Friday, December 19, 2014

Politically correct Christmas* carols

*I mean Holiday

Imagine that all the beloved Christmas songs we knew and sang (most of which were written by Jews) had to be politically correct, i.e., racially sensitive, or non-discriminatory.

Well, you no longer have to imagine, thanks to Paint!

Presenting "Progressive Christmas Carols":

Wishing everyone a merry ChanuMasZaa... and a Happy New Year. (It's still okay to say "Happy New Year," right?)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why all the news isn't fit to print

I started my career in magazine publishing, as a researcher/fact checker for a glossy Manhattan-based magazine. Like the narrator in Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, without all the cocaine or partying.

Back then, in the 1980s, every magazine and newspaper had a fact checker/researcher on staff, often a whole team of them, to ensure that they got stories right.

It was not a glamorous or an easy job. Often you would butt heads with writers (many of whom couldn't actually write), who would play fast and loose with the facts. (One such writer, whom I worked and butted heads with constantly, eventually took his column to The New York Times, where I doubt it's ever been fact checked.)

But fact checking was considered an essential job -- and if you did it well, not only did you feel the pride of saving the publication from a potentially messy, litigious situation, but you would eventually get promoted.

Today you would be hard pressed to find a fact checker at any publication.

Instead, for actually many years now, magazines and newspapers, especially the digital ones, have come to rely on writers, many (most?) of whom are too busy or lazy to fact check (and have never taken a journalism course or been properly trained) to check their own facts. A very scary proposition -- and why we continue to see stories blow up upon closer inspection.

But what about editors, or producers? Shouldn't they be verifying stories before they are published or aired?

Yes, yes, they should. And some do. (Albeit mostly nightly TV news producers, who know their asses will be toast if they screw up a story, especially one having to do with politicians or the government.)

But thanks to budget cuts, a 24x7 news cycle, and the constant need for more page views or higher TV ratings, there is so much pressure on news organizations to spit out the news quickly, especially sensational or breaking news, that fact checking, or in-depth research, goes out the window and door -- or is only done at a most basic level.

The sad thing is, in many (most?) cases, checking the facts doesn't require much, just asking a few questions (albeit the right ones) and requiring proof that something is, in fact, true.

But apparently that is too much work for some publications, even prominent ones, such as New York Magazine, whose story about a Bronx high school student making $72 million trading stocks during his lunch hour was quickly proven to be false (i.e., untrue), after editors and producers at other news organizations asked the teen some simple, basic financial questions, which he couldn't answer, as well as for proof, which he couldn't produce. 

However, lest you think that New York Magazine is the exception, it isn't. Just look at Rolling Stone or The New York Times, both of which have been shown to be negligent in regard to fact checking recently. (Though in the latter's case, it's been going on for some time now. Which may be why you no longer see "All the news that's fit to print" on the Times's masthead, or at least on the digital version.)

And that is why, boys and girls, you shouldn't believe everything -- or even half of what -- you read, especially online, or take it with a grain of truth.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hanukkah music spectacular

Hanukkah (or Chanukah) begins next Tuesday, December 16, at sundown. And as no winter holiday is complete without some festive holiday music, here are three Hannukah music videos sure to entertain Jews and Gentiles alike.

First up, "Hanukkah Song Mashup," from Elliot Dvorin and the Key Tov Orchestra, or as I like to think of it, "What Michael Bublé might sing this time of year if he was Jewish":

Next, a cappella group Six13 does a Chanukah spin on Taylor Swift's "Shake it off," titled "Chanukah":

And last, but not least, The Maccabeats are back with their Hanukkah spin on Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" titled "All About That Neis":

Chag Sameach!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How do you punish a teen?

So how does one go about punishing a teenager in our modern, enlightened age?

Yelling doesn't work.

And corporal punishment is out.

So what do you do when your now teenage kid acts up or breaks a rule? Do you give her a time out and send her to her room? 

Do you take away his computer and/or mobile phone and/or gaming console and/or TV privileges? What if he needs his computer to do homework -- and he needs his phone so he can text you or you him? What if you don't have a gaming console or your kid doesn't watch TV?

Can you ground kids if they are on a sports team or in a play or a concert? How does that work? 

How do you teach teens that breaking rules or promises or being irresponsible has consequences -- and punish them in a way that they won't be inclined to do whatever it is again? And to punish them in a way that hurts them more than it hurts you, without actually, you know, hurting them?

How do you drum it into their hormone-fueled, sleep-deprived brains that it's not okay to dis mom and/or dad or to blow shit off just because they don't feel like doing whatever or spaced?

And how many strikes do they get before you throw them out?

We are fortunate in that the teenager is a good kid, who, for the most part, is respectful and follows the rules. But she's still a teenager and slips up once in a while, sometimes because she just spaced. Sometimes just to zing it to mom. (And it's always mom, never dad.)

And, like many (most? all?) teenage girls, she thinks if she says she's sorry a dozen times, promises to never do whatever it was again, and, when all else fails, cries hysterically, that we will not punish her. And, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, the tactic often works, especially if her father is around.

