Crikey. He could have printed it,
couldn't he? They had Crayolas then.
It was the Number One item on the Beloit list. College
students today don't do
Just think about that. It's so blatantly horrifying we're hard put even
to say why it's so
horrifying. Let me try.
I've been aware of this developmentdevolution
for more than a decade. I've watched high school seniors printing words
at a furious pace because they can't actually write the words. Seeing such a
performance makes you feel like you're witnessing something shameful, like
a man who can't throw a baseball or a woman who doesn't know what a bra
is. It's just so basic, so assumed, that you're stunned to observe it.
I don't write cursively much myself anymore. I used to have a
button-like callus on the little finger of my right hand. From writing.
It took years and years to go away. But if I had to, I could write all
my posts in longhand. You see, it's not actually slower than typing, if
you're writing cursively. It's just that it's not electronic. Printing,
on the other hand, is both slow and exhausting. That's -- ta da -- why
cursive handwriting was invented.
Shame is the word that keeps occurring to me. Because it's not just
about handwriting. (Although I promise I'll get back to handwriting...)
It's about a generation of children with doting mothers and castrati
fathers who are helpless without their electrronic and parental
They can't write a letter or
a decent note of condolence. (Print me this, twerps, without looking
like a Down Syndrome poster child: "I feel so sorry for your loss.") They don't know their times tables without a calculator. They
couldn't use a manual transmission if their lives depended on it. They
can't even cut their own meat unless Mommy does it, let alone
manipulate any other utensils without looking like a Neanderthal
stumped by a society wedding.
Why is she struggling with Algebra? A mystery? No. She can't fucking
add, subtract, multiply, or divide. What chance do equations have?
Why are you so terrified when she takes the car to her girlfriend's
house? Because she can't drive, that's why. And why can't she drive?
Because she's never stopped texting long enough to listen to any
fucking thing an adult says.
We pretend it's multi-tasking. They're so much smarter than we are.
Bullshit. When you have the attention span of a gnat, you can appear to
be controlling everything when all you're doing is watching the
shiniest object in your face. When you're not conscious, you can always
look sunny and alert.
Our kids. YOUR kids. Your unqualified love has retarded them.
Back to handwriting. So many many years ago this was, I hate to even
bring it up. Parents used to engage in a kind of primitive graphology,
i.e., handwriting analysis. They could see the formation of their kids'
characters in their deviations from Palmer method calligraphy. She's
developing a lovely style. He's making big capitals and big loops: he's
Which is why I just can't imagine who the parents are who don't know
that their own children are incapable of cursive handwriting, even as
they fork up the cash for a $50,000 a year college education. While
they print like a fucking field hand. What planet are we living on?
No. Don't. I don't want to know anymore. But know that when the dire
event finally occurs, YOUR idiot child will be among the first to die (probably while trying to put the getaway truck in gear),
and their sudden absence will be like someone entering the room.
Well. The millennials are restless. Apparently, there are lots of
fevered printers out there. But I'm drawing a line in the sand here.
Because I'm old. If you can't write cursive, you should be ashamed of
yourself. Hunt down the teachers who didn't bother to teach you and
accuse them for their negligence and incompetence. But don't you dare
confront me as if I'm doing YOU some wrong. I'm not. Here's the deal.
When I die, I don't want my wife to receive emails or text messages of
condolence. I also don't want her to receive a Hallmark card with a
childishly printed message of sorrow. Sorry. If this is a generation
gap, then be aware that the gap starts here. On this nonnegotiable
point. We are either educated men or we are throwbacks to an age when
men signed contracts by making their "mark."
Which caused my wife to ask a couple of key questions, since she's the
one who might be the recipient of troglodyte scrawls when I pass away.
