Friday, March 28, 2014

I so Pledge

Do you remember, in elementary school, when the teacher would cover a unit, and then with all measure of pomp and circumstance, would pass out a paper for all the students to sign? Perhaps