But this morning, the teenager really scared me. Even though it was snowing and the twisty, hilly roads to school were icy, she still wanted to drive herself to school in the Mini Cooper. We let her, but only if she promised to text us the minute she got to school, to let us know she was okay.

She never texted.

I texted her a little after 8 a.m., long after she should have arrived. Nothing.

I texted her again at 8:30. No response. 

At 9 a.m., I called the school, and asked the office to page her or confirm that she had arrived at school. The woman was very sympathetic and sent someone to find the teenager. Five or six, maybe more, agonizing minutes later, she told me the teenager was in Math class. I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the woman.

Then I got mad. And I emailed the teenager that we needed to have a talk when she got home.

Two hours later, I finally received a text from the teenager, apologizing profusely. But she knew she was in big trouble, and asked if she was going to be punished, and if she promised to be on her best behavior could we not punish her this time.

I told her we wouldn't punish her this time, but that for the next week, through next Friday, every time she takes the car, she has to text or email or call me as soon as she gets to where she is going. She slips up once, she has to take the bus to and from school -- her worst nightmare -- and has her car privileges revoked for 24 hours. And do not even think of asking us to chauffeur her. She spaces a second time, that's another day of riding the bus. 

To me, that's not a big punishment, but to the teenager, it's death. (She loves driving more than anything, except cooking.) 

So, what are your thoughts on appropriate punishments for teenagers? Please let me know via a Comment.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Talk about a wrong number

As longtime registered Democrats, the spouse and I were greatly surprised, and amused, to start receiving calls during the last presidential election from various Republican candidates, the Republican party, and Mitt Romney. 

I actually picked up the phone a few times, to tell them to stop and put us on the "do not call" list, but most of the calls were robo-calls. 

If that wasn't bad enough, now we have the Tea Party calling us. (Thank Cablevision for Caller ID.)


Which made us wonder, Do these people not do their research? And if they did, are they desperate or delusional? And if the latter, do they really think that calling us during dinner or at bedtime is going to endear us to the cause?

For that matter, do any of these politicians, pollsters, survey companies, telemarketers, and nonprofits really think, especially in the age of Caller ID, that people are actually going to pick up the phone, during dinner or when they are putting kids to bed -- and give them money? (I feel a bit bad for the nonprofits, but there are other, better, less in-your-face ways of reaching people, like email.)


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Art. It does a brain good. (Releasing my inner artist.)

When (and where) I went to school, Art was a part of the curriculum, considered just as essential as English, Math, Science, History (or Social Studies), learning a second (or third) language, and Physical Education (aka Gym). Even at my tiny all-girls high school, they made time for Art (drawing, painting, pottery, etc.), if not every day, every other day. For which I am eternally grateful.

The Art room was a haven for many of us. There we could, for a little while, forget about the stress of Physics, or Chemistry, or Pre-Calc, or college applications -- and explore and enjoy our creative side.

How sad that over the years so many high schools have cut funding for the arts -- or no longer require students to take an art class. And how sad is it that so many of us who loved drawing or painting or doing pottery as kids no longer have the time or energy to do it as adults?

True, drawing and/or painting require a lot of time -- and patience. Things that we working parents typically don't have a lot of.

And why draw or paint when there are digital cameras or smart phones? Who needs a portrait when you can take a selfie?

Apparently, I do.

Last year, feeling incredibly frustrated with work and my life, I signed up for a beginner drawing class, though our adult continuing education program. Not having drawn anything, except doodles and birthday cards, for over 20 years, I was often frustrated. But I didn't drop out. (Though I did take a break from drawing when the class ended.)

However, I soon realized, I missed drawing. So this fall, I decided to take another drawing class, with the same teacher, a wonderful woman named Martha.

While drawing may not be as difficult as Physics, or Chemistry, or Pre-Calc (at least to me), it still requires an immense amount of concentration, patience, and practice. Things I don't have in abundance (if at all).

But when I am sitting in that window-filled, sun-drenched classroom, with my big pad of paper and my pencils and eraser, struggling to capture the image in front of me (inwardly, and outwardly, cursing), something amazing happens. Suddenly, I forget about everything else -- the boiler that's not working; the oven that has to be fixed; work; laundry; bills. And I am just in the moment.

Best of all, at the end of the day (or class), I have something to show for my efforts. Something I have made with my own two hands, that I can look at and say, "wow, I did this," and feel good about myself.

Art. It does a brain good.

Following are some of my favorite drawings from my Studio Art class. Next up: Colored Pencil Drawing.


"Flower Child"


"Bust of David"

"Lady Slipper Orchids"

"Still Life with Mason Jar"



Friday, November 28, 2014

Scientists prove what moms have long suspected about teens

In breaking scientific news, researchers from the Universities of Pittsburgh, California-Berkeley and Harvard claim to have scientifically proven what moms have long suspected: that the teen brain shuts down when subjected to criticism from mom.

Allow me to illustrate with this Gary Larson cartoon:

(Apparently teens and dogs are not so different, at least when it comes to criticism.)

So next time, moms (and dads) when you are criticizing your teen, and you yell at them "Are you listening to me?" The answer is, no.