She wants to know, "Can you even read
cursive witing?" Not to put too fine a point on it, can you read the
Gettysburg Address (above) or the Declaration of Independence or the
Constitution? "And," she wants to know, "do you never send 'Thank You' notes
through the mail (too good for that maybe) or personal notes on your
greeting cards?" or are we supposed to imagine instead the hideous
block letters of your moronic card messages to new parents, friends'
anniversaries, grieving relatives, or your own mom on Mother's Day? Or
maybe the wife is supposed to do all that for you, the scrawler who
wrote lousy longhand poetry in high school.
You know, I don't really care if this is a dealbreaker for a lot of
you. If you don't know how to write cursively, don't get all
defensively pissed off at me
about it. Your anger is a sign of shame. Shame rightly earned. If you
feel embarrassed, you should
feel embarrassed. I have absolutely zero
sympathy for you. Because there will come a day when the only right
communication, on some matter of great moment, will involve finding a
fine bit of stationery, writing down your deepest thoughts, applying a stamp and then mailing
the sonofabitch to your wife, your daughter, your father, or mother.
And there you'll be. Printing like a fucking first grader with crayons.
Maroon or Sky Blue?
In memory of Trixie Slit. She whipped
Insect Brain, who saved the king, who wrote the
book... et cetera.
I know it seems like Big Things are happening, but they aren't. NOTHING
is happening. That's why I'm going back on an old decision. Partly why.
It's occurred to me that if I should suddenly die, several important
parts of the punk story would disappear without a trace. So, for those
of you who find it boring, go away and come back later. For the rest of
you, I'm offering three pieces of punk in three separate posts.
(Somehing to do while we wait for Israel to work up the balls to hit
Iran...) Remember St.
Nuke? Everybody wanted to write about him. The first of the
excerpts is focused on the first King of Punk City. It's from the
memoirs of Insect Brain. He calls it "Fire":
Being the inside-out, looking back from
hardly started memoirs of Insect Brain, the one called the Weirdest of
Punks, the one accused of having been to college, and the one who,
finally, achieved the title of Indomitable Protector of Gypsy the King.
I wasn’t there early on.
2 What I know of those early days I learned from the writings,
which don’t always tell it the same way.
3 South Street is not just a street, it is an area, a place apart.
4 It is an old place. When Philadelphia was just a narrow strip
of commerce along the Delaware, it was there already, bustling no doubt
with breeches and snorting horses and the bobbing of tri-cornered hats.
5 Every age has its own costume, its own backdrops and curtains.
Today, these are all put away for a time. South Street has gone latent,
waiting for a new drama. It is pretending that no dramas have been
enacted there in a long time.
6 But this is a ruse.
I was called Insect Brain.
2 It was a name that suited me, at the start anyway.
3 Other punks took names they had to grow into, names that made
them or killed them.
4 Mine I worked to escape, climbing hand over hand up the sticky
stem of its punchline.
5 The glint of the scythe winked permanently in the corner of my
eye. The trick was to get to the blossom before they cut you down.
6 But then that was the whole trick of South Street.
7 I was nothing special, like almost everybody else.
Nobody remembers much about the punk
2 In a movie they would be the extras in the wide opening shot.
Just enough in focus to be recognizable as types.
3 The girl with black lipstick and corset.
4 Pale faces with hacked shrubbery hair and blue steel
5 Guitar cases and legs too thin to walk on.
6 Tight black shirts with sleeves below the elbow to hide the
7 Obscenities riding on harsh, hoarse voices.
8 They cross back and forth in front of the camera, giving us
intermittent glimpses of the South Street bars.
9 Colonial brick, hand painted signs, tortured black and white
poster art with crazed typography.
10 A movie couldn’t give us the smell, but we could imagine it:
sweat, dirty clothes steeped in stale smoke, the foul sweet breath of
11 At night, sounds.
12 The chainsaw edge of cheap guitars.
13 Big boots scuffing dirty floors, stirring the sawdust of punk
14 In the corners, the losers. The ones who can’t get a girl,
can’t afford a fix, can’t find a band to be in.
15 If you could look into their eyes, you would see the hard
bright blanks of fevered rats.
My first memory is of St. Nuke.
