Friday, October 15, 2010

Not Mad about all the Anger

I don’t have the anger which seems to be rampant in the world. Maybe I am not paying close enough attention. Maybe I am not smart enough to recognize so many different forces in the world wish to squash me like a bug. Maybe I am just too tired to work into the frenzy of Howard Beale’s “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” mentality which seems to be typical of many, if not most, media figures today. If Paddy Chayefsky were alive he could sue all sorts of people for copyright infringement. (If you haven’t seen the movie Network I highly recommend it.) That doesn’t mean I think life is all rainbows and unicorns. How about this for a catch phrase? I’m mildly miffed and would really prefer if many things were different.

I am not a social scientist with years of experience studying the human condition so my ideas are nothing but my ideas, but I think one of the reasons so many people are ticked off is there are fewer and fewer times people who do the right thing get rewarded. Here is a tiny example of what I mean.

Every day at the school where I work students are dropped off by their parents. We have a system in place to make this safe and somewhat efficient. The cars are supposed to pull up to the curb in front of the building all going the same direction and as the front few cars release their kids they move on and the next few cars move up and do the same. Those are the people doing the right thing who should get rewarded with being able to move on smoothly with their lives. Not so much. Not when the person who doesn’t feel the need to do the polite, thinking about the concerns of others sort of thing comes swinging into the picture. This person, driving a vehicle larger than many two bedroom homes, pulls up and double parks at the front of the line. He has now blocked the car flow like the biggest blob of cholesterol in Henry Heartattack’s thoracic cavity and like the arterial plaque he is, he doesn’t care a fig for the stress put on the body as a whole. This yutz gets to go on with his “do as I please” day while the “do the right thing” guy at the end of the line reaches for his blood pressure medicine.

I realize there was public uproar when communities added fluoride to the water supply and I am not a big advocate for a “nanny” state which has the government taking care of us when we can’t do it for ourselves. (They have already reached into the snack machine at work and required granola bars take the place of a certain percentage of real snacks – mini-doughnuts and chocolate covered anythings.) That being said, I would be in favor of certain mood altering chemicals being introduced into different environments.

The main thing which would help us is if television news organizations of every stripe had a very low concentration of valium pumped in to help them bring it down a couple of notches. I mean do we really need well-dressed men and woman reading off teleprompters such fear-mongering copy as “Your very own cat may be trying to kill you in your sleep. Tune in tonight at ten.” Not to mention those proselytizing hosts of shows making it appear that we are on the path to some sort of Caligula-esque debacle of debauchery if the guys who do not believe what we believe get to be in charge of anything, and I do mean anything, even the panel of judges on Dancing with the Stars.

Truly, I think one of the first things which can get rid of the aforementioned ubiquitous anger is just looking around and realizing people are not out to get us. Whatever happened to thinking the other guy was simply wrong in his political views, not a fascist megalomaniac bent on turning the United States of America into a post-apocalyptic wasteland where there is government run healthcare, privatized Social Security and all kittens are outlawed. I would prefer the political arguments from the people sent to the various seats of government were simply between opponents with different paths to the same end (the betterment of the lives of their constituents) not enemies locked in a mortal struggle for the soul of the nation. I want Adlai Stevenson versus Dwight Eisenhower not He-Man versus Skeletor.

Christopher Pyle advocates for calmness and if you don’t agree he hopes your cat kills you in your sleep. He can be reached at

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Books ARE Judged by Their Covers

When a person is running for President of the United States the press always says the first decision he makes that is truly presidential is choosing his vice presidential running mate. It is used to show what he sees as important and how well he can play the political game. Not many people run for president and even fewer of them get to select a running mate but there is one decision made by thousands and thousands of people which can be used as a yardstick for judging how they will do at a job they are embarking upon. I am referring to judging parents by what they name their child.

Just this past week I came across two different news clips about how names can affect the way people are viewed and therefore have significant impact on their quality of life. The first one talked about how people with surnames carrying negative connotations can be adversely affected. Names like Short, Little, Bent, Worthless-Twerp (okay, I made up that last one) can lead to feelings of inferiority. This was reported by psychology Professor Richard Wiseman (I did not make up that last bit).

The second one described a study which showed resumes, identical in every facet save the name of the applicant, did not receive the same responses. If the name was “usual” the number of call backs was significantly higher than if the name was odd – not crazy, just different. As a person who has done some hiring in my day I can say the name can make a difference. One applicant listed his name as Brain. I did not call this person for an interview. It was not because I was intimidated by a person with a name implying great cerebral power or bothered that the person may have been named after a cartoon mouse set on world domination. It was simpler than that. He had misspelled Brian. Someone who will not proofread his application well enough to see that his name is correct may not be the person to take care of sensitive work related activities like, oh, say, unlocking the door before trying to walk inside the building.

There is tons of information out there to help select your child’s name. Bookstores have entire shelves of “baby name” books, which I always found odd. They are not just baby names. The cute little blobs of protoplasm are the first to have the monikers attached to their wrists but the name stays with them beyond diapers and diets of puréed peas. Maybe it would be better if names had shelf lives like milk. An adorable toddler should have a name like Mitzi or Lulu or Bambi but none of those stand the smell test when applied to many grown up endeavors. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Bambi Rabinowitz.” The converse is also true. A four year old boy scurrying across the playground chasing a puppy should not be called to by his parent with a handle like Bertrand. A Nobel Prize for physics might be in his future, but so are multitudes of football player administered wedgies.

I used to think the pressure to select a name for your child was over the top. Every friend, relation, and co-worker asks what names you’re considering and every one of them has an opinion which they are quite happy to share, bidden or not. I have adjusted my attitude and think there isn’t enough oversight of this choice. As a person working in the world of education I am exposed to a large roll call of names and I have to say there are instances the government should have intervened. There are other times it steps in for children in need of care. Children ought to have some protection from names created by random arrangements of letters or being named after a parent’s favorite car or city or Stephen King novel. (“Little Cujo just learned how to crawl and foam at the mouth, it is so cute.”)

One hint I have for expecting parents is to go to one of those racks that have pencils or mini license plates with names printed on them. Then make sure you chose a name not represented on any of the merchandise. This serves two purposes. One, your child will not have an overly common name and two, you save a bundle when you take your offspring to these shops because they will have no desire for any of the over-priced plastic junk.