Monday, June 30, 2008

Things of which I am leery...

Didn't think I'd have a topic for this morning, until I read that Melinda Gates has commented (as part of this new mega-foundation she and her hubby are forming) that every U.S. child should complete college.

Um...I am not pointing out her husband, who is literally richer than God, did not? Oh, ooops, I did.

Anyway. That sort of heads the list of things that make me leery and not want to buy wholesale into the story. People who assume a one-size-fits-all solution. So here's the list:

1. One-size-fits-all solutions. I don't care if you're talking about education, diet, dating, getting rid of ants....I have never seen a case where one thing worked for everybody. I have people tell me, "Oh, you MUST try online dating! You'd find someone in a heartbeat! I did!" But then again, I know people who tried it, found it a complete horrorshow (Items Not As Advertised). Or they got no responses to their posting, which I think would be the most totally heartbreaking thing ever. Or people who talk about how I Lost Weight! You Can Too! when their diet involves eating some insane combination of foods I'd never consume, or they have a personal trainer and a personal chef to serve as a force field between them and Actual Food. Or something.

Or stuff like Mrs. Gates' plan - not all people want to, nor even need to, go to college. And I am saying this as a college prof!

That segues into the next item:

2. People proposing very simple solutions to complex problems.

Complex problems are still problems because they are complex. Eighty percent of the time, a problem goes unsolved NOT because of lack of will or lack of funds, but because it's a COMPLEX PROBLEM. And therefore NOT EASILY SOLVED. And it frustrates the Hell out of me to hear people go, "Well, ALL you need to do is..." No - chances are that's been tried and it didn't work. And in a lot of cases, the solutions proposed are sort of on the line of "beatings will continue until morale improves."

For example: students do poorly in a college class. It must, therefore, be the fault of the people teaching the class (never mind that five different people teach it and always get the same results). We must send those profs for more teaching-training! We must exhort them to be more interesting! We must make them run the class as a fun discussion rather than a boring lecture! (never mind that at this level, discussions tend to be fairly content-free, and lecture seems to be the most logical way of covering the topic. Never mind that the "discussions" generally consist of monosyllabic student responses and blank looks. Never mind that the students don't KNOW what a stem cell is, let alone the controversy surrounding them).

Or: Americans are too fat. Therefore, we must harangue, embarrass, and perhaps even fiscally penalize those who are fat until they lose weight.

3. People who sit and complain about a problem without doing anything about it.

Yes, some problems are too big to be dealt with. That's true. But it's also true there are lots of little problems - like litter in our towns - that are nasty unpleasant things but can be dealt with by people who are willing to give of their time. The problem is, it's a lot more fun to sit and say, "Someone should DO something" than it is to be that someone.

4. People who believe that more tax dollars will solve all our problems.

See #3 above. As well as #2 and #1.

5. Things where there may be unintended consequences.

The whole ethanol mess is part of this. I was on-board with it when it first got started- hey, a way to maybe stick it to the Middle East oil barons! Hey, maybe a way to use renewable energy!

Problem is - it's not that simple. And food prices are rising, it doesn't help with CO2 emissions one bit, land that might have been left to revegetate naturally is being plowed up again. Pretty much the only happy folk are the corn farmers.

6. Stuff sold on infomercials.

(I had to put one lighter one in here). If it's THAT great, why do you have to buy a 1/2 hour tv program to sell it. I've seen an awful lot of stuff that looked wonderful on the telly - of late, some kind of steam-mop thing that claims to solve the problem of cleaning tiled floors, and some kind of weird bra-thing that's supposed to lift up the "girls" and help with posture.

But I can't help but be cynical about it - if it's that great, why do you have to mail-order it from just one company? And why do they do that weird "Only three installments of..." pricing? And why don't they tell you what shipping and handling are?

7. Science reporting in the news.

Because they get it spectacularly wrong jut often enough, and because a lot of it seems aimed at scaring the daylights out of people. ("Lots of studies in the past showed coffee was safe BUT NOW...."). If they actually hired people with degrees in science, or at least a modicum of critical thinking capacity, it would be better done. But with a few exceptions (like John Stossel, who often gets it right), most science reporting is dismal.

8. Anything advertised as "destined to become a classic!"

Um, no. Something becomes a classic because of quality, not destiny. Usually this is applied to second-rate Christmas specials featuring the flavor-of-the-month licensed character.

And a lot of times, the true "classics" were not thought that great at the time - there was a certain amount of criticism of the animation of A Charlie Brown Christmas when it first came out. But it's been shown every year since 1964, and generations of kids can repeat it almost word for word.

The other thing, I tend to think, is stuff that becomes "classic" cannot be coldly engineered. (Like: "We need to sell more Smurfs. Let's make a heartstring-tugging special about them and put it out there). It seems to me that it's more often the vision of a particular person. Again, with A Charlie Brown Christmas - Charles Schulz absolutely INSISTED on the passage from Luke being in there. The special would not be done unless it was done with that present.

And one of the things I wait for every year? To hear Linus recite the passage out of Luke. And I know I'm not the only one.

9. People who are very smiley and glad-handey.

Because I've been burned too many times by grinning extroverts who, it turned out, were just waiting for a chance to stick a knife in my back. I'm a lot more drawn to the quiet, introverted person who doesn't seem to so desperately need to be everyone's friend.

(The funny thing is, I do kind of desperately want everyone to be my friend. I just can't express it very well. I'm shy and afraid of rejection so I kind of sit there inside my shell, silently screaming, "Notice me! Love me! I'm a worthwhile person!")

A special case of these are most politicians. After shaking hands with some of them, I always count my fingers, check my rings, and check to be sure my wallet's still there.

10. Newness for the sake of newness.

People who would throw out all tradition, who would get rid of what the past two millennia (or more) have taught us, in the name of "change" and "different" and "new." I'm not saying some change isn't important - and some change isn't necessary - but I've seen too many people who are bent on totally remaking things, simply because they can.

I tend to be somewhat conservative and traditional because I prefer to learn from the mistakes of the past, rather than start totally fresh and have to make all my own mistakes.

My biggest issue with this are people who would do away with the traditional hymns, music, rituals, and way-of-doing-things in church. And I realize this is a very personal, individual thing, but I LIKE the old hymns. And I am discomfited by things all being all-new all at once. If you want to change things, do it gradually.

I also tend to feel the same way about art and architecture. I am one of those people to whom extreme asymmetry, especially in a building, is almost painful to look at.

1 comment:

Cullen said...

I'm with you on the newness for the sake of newness. There's a reason for getting/making something new -- when the old thing no longer serves a purpose. There is this gorgeous building in downtown Memphis that has been saved because local groups were able to get it on the historical registry. However, right behind this building is a rather unremarkable building with a rather fantastic arboretum. It was a bank or something, once upon a time, but no business is in it now and the building's scheduled to be demolished and turned into a parking lot.