2 This was well after the beginning.
3 He was berating us.
4 “Do you want to go back?” he asked. His voice was like the rasp
of a file. Hoarse, rough, and scraping.
“Do you think it was easier then?”
5 We thought it was. We felt like boot camp recruits. He was the
6 Mordecai Glum had lasted two weeks in the army. They threw him
out when they found his works. For him South Street was the last stop
on the line, and he was our expert on oppression.
7 His verdict: “This is no better than the army and a lot more
8 St. Nuke overheard him.
9 We thought we could say what we liked. We weren’t in bands. We
didn’t have to stand and fight in the Blade, where your words were a
matter of life and death and your name was on everyone’s lips. Nobody
cared what our names were.
10 Our job was to untangle the cables on the vast concrete floor
of the Bitterbox, where the bands were writing the BB into the system.
11 For us newens, the toughest part of the NukeLaw was no drugs.
12 If they found them on you, you were out of Punk City. Just
like that. No excuses, no explanations, no second chances.
13 We thought that meant we had the right to grumble. We didn’t
figure St. Nuke would take any notice of us. But he did.
14 “Do you want to go back to where you were?” he asked,
getting right into Mordecai’s face. “You poor overworked little
15 He looked at me, or rather, he raked his eyes past me, and I
felt as if two bloody slashes had opened in my face. I hated him, hated
him with that one tiny part of my gut that was not iced in terror.
16 And then he dialed up the terror until the hate froze into a
17 “Everybody stop,” St. Nuke shouted. His voice was loud,
echoing in the gigantic open space of the Bitterbox.
18 Everybody stopped and turned to stare at us.
19 St. Nuke climbed up on a small stack of pallets and spoke to
20 “We have some newens here who think that life in Punk City is
21 There were sniggers. Everybody welcomed the break, looked
forward to a show.
22 I glanced over at Mordecai. The front of his trousers had a
dark spreading stain, and I edged away from his ammoniac reek.
23 St. Nuke was playing to the crowd: “This raises an important
question, which I think we should settle right away. Namely, what
should life in Punk City be like?
24 “These newens think it should be easy.
25 “Now I’m sure this is a brand new thought to most of us. If
someone had only contributed this insight sooner, we might have been
26 Here, St. Nuke opened his black silk shirt and displayed a
hairless chest so streaked and ravaged by angry red scars as to make
one look away.
27 He spread the fingers of his left hand on his sternum, keeping
his right within inches of the scriver haft at his belt, and began to
explore the map of his wounds.
28 His fingers were long and thin, and they quivered in contact
with his flesh, as if they were feeling all the pain which had coursed
through those raised ridges and pouting puncture marks.
29 “If I had only known,” he sneered, “that these newens had a
better way, I would have done things differently. I would have made no
demands on you, or me, and we might have sat for a decade or so wrapped
in the opulent wisdom of the easy life.
30 “We could have allowed the Duke to remain in charge while we
strolled in safety under the magnanimous shade of his hammer.
31 “We could have written our bad little songs without bloodshed,
and comforted each other in the small hours with lovely, flaccid,
unscarred bodies. If we had only known.”
32 Then he turned his attention away from the laughing bands and
back to us.
33 The laughter stopped. He leaned forward from his pallet perch
and aimed one thin finger at Mordecai, Steerhead, and me.
34 “But we didn’t know,” he said with razor softness. “We thought
the easy life might be more like dying.
35 “And so we decided to learn about work and pain and words
36 “Now we know more about those than you do, which means it’s
time for you to start learning about them too.”
37 St. Nuke gestured at Zero Daze. “Take them,” he said. “Out to
the block.” Ten lashes each. Then keep them cuffed in the stocks for
twenty-four hours. If they want to leave after that, let them go.”
38 It was Trixie Slit who whipped us.
She was beautiful, like a punked-out angel of death.
38 Her arm was firm and sheened in sweat as she brought it down
again and again, erupting the fire on our backs.
