Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hey! Look! We're Trend Setters!

My youngest sister is a cool kid. In the Malcom Gladwell sense. In other words, she's often one step ahead of the curve. Sure, there are a lot of things that she does that are conformist--she's an 18 year-old suburban kid going to NYU; she's bound to be somewhat conformist--but she's the kind of person who will get people to do whatever she says. Her friends don't think she's that funny, but just wait, in a few years they'll all be making hyperbolic sarcastic comments, and she'll be on to bigger, better things.

When she was in fifth grade, she decided to teach flying lessons. Knowing that she couldn't actually teach people to fly, she came up with what was basically a form of dance that focused on arm movements. Within weeks, there were 30 kids out of 60 in her grade taking flying lessons. There was a system of tests and levels and teaching certification. There was the Flyers Weekly Flier. Then a few months later, too many people wanted to take the flying teacher certification test, and there were not going to be enough teachers. So my sister resigned as head of Flying School, and said "if they want to continue, that's fine." And that was the end of that.

Anyway, the point is, that I am not the cool one in my family. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I'm the kid who had two posters in her room in high school: one of Leonardo da Vinci and one of fractals. I kid you not.

Case in point I sent this West Wing e-mail to a friend.

Subject line: I think the transcript speaks for itself

Body: DANNY So I'm home. By myself. Listening to my police scanner. C.J You have a police scanner? DANNY Yes, I do. C.J. Danny, you were like, President of your high school audio-visual club, weren't you? DANNY: I was, in fact, not President of the AV Club. I was vice-President. Bobby Pfeiffer was President, and that's something I don't like to talk about. C.J. : Why'd you come down? DANNY : Josh said to come by for a drink. C.J. You should have gotten here earlier. DANNY: I would have, except I was home listening to my police scanner.

In his e-mail, my friend replied: “... but did he get laid that night?”

Or, another West Wing quote comes to mind:

JOSH: I wasn’t much into squash. I was more of a Crimson guy. DONNA: Crimson? JOSH: The campus newspaper. RYAN: Yeah, that figures. JOSH: What’s that supposed to mean? RYAN: Nothing. That’s great. JOSH: Are you implying that I didn’t have a social life?

So yeah, my friends and I, were like Danny and Josh, only not in charge of covering or running the White House. We're the kids who quote West Wing.

So, I laughed a lot when I read these sentences in the book I'm currently reading: SuperMedia: Saving Journalism So It Can Save The World.

" Or they [websites] serve an informed, elite group, such as the stylish well-informed US political magazine, which targets political obsessives."

And then: "In the US it's now a measure of your "cool" factor as a young urbanite not just to say "Did you see Jon Stewart last night?" but also to say "I was listening to the podcast of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me from NPR this weekend." This may be small elite in the US, albeit a trend-setting group of opinion-formers."

My mind is blown. How did we become "a trend-setting group of opinion-formers?"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Which the Elitist in Me Dies

If Sotomayor is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, eight of the Supreme Court's nine members will have Ivy League degrees, points out the NYT. And the one who doesn't—John Paul Stevens—holds degrees from the University of Chicago and Northwestern. Which is to say, he may not hold a degree from the hallowed eight, but he too certainly has an elite education.
We're a pretty elitist bunch here at Orange Juice, and don't get me wrong, I am a huge believer in elite education, but doesn't it seem like a sort of false win for diversity here? Sure, Sotomayor's background makes her diverse. But if so many of her ideologically formative years were spent in the same incubator as all the other justices, is she so different?
Part of me, of course, wants to say if an Ivy League education is awesome and enriching and enlightening (which I think it is), then shouldn't we want all the Supreme Court justices to hold Ivy League degrees? Shouldn't we want all our leaders to hold Ivy League degrees? Shouldn't we only associate with people who have Ivy League degrees?
" 'I'm not bothered by the fact that nine out of nine, or six out of nine, went to Ivy League law schools,' because the institutions have grown more diverse. 'These places have become, themselves, much more like the country,' " Calvin Trillin says in that NYT article. To which I respond: Really? You really think that Ivy League law schools are representative of the United States of America?
And maybe it doesn't matter if our courts are diverse, if the people on them have varied backgrounds. Maybe we just want the nine smartest lawyers in this country. But if we're looking for something more than that, which presumably we are, then maybe it would be good to look past those ivy-covered gates.
I may however be stripped of my elitist credentials for saying so.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How To Tell Artificial Intelligence Has Not Reached Its Peak

Brought To You By iPhoto '09:

iPhoto '09 recognizes faces, and then asks you to identify them. After you tag a few, it started recognizing the faces itself. It's works OK; it confuses sisters a lot, which amuses me. But it also recognizes faces like Michelle Obama on a small political button. Amused I tagged her, and let iPhoto do its job. Anyone who can explain how it does do its job wins a prize.

