark's birthday, and he reads this journal.

Right then. I'm off to mail an alarming number of things.

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