39 As I said, St. Nuke is my first memory of Punk City.
It was the losers who rose up against
2 All the histories agree on this.
3 The punk rockers never had any stomach for a fight.
4 Perhaps they always knew they were transitory and terminal,
like the coma before death. What did it matter who barked the orders in
the sepulchral chambers of intensive care?
5 Their own music had taught them that power is always in other
6 The only order they saw in the universe took the form of
conspiracy, intricate merciless machines that made money behind closed
doors in office buildings where punks couldn’t even get past the
7 The Duke’s orders were at least clear and easy to follow.
8 He wanted obedient customers. He set the price. Humiliation was
always part of it. Every punk had to answer to the name “faggot.”
9 One that didn’t got a broken bottle twisted in his face and a
hammer popped—almost delicately—into his larynx. It took him
thirty-five hours to die, blind and screaming silently through a
10 The memory of that event clung to the Duke’s hammer and
radiated outward into the air of South Street. There were those who
felt this as a simple reminder to do as they were told. They did not
11 The Duke’s hammer also governed the little plastic white
packets that prevented the reminder from becoming too vivid.
12 There were others, though, who could not shake the image of
the jerking body and its hamburgered features.
13 They dreamed about jagged spires of glass invading their eyes.
14 They could see themselves held and shrieking like animals, and
they could feel themselves held and bursting in shocked, insane agony
as their eyes exploded in a final blaze of blood.
15 That crack of the bottle against the metal edge of the bar
split them, too, into themselves and some other who was watching.
16 At first the one who was watching was just a pair of eyes,
refusing to blink.
17 Then the eyes began looking about, searching, but still
refusing to blink.
18 This is only one version of the beginning.
19 There are many, but this is the one I seem to return to.
The Duke’s bikers had had Harleys, but
the punks of Punk City favored highly modified dirt bikes.
2 To me, these were as amazing as the computers, and initially at
least, infinitely more desirable.
3 Torkbikes were stripped clean of all superfluities but smoothly
bodied in featherweight plastic—yet still light enough to lift with a
4 They were beautifully, breathtakingly silent.
5 The engines and exhaust pipes were wrapped in porous, muffling
armor, and behind the battery sat a small red synthesizer box which ate
the sound of firing pistons and somehow digested it, canceled it with
anti-sonic computer chords.
6 We learned how to ride late at night on Delaware Avenue, where
the river was close enough to smell, a deep faint stench that gas fumes
couldn’t quite cover.
7 The bikes and gear allotted to the newens were discards, of
course, but we didn’t mind.
8 We felt as if we were being assembled into punks out of spare
parts and would one day be transformed into the likeness of the ones we
9 I tried to copy Johnny Dodge, who stood his wheelies straight
up, his legs straight and parallel to the chassis, his head thrust
forward like a ski flier.
10 They taught us to buckle the plexiglass shield to our lefthand
fingers, but Johnny Dodge simply held his, and so I persisted in
holding mine too, until I dropped it in a practice pass and got my head
cracked open with a padded scriver.
11 When you run so silently you can hear the blow that gets you,
hear yourself fall and scrape against the asphalt.
12 It robs you of that ghostly power which seems to be yours as
you ride with the punks who drove the Harleys from South Street.
13 This is what I think of when I hear them ask how thew punks
could have been there without anyone’s knowing about them. This is how.
14 We were the phantom force among the city’s gangs.
15 We lived and worked at night, we ran silently on bikes without
lights, and when we descended on a Harley gang, they had no chance and
rarely any memory of how they’d been hit.
16 But this is only part of who we are.
During the daylight hours, South Street
subsided into anonymity.
2 There were dayguards, of course, but you would never have seen
them unless you tried to attack the sleeping punks and their sleeping
3 I have always enjoyed imagining a solitary woman shopping on
South Street in early afternoon.
4 She picks her way down the sidewalk, high heels clipping through the
shadows of trees.
5 If she only knew what lay within ten yards of her—the packed
departments in which the punks bedded down after the night’s work, the
enormous silicon spider hibernating above its coaxial web in the Cream
King building, the King of Punk City drowsing uneasily in the Metalkort
beyond Headhouse Arcade.
