Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review: The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins

It should be fairly obvious to anyone who knows me why this book caught my eye. It should, in fact, be fairly obvious to anyone who has glanced at this blog for more than two seconds why this book caught my eye. I am, clearly, irrevocably, a geek. And plotting to take over the world.

AHEM. Moving on.

This book is a study in high school social life, slice of life journalism for various people who simply put, do not really fit anywhere. Ms. Robbins follows the lives of seven people in their schools as they struggle to find themselves and their place in this world. *cue musical number*

Wedged between stories of these people’s lives and struggles are insights into the psychology and sociology of groups. Citing a number of experts who have spent their lives studying group dynamics, we find that many times exclusion is not a deliberately cruel, malicious act, but sometimes the mind’s instincts to maintain status quo going into overdrive.

I admit, I could really relate to a lot of the stories, especially of Danielle, the loner. Though personality-wise I am really nothing like her, I share the common problem of “no thanks I won’t talk to anyone I’ll just sit here in the corner kthxbai”. Another small incident that struck me was when Eli, the nerd, tried to have a conversation. People kept talking over him, and then later wondered why he never joined in. (HERP DA DERP I WONDER WHY)

As you can see, many of these stories really struck a chord with me. Ms. Robbins discussed how many times schools accidentally or purposely contribute to the clique atmosphere among students, such as a teacher getting popular students out of class so they could sit in hers (sounds familiar), or teachers who label students before actually getting to know them; or, worse, teachers who ignore bullying when it happens to a student they don’t particularly like (sounds very familiar).

In the end, however, this is not a negative book discussing the horrible things happening in our schools, but a book celebrating the growth that comes from diversity and the greater insight people can get by being on the fringe of the in-crowd.

Also this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Talk Radio; or, It's Just a Show, I Should Really Just Relax

So, to no one’s surprise, I do listen to talk radio from time to time. In fact, I went through a short phase last year where Rush Limbaugh was the highlight of the day. I’d sit in my car and listen while eating lunch right before work. But the more I listen to talk radio, the more I see a basic problem in it.

It accomplishes basically nothing.

Now, I’m sure there are plenty of fellow conservatives who will howl and rage over this. But allow me to explain before the howling and raging begins.

Talk radio, like all other radio, is geared toward a certain sector of the population. You don’t expect grandma to be listening to the rock station, unless she’s the most bad-ass grandma that ever lived. Or my mother. It’s not likely that the gruff construction worker swearing at whatever inanimate objects have offended him will have classical music playing in the background. And the chances of Sean Hannity playing in a liberal household is a little less than nil, unless they’re the regulars who call in to argue about the Point of the Day.

The majority of listeners to talk radio (and by now you can tell I equate talk radio with conservative radio, as you rarely if ever hear a truly liberal radio show on the average station) are conservative, and agree with nearly everything said. They are not learning anything. In my opinion it is refreshing to hear someone agree with one’s viewpoint, but it doesn’t actually teach us anything. Every so often a liberal or moderate will listen enough and change their opinions. But that’s a once in a blue moon occurrence.

Which brings me to my other point. There are in fact those who do call in mainly to argue with the host. Sometimes they are very annoying and mainly screech at the host and accuse them of racism/classism/sexism/speciesism/plotting to take over the world. ANYWAYS. But sometimes there will be a caller who is polite but opinionated, willing to debate talking points and hear out the other side. And this is where the problem begins.

With the exception of Jim Fisher, most of the hosts tend to interrupt the caller the moment they start to present a different viewpoint, talk over them, explain why they’re wrong, and then the call ends. And the caller never got to really say their piece. This is not just annoying to the caller, it is annoying to those listening. Try understanding what the caller is saying, to see if the host is right in their opinion. It’s almost impossible. This might be a form of entertainment for some people, but if someone wants a debate, there should be an actual debate, not a shouting match.

One of the most frequent lines heard is the host saying “Answer the question!” and when the caller starts answering the host interrupts with why they’re wrong, then insists they “answer the question”. What.

It's like that Saturday Night Live parody of Hardball, in which "Chris Matthews" insists a guest answer a question.

"You didn't ask a question."

"Answer it!"

This doesn’t accomplish anything. It keeps the listeners entertained, but how does it actually solve problems or spread a differing viewpoint? It doesn’t. Just as the screechy stringy-haired hippie is the stereotype of the liberals, the obnoxious interrupting hard-ass is the general view of the conservative party. Playing up to this stereotype and claiming those who don’t are wimpy or obviously aren’t as passionate about the issues as the host is Insane Troll Logic. How can one get their words out to the world if they’re essentially screaming the entire time? Look at what children respond to best. Yes, they respond to firmness, but not to shouting or insults. Firm but impersonal reprimands are best. This translates to adulthood as well. And this is why talk radio, in the end, is entertainment and little more.

On the other hand, there are radio shows that do not fit this type. Dr. Laura may seem screechy from time to time, but she gets at her worst when confronting someone who clearly knows they are doing wrong but desperately wants someone, anyone, to justify it. Dennis Miller is a moderate independent (closest to libertarians, actually), but he has a laidback style and sense of humor that endears him to nearly everyone who isn’t a complete spaz. Jim Fisher, as I stated before, gets occasionally grouchy with callers, but generally has a good give-and-take with those who want to debate. Any of these are good examples of how to really get one’s opinion out in a rather chaotic world.

Cliché it may be, but also very true: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.