"Funny Story"

By way of the New York Times' Happy Days blog -- the existence of which I am still somewhat hesitant about--I found this graphic novella about a guy who got stabbed in the neck. (By graphic, I mean like a comic strip, not blood and gore. It is suitable for work.)

There is one panel that made me laugh out loud because I did exactly the same thing when I got hit by a car a few years ago.

(Click on the image to read it)

In my case, I waited until I was out of the hospital before calling my mom, and then said "Hi. Where are you?" She was on some New England Island. So my plan of asking her to sit down was spoiled by the fact she'd have to sit in sand. So I went with exactly what the guy above said "I'm OK.I just wanted to tell you that I was in an accident. I'm OK."

And then, a few days later, I e-mailed a friend.

For your reading pleasure the e-mail is below. With identifying names and descriptors removed so as not to end up as a very outdated blind item on that Web site that runs blind items.

Subject line: Funny Story.

Actually, it's really only funny in retrospect. At the time, it was not funny. At all.
So I figured I should tell you this before you hear from someone else....

Sunday afternoon, a week ago, I was crossing 96th street, and I realized that I was crossing away from where I wanted to be, so, with the walk signal still displayed, I turned around. And got hit by a car. The car was turning the corner and I didn't see it.

Clearly, I'm OK. I have seven stitches in my elbows and bruised ribs. The ensuing reaction of passersby was classic New York. Everyone who gathered on the street shouted for a while before anyone thought to call 911. Then, some woman bent down next to me, said she was a doctor, checked I could move and feel everything and asked if I wanted to move from the middle of the street. (I did. Cars were already honking their horns.) As she started to help me move everyone started yelling at her, including one person who said "Fine. You can move, but if something happens, you can't blame us." Honestly. I was going to sue some random person on the street because they didn't stop me from moving to the sidewalk. I suppose more bizarre things have happened.

Anyhow, fast-forward -- past my deciding against answering honestly when the EMT's asked me if I had any problems with St. Luke's -- to the St. Luke's emergency room which has no cell phone service so I asked (knowing that this too was a bad idea) the EMT to call one of the reporters (who used to be a health reporter) at the [newspaper I was interning at] to tell her I was not going to come in to work. The EMT comes back, and says "she sounded worried, she started asking me all these questions."

Back at the [newspaper] office the reporter the EMT called, is freaking out because she's nervous I don't have family or friends who are with me in the emergency room (which I don't) so she sends one of interns to the hospital to see how I'm doing. On her way there [the intern] steps on a metal rod, punctures her foot, and ends up in the St. Luke's emergency room herself. So [the health reporter] faced with two interns in the emergency room, calls [another reporter at said newspaper] who is on a bus back from Boston, to fill her in on the situation.

[The intern] is from Staten Island, so her family's on its way to come get her. But [health reporter] and now [second reporter], are still concerned that I am in the hospital by myself. So [second reporter, the one on the bus] leaves a message on my voice mail to see if I am OK, and then starts thinking about who she can call to send to the hospital to keep me company while they sew up my elbow.

"Oh," she thinks, "L's friends with [a reporter at another New York Newspaper and recipient of this e-mail]." She calls the [other New York newspaper] and tracks down your phone number.

Meanwhile, I am discharged, and walk home, and call [the reporter on the bus] to tell her I am OK just as she is about to call you.

I totally expected someone to tell you that [the reporter on the bus] was trying to track you down, but the next day, a building blew up and clearly there were more important things to do.

The End.
This is the e-mail I received in return:
Well, THANK GOD you're okay and that the whole thing was minor. I will tell no one. Not even Gawker. It may take every ounce of my will power (that's like 1.2 oz), but I won't. I swear.