6 But she does not know, and if we asked her today, she would
swear that there was no punk writer kingdom on South Street, then or
The Sandman was one of the few who
would talk to newens.
2 He ran the Bugshop on Third Street, and he also designed and
made by hand the custom input devices ordered by the best of the bands.
3 The routine work was performed mostly by newens, who learned
‘bit by bit’ about the gear that might one day give them an identity.
4 Mordecai and I drew the assignment to work for the Sandman
shortly after our whipping.
5 Steerhead returned to the Bitterbox, where he worked very
quietly on disentangling cables.
6 Things were quiet at the Bugshop, too, but it seemed like a
good kind of quiet, with plenty to do and not much need to talk.
7 The Sandman was a fat, jovial man with three strands of hair
pasted over his bald domelike head.
8 He wore a shiny leather apron with about twenty narrow pockets,
each of which sprouted three or four gleaming little tools. He looked
like a butcher of fine machinery.
9 “Computers,” he told Mordecai and me, “are sensitive. They
don’t like the things people say about them. So be polite.”
10 Then he actually lowered his voice, so the computers wouldn’t
hear his next words: “People love to say that computers are
stupid, that they don’t really think, that they’re just incredibly fast
idiots who follow instructions. I don’t want to hear either of you
saying those things.”
11 His small darty eyes looked troubled, as if he suspected us of
having said such things about computers. We hadn’t.
12 We didn’t know anything at all about computers, including what
people said about them. They’d never come up in conversation before.
13 “Computers do think,” he said, correcting our imagined heresy.
“They think the thoughts people give them, and if that makes them seem
stupid, what does it say about the people who tell them what to think?”
14 He paused, convinced of having demolished our resistance, but
determined to receive the expected concessionary reply.
15 after a spell of intense mental effort Mordecai said, “I don’t
16 The Sandman sighed. “It says that most people who think they
know something about computers are stupid.”
17 “Oh,” said Mordecai, brightening. “Insect and I don’t know
anything about computers. Does that mean we’re smart?”
18 “Just be polite,” replied the Sandman, evidently through with
explaining computers for a while.
19 He put us to work in the chip factory down in the basement.
20 That’s where I met Jody Leg.
21 She was a pretty, garrulous girl who, despite her name, seemed
unaware that her legs were heartstoppingly lovely.
22 She professed not to know why the Sandman had given her such a
short work apron, but Mordecai and I understood his wisdom in this at
23 She had small white hands that were deft with circuit boards
and soldering irons even though her mind was always elsewhere.
24 Her dream was to be in a band and spend a lot of time in the
vicinity of St. Nuke.
25 “I know he’s not handsome,” she said, “but looks aren’t
everything to a girl, you know.”
26 Mordecai and I glanced quickly at each other, suddenly
hopeful, but Jody proceeded to get depressingly specific about what it
took to attract her to a man.
Did Insect Brain ever get laid? Yes. It's always nice when there's a
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Kowtowing to the Kids
Anybody who doesn't know this
is brain-dead or a girl.
Or a college professor. Go ahead. Watch in widescreen.
TIME TO START A FIRE?
Drudge has an item about this, and various other
news outlets are covering it as well. The Drudge link is to a story
that puts a positive spin on it. To wit:
The Class of 2014 thinks of Clint
Eastwood more as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry urging punks
to "go ahead, make my day." Few incoming freshmen know how to write in
cursive or have ever worn a wristwatch.
These are among 75 items on this year's
Beloit College Mindset List. The compilation, released Tuesday, is
assembled each year by two officials at this private school of about
1,400 students in Beloit, Wis.
The list is meant to remind teachers that cultural references familiar
to them might draw blank stares from college freshmen born mostly in
Being aware of the generation gap helps professors craft lesson plans
that are more meaningful, said Ron Nief, a former public affairs
director at Beloit College and one of the list's creators.
