Thursday, May 29, 2014

Who's speaking at which commencement? Who cares?

Ordinarily, I am dismissive of those who lament technology’s effects on our previously “untainted” lives. My response to those who wax nostalgic about pen-and-ink letters and how e-mail doesn’t reflect tone and nuance (and ink on paper does?) is “Get over it”. However, there’s one phenomenon to which I have a visceral opposition: the media circus surrounding college graduations. Well, not all college graduations, as none but the local press are covering 90% thereof. I’m talking about the top colleges, i.e., the Ivy League and the second tier.

We see here, in fact, that through the 1990s, U. of Michigan’s commencement speakers were either past or present officeholders, educators, or esteemed journalists. But scroll up to 2009 and 2013, and who do we see? The CEOs of Google and Twitter, respectively. We see here that in the 41 years 1972-2013, 19 of Northfield Mount Hermon’s speakers, i.e., nearly half, were alums. Totally appropriate. In this list from Syracuse University, we see that the first TV personality showed up in 1980, and it was the host of a PBS news program. But from 1994 onward, and especially from 2000, we see the glitz becoming more and more prominent. These are just a few lists reflecting the trend.

Pre-Internet, there was college bookstore merch. Sure, you wore your crimson / blue hoodie and your car sported your Harvard / Yale bumper sticker. You were signaling, or perhaps you just liked the hoodie, but it was an individual, unmediated affair. Sure the New York Times reported on commencement keynote speakers, but it wasn’t splashed across the front page and trumpeted for weeks on end.

Now, however, from March through May, you can hardly open your browser without seeing “who’s speaking at which commencement”. It’s signaling on steroids, and it gets more frenzied every year. I propose a mass “mental boycott” of the hoopla. You attend a selective school? Good for you. Wear your hoodie with pride. Your school has glitzy alums? Great. Invite ‘em back for commencement and award ‘em an honorary degree. But please, leave the rest of us out of it. We Officially Don’t Care.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

ברוכים הבאים למאה ה21 Welcome to the 21st century

True story: I ate breakfast with someone I don’t ordinarily see, and she was waxing on about an amazing lecture she’d heard on interpersonal relationships by therapist Hedy Schleifer. Intrigued, when I got to work I looked up Shleifer and found her on TED. Because I enjoy follow-through, i.e., telling the rest of you with whom I share this planet that I’m listening to you; and assuming that most of us are flattered and feel validated when what we say is followed up on, I shot my breakfast companion a mail with the Subject line “Hedy Schleifer”. The body: “Found this. Will view later!” Telegraphic, you say? Perhaps. Apparently, the recipient found it curt, even offensive.

Smiling, I asked her at lunch if she’d seen my mail. Here’s how the rest of the conversation went [recall that ironically, Schleifer is now her interpersonal relations guru]:

She: Yeah. What was that?

Me: What do you mean?

She: What was I supposed to do with that?

Me: Uh, click on the link.

She: What was the link?

Me: Her lecture.

She: I don’t need to hear her lecture [walks off, leaving me feeling like I’d committed an unforgivable faux pas].

OK, Schleifer Chasid and all you other Earth-dwellers who haven’t get gotten the memo: You know those words in e-mails (often “this” or “here”) that are in blue and underlined, as above? Those are this 20th-century invention called hyperlinks. What are you supposed to do with them? You left-click them with your mouse and they lead you to a website, in which you presumably have some passing interest. It saves us from having to write mails like the following:

Dear Breakfast Companion,
I was so intrigued by your description of Hedy Schliefer that as soon as I got to a computer, I performed an online search for her. Lo and behold, I found a lecture by her. You can see the lecture by clicking on the following link: Have a nice day!

In the 21st century, that translates to: “Found this. Will view later!” It’s meant to be neither curt nor offensive; it’s meant to save us both time. Got it?

And while we’re on the subject, Here’s a short quiz: I write you a mail containing the text, “…not to go all Hedy Schleifer on you, but…” You have no idea what I’m referring to. You:
                 a) Write me back asking, “Who’s Hedy Schleifer?"
                 b) Look up “Hedy Schleifer” online

The correct answer is (b). You necessarily have Internet access if you’re downloading and reading mail, no? Therefore, you open your browser and search for “Hedy Schleifer”. If you do (a), I’ll reply with “Look here.” Ah, that pesky blue underlined word again. What’s that? All together now: A hyperlink! And what do we do when we see a hyperlink? If you don’t know by now, sign up for remedial reading comprehension.