It wasn't funny until the other intern stepped on a metal rod and had to be hospitalized. That's pretty funny. And just be happy that they didn't send photographers. I feel like we would have sent photographers.
It's nice to know that I deal with near-death accidents the same way random guy in autobiographical graphic novel does (though his was clearly much more near death).

Quick Sidenote

This is just to say: I'm very proud of New England this year. As California backpedals on same-sex marriage, little, Puritan New England is leading the equality charge. New Hampshire legalized same-sex marriage yesterday, effective January 1.

The state joins Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine (come on, Rhode Island). And, as Susan Campbell recently pointed out, the sun continues to rise in the Northeast corner each morning. And we haven't all become duck fuckers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What If God Is Sexist?

To me, the real question about women in Judaism is this: What if the God and religion I believe in are sexist?

It seems pretty clear to me that some semblance of gender roles and what we would call sexism are inherent in Orthodox Judaism. Judaism's approach toward women is different than its approach toward men: We have different (read: lesser) obligations than men have. This is fact.

And arguments like the one made by an Orthodox rabbi in response to the first female black rabbi that "Orthodox Jews have the highest respect for women and they play the most important role—to raise a true Torah Jewish family" are, well, disingenuous at best. They make me taste the same vomit that L tastes at such remarks.

Not because I don't think raising a family is important but because I want to be valued for my intellect, for my commitment, for my ambition, for my ability, not for my physical ability to bear children or for raising them. (Not to mention that I don't think raising children is solely the woman's domain.) I want the same things in my religious life that I have in my secular life.

We are women who grew up knowing we could be anything we wanted to be—doctor, lawyer, CEO, president. Never mind that the last election perhaps imbued girls with the sense that they could be anything, but not quite president. Orthodox women today grow up knowing we can be anything we want to be except rabbi or tefillin-wearer or cantor or, in some circles (not mine, I should note), Talmud-learner.

Certainly, approaches have changed, and women have found more of a place within the realms of halacha, Jewish law, in the Jewish community than they have had in the past, and that is fantastic and should continue, but there are things that so far as I can tell Jewish law can never let women do or be. Like a witness in a Jewish court. Like a member of a minyan.

The pay discrimination that Lily Ledbetter suffered was awful, and it was awful because the United States promises everyone equality; because a woman shouldn't be paid less than a man for equivalent work; because we know that women are equal to men. But maybe religion doesn't play by those rules.

Now, I think it is different for God to assign roles to women and for old, white men to do so. I may not understand all the laws I believe are divine, but if I believe they are divine, then I need to accept them. Which doesn't mean accepting mothering and homemaking as my role in Judaism (more on feminism within Orthodoxy in a different post), but it does mean that while I will not tolerate sexism in any other realm, I have to accept some sort of gender roles in religion as ideal.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Click It or Ticket

I'm sorry that I've been an untrustworthy contributor. My job leaves me, at the end of the day, feeling more able to consume than to produce new tidbits of glimmering intellect. It's an extended practice in demoralization, this being part of the newspaper industry in 2009 thing.


Today at yoga, the teacher opened with what was meant to be an inspiring anecdote about how much emotion people feel in a day and how the same thing can happen in a yoga practice. I'm willing to sit through a large chunk of yammering to get to the yoga. But the story went something like this:

"This morning when I was driving downtown without wearing a seatbelt, because I just sort of test the waters by doing that sometimes, I passed a police car. And I instantly felt guilty, and sort of fake put on my belt by holding it across my shoulder until he was gone. But isn't it funny how, passing a cop car, I always get the feeling I'm doing something wrong? Then I drove on, and I suddenly saw a mother goose and her three babies walking on the sidewalk in front of neon chicken, and I slowed down to gape at them. Isn't it amazing how much emotion people can feel in a short amount of time?"

I dismissed my anger until after class, and then I pulled her aside to tell her that it's really stupid to not wear safety belts, that I cover fatal car crashes and read police reports and that, time and again, the dead folks are the ones not wearing them. It's something I find important because the simple click action is within someone's control, but being blindsided by a drunken driver often isn't. Why test fate, or - depending on your metaphysical preference - up the ante in the face of randomness?

I wrote a flippant tweet about it and here, in relevant part, is one of three replies, from a woman whose intelligence I respect: "your job is infecting your soul."

Is being an old-fart-style stickler based on empirical evidence a bad thing these days?