Nief and English professor Tom McBride have assembled the Mindset List
for 13 years. They say it's given them an unusual perspective on
For example, as item No. 13 on the list says, "Parents and teachers
feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost
With far edgier content available today, such as "South Park" or online
videos that push the envelope, there's something quaint about recalling
the hand-wringing that the MTV cartoon prompted, Nief said.
"I think we do that with every generation - we look back and say, what
were we getting so upset about?" he said. "A, kids outgrow it and B, in
retrospect we realize it really wasn't that bad."
Here's the actual source.
the provenance of the
list, which is as follows, with comments of my own in square
brackets and italics:
The Beloit College Mindset List for the
Class of 2014
Most students entering college for the first time this fall—the Class
of 2014—were born in 1992.
For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and
Tony Perkins have always been dead.
1. Few in the class know how to write
in cursive. [More true than most
adults believe. Worth an essay of its own.]
2. Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail
mail. [A true and dire
development. Can't wait for publication of the "Tweets and Text Messages of the Female Poet Laureate of the U.S. of A." That'll be such a, uh, cool addition to the canon.]
3. “Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop
until you get to Asia…and learn Chinese along the way.” [A smug professorial imposition.]
4. Al Gore has always been animated.
[As in Manbearpig. Disingenuous smuggery.]
5. Los Angelinos have always been trying to get along. [A joke without a punchline.]
6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos
and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High. [And Holmes was always hunting Moriarty. Point being...?]
7. “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always
been street corner lingo. [And a "brown cow" and a "black and white malted" were indispensable to higher education in their day. Not seeing the diff.]
8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped
parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate
people with disabilities. [There have always been annoying annoyances.]
9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be
their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of
running into Miley Cyrus’s folks on Parents’ Weekend. [HAL? Isn't he the guy who fell for a fat Gwyneth Paltrow?]
10. A quarter of the class has at least one immigrant parent, and the
immigration debate is not a big priority…unless it involves “real”
aliens from another planet. [When
has this not been true? Until the word 'illegal' is used.]
11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis. [Indicator of an outrageous time trick
played repeatedly in this list.]
12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as
Dirty Harry. [Pretty sure there's a
gender gap on this one.]
13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the
voice of a lost generation. [uh,
still do. With good reason.]
14. Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine. [See Number 11.]
15. Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support
for a cause. [See Number 11.]
16. Korean cars have always been a staple on American highways. [See Number 11.]
17. Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patti the Platypus helped build
their Beanie Baby collection. [Show of hands. Who cares? At ANY age.]
18. Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess. [As if either ever mattered.]
19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their
wrists while chatting on the phone. [I'm older than dirt and even I don't remember this as any kind of issue.]
20. DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always
existed. [See Number 11.]
21. Woody Allen, whose heart has wanted what it wanted, has always been
with Soon-Yi Previn. [See Number 11.]
22. Cross-burning has always been deemed protected speech. [11.]
23. Leasing has always allowed the folks to upgrade their tastes in
24. “Cop Killer” by rapper Ice-T has never been available on a
recording. [Who? Ice-T? Never heard of him.]
25. Leno and Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing
networks. [Who? Insults? Don't you mean Stewart and Colbert?]
26. Unless they found one in their grandparents’ closet, they have
never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides. [Lucky them.]
27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive. [What's a CD-ROM? Is it anything like a 'stick'?]
28. They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a
request for the time of day. [Really?]
29. Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown. [Who's Reggie Jackson? What's Cooperstown? Is this something about Calvin Klein scents?]
30. “Viewer Discretion” has always been an available warning on TV
shows. [Warnings on TV shows. Like that shit about the FBI coming to get you? Right]
31. The first computer they probably touched was an Apple II; it is now
in a museum. [Wrong. It was in a
museum long before they were born.]
32. Czechoslovakia has never existed. [11.]
33. Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen. [Yeah, they've grown up with made-up
34. “Assisted Living” has always been replacing nursing homes, while
Hospice has always been an alternative to hospitals. [And they've grown up with political
35. Once they got through security, going to the airport has always
resembled going to the mall. [Huh?]
36. Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones. [11.]
37. Whatever their parents may have thought about the year they were
born, Queen Elizabeth declared it an “Annus Horribilis.” [Another joke without a punchline.]
38. Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. [uh, in case you weren't paying attention, college students are now girls. We don't DO baseball. Sorry.]
39. Pizza jockeys from Domino’s have never killed themselves to get
your pizza there in under 30 minutes. [Cool!! When did they do that?]
40. There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics. [Wow. Cool. Didn't know that. Didn't they always used to have things on their face back then?]
41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam. [Oh, come on.]
42. Potato has always ended in an “e” in New Jersey per vice
presidential edict. [A political
comment and nothing else.]
43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space. [See Number 41.]
44. The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while
they were still in their cribs. [What?
actual time reference without the words 'never' or 'always'?]
45. They have always had a chance to do community service with local
and federal programs to earn money for college. [Community service? Do we have to wear orange jumpsuits too? No thank you.]
46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station. [Yeah. So what?]
47. Children have always been trying to divorce their parents. [Then who would pay off the Visa charges?]
48. Someone has always gotten married in space. [Are they gay? Then what's the big deal?]
49. While they were babbling in strollers, there was already a female
Poet Laureate of the United States. [Proving only that poetry has been dead for twice their lifetimes.]
50. Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps. [Well, that's earth-shattering.]
51. Food has always been irradiated. [What? No wonder we're dumb as all fuck.]
52. There have always been women priests in the Anglican Church. [What's an Anglican Church? Is it a Gaia thing?]
53. J.R. Ewing has always been dead and gone. Hasn’t he? [Who's J. R. Ewing?]
54. The historic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia has always been a copy. [Excuse me?]
55. Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties. [Well, duh. And the significance would be...?]
56. They may have assumed that parents’ complaints about Black Monday
had to do with punk rockers from L.A., not Wall Street. ["May have"? What an odd tense to
introduce all of a sudden...]
57. A purple dinosaur has always supplanted Barney Google and Barney
Fife. [Barney Google? How old are these guys?]
58. Beethoven has always been a dog. [This
59. By the time their folks might have noticed Coca Cola’s new Tab
Clear, it was gone. [We feel pretty much the same way about Coke Zero..]
60. Walmart has never sold handguns over the counter in the lower 48. [Do they now? Where? How late are they open?]
61. Presidential appointees have always been required to be more
precise about paying their nannies’ withholding tax, or else. [And withholding tax would be...?]
62. Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always
been routine. [uh, not that much
different from having three channels to watch and nothing on.]
63. Their parents’ favorite TV sitcoms have always been showing up as
movies. [It's like sometimes they're funny. If you're stoned enough.]
64. The U.S, Canada, and Mexico have always agreed to trade freely. [That sounds like Economics. We're majoring in 'Superheroes in a Feminist Counter-Revolution Against the Secret-Identity Patriarchy.']
65. They first met Michelangelo when he was just a computer virus. [Sanctimony, pure and simple.]
66. Galileo is forgiven and welcome back into the Roman Catholic Church. [Another secularist political comment.]
67. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court. [Tell me about it. She looks even older than that.]
68. They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S. [Unless they keep up with the news about
69. The Post Office has always been going broke. [Yes. It has.]
70. The artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg has always been
rapping. [If you could call it rapping. Which we, frankly, don't.]
71. The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing. [Yup.]
72. One way or another, “It’s the economy, stupid” and always has been. [Yup2.]
73. Silicone-gel breast implants have always been regulated. [Dirty old men must have their day.]
74. They’ve always been able to blast off with the Sci-Fi Channel. [That's just plain insulting. Save it for the geeks.]
75. Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at
Indianapolis. [If you're a girl.]
I have a few observations. This list wants so much to be hip, humorous,
and provocative. And I know it means well; that is, the aging
professors who drew it up want to remind their colleagues that kids do have a different frame of
reference. Which is undeniable for anyone who knows kids, interacts
with them on a regular basis, and pays any attention to what they say,
know, and do not know.