In case you haven't figured it out, I have less and less patience for anyone under the age of 60 who’s still sheepishly referring to hizzerself as a “technophobe” or who can’t perform a basic online search. And I don’t accept the claim that my work is computer based, so I have a leg up. This is now basic stuff, folks. The wheel is not going to turn back: Master these skills and get on board with the digital world. You can only benefit.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Stupidity on Holocaust Day על הטמטום ביום השואה

להלן כתבה שכתב יורם הופמן, עורך כל אלה בני קטורה לרגל יום השואה 2014: English translation follows Hebrew

דבר העורך: "על הטמטום"
בחלומי ראיתי איך קם מנהיג ערבי, ובפומבי מצהיר: "השואה היא הפשע הנורא ביותר שבוצע כנגד האנושות"
התעוררתי ומצאתי שזה לא היה חלום. זה קרה במציאות, בשנת 2014, והמנהיג הערבי שהעז לקום ולצאת בפומבי כנגד מחוללי השואה היה לא אחר מאשר אבו מאזן – יושב ראש הראשות הפלשתינאית, אויבנו המר.
  יו"ר הרשות הפלסטינית, שבעבר נטען כי הוא מכחיש שואה, פרסם היום הצהרה תקדימית על השואה. "העם הפלסטיני הוא הראשון לדרוש להסיר את העוול והגזענות שעמים אחרים סובלים מהם"
ומה עשו "מנהיגינו"? במקום לברך אותו על אומץ ליבו, במקום ליפול על צווארו ולהכריז "אחינו אתה", במקום להכריז כי על מחווה כזו יש להשיב במחווה, מה הם עשו לדעתכם? הם כמובן דחו אותו בזלזול. "הוא לא התכוון ברצינות" נאמר בתגובתם, "הוא מנסה לעשות שואה שנייה"
איזה טמטום. הרי זו הזדמנות להסכים על משהו, קו התחלה שממנו אפשר להתקדם. ברור לכולם שהפלשתינאים, ובראשם אבו מאזן, לא נהפכו לאוהבי ישראל. ברור שהסכנות רבות וצריך למדוד את הפלשתינאים גם לפי מעשיהם – הטובים והרעים – אבל אנחנו חייבים להקשיב לדבריו של אבו מאזן. אולי זאת מלכודת, אבל אם זה אמיתי – יש לנו בסיס, ובכל מקרה, למה לסרב ולדחות את המסר שהביא?
הממשלה הזו, באטימותה ובעיוורונה הולכת ומזכירה את ממשלת גולדה, והתוצאות של מעשיה ומחדליה עלולות להיות לא פחות קשות, לנו ולכול המזרח התיכון.

On Stupidity
Translated from an article by Yoram Hoffman on Holocaust Remembrance Day

In my dreams, I see an Arab leader rise up and declare publicly, “The Holocaust is the most terrible crime committed against humanity.” I awoke and discovered that it wasn’t a dream; it actually took place, in 2014, and the Arab leader who dared to rise up and come out publicly against the perpetrators of the Holocaust was none other than Abu Mazen, head of the Palestinian Authority, our archenemy.

The chair of the Palestinian Authority, about whom in the past it was claimed that he denies the Holocaust, today declared unprecedentedly in reference to the Holocaust: “The Palestinian people is the first to demand eradicating the grief and bigotry from which other nations suffer.”

And what did our “leaders” do? Instead of congratulating him on his courage, instead of embracing him and declaring, “Thou art our brother”*, instead of announcing that such a gesture deserves a gesture in kind, what do you think our “leaders” did? Naturally, they dismissed his statement outright: “He didn’t mean it,” was their response. “He’s trying to carry out a second Holocaust.”

What stupidity. Here we had the opportunity to agree on something, a starting point from which we could progress. We all know that the Palestinians, led by Abu Mazen, aren’t our biggest fans. We know that the dangers are many and that we need to judge the Palestinians by their actions as well as by their words, both good and bad. But we also have to heed Abu Mazen’s words. Perhaps it’s a trap; but if he’s for real, then we have a foundation. In any case, why reject his message?

Our government, in its blindness and obtuseness, is more and more reminiscent of that of Golda Meir, and the results of our intransigence are liable to be no less grave than were her deeds and omissions — for us and for the entire Middle East.
reference to Genesis 45:14-15