However. I'm struck by the simultaneously obsequious and belittling
nature of the items the professors have chosen. It's obsequious because
it seems to imply that the elders are always supposed to put things to
the kids in terms that fall within the kids' presumably tiny range of knowledge
and experience. (If I treated Brizoni that way, he'd have my head on a pike and rightly so.) Belittling because it also seems to assume that the only
concept of time kids have is their own lifetimes. If the former is a
correct perspective, we may as well jettison Shakespeare from all
curriculums right now and forever. If the latter perspective is true,
Beavis and Butthead are the MOST we can ever expect from the Class of
2014. There's a third disturbing tendency in the list -- which is to
suggest to the rest of us that clicheed liberal and politically correct
orthodoxy is so ingrained in these kids that there's literally no point
in challenging it.
And there's a truly alarming assumption that today's kids have such
minimal interaction with parents and grandparents that they are
completely divorced from any sense of the continuum of American and
even human life. As if their lives have been so solipsistic that there
really isn't any time before their own births. What is has always been.
And we should somehow
endeavor to accommodate what if true, amounts to a profound and
debilitating deterioration of human consciousness.
I'll say this part straight out. If the kids in college now know
nothing of the lives and experiences of their parents and grandparents,
civilization itself is finished. Maybe it is. But the correct response
is not to cater to it. It is to dynamite it.
I'll add, though, that I don't believe most of the list. Item Number
One is the most serious, and I may write about it another day. But the
pace of change is so fast today that even the kids are aware that
technologies are coming and going all the time. Their universe is far
less static than ours was. There's no way they can't know there was a before -- including a before them. The constant refrain in the
list's litany of 'always' and 'never' is more an indictment of the old farts who
wrote it than it is relevant to the kids it's intended to serve.
What concerns me is the possibility, however remote, that the
professors who made the list are using the terms 'always' and 'never'
to signify a lack of curiosity on the part of youngsters they're trying
to teach. The kids know there was time before their appearance on
earth, but if they are wandering through life never asking themselves
or anyone else what was on Route 4 before it was lined with strip malls
and McDonalds and Pizza Huts, then, yes, we are in trouble. Much more
trouble than the flip, smug, mildly mocking tone of the list would
indicate. If there was never a Cold War, a Vietnam War, a World War II,
or a Barney Fife or a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, we are doomed.
But I think there was.
I grew up in an age when men no longer carried pocket watches. Which is
why I came to admire them over wristwatches. In time, I acquired a
couple of pocket watches and the vests and fobs and so forth that made
them seem cool to me, which I wore with the jeans and bootchains that also semed cool to me. It's natural to scavenge the past for old ideas
that can be made new again in a different context. None of us escapes
history. Even in the most evanescent media. There is no Lady Gaga
I don't even think wristwatches are done. Two reasons. There will
always be instances -- especially after you've started working for a living
-- when you want to know the time without consulting something big
enough to span the distance between ear and mouth. When just a
carefully quick and utterly discreet glance is all that's permissible.
AND there's also a soul-satisfying sensation associated with analog
time versus digital time. Digital time chops your life into a kind of
incremental countdown. It's 2:46 and then it's 2:47. With an analog
dial there's all that time in between, when it's neither 2:46 nor
2:47. That would be human time, the continuum, the ceaseless flow
We're none of us microprocessors. That's why we're human. We live in
the moments between. I can't think of any generation in human history
that's more likely to yearn for that, ultimately, than the kids of
But, then, I'm even older than the glib, condescending professors who
made up this list.
And, as always (or mostly), I conclude with this: What do you think?
Doc Zero offered an email gem:
Something tells me students at Beloit
don't get through a semester
without hearing more than they want to about "potatoe" and Female Poet
So many things to say. So many ways to get into illimitable trouble.
Pass. Just this once. And, as I told Doc Zero, I know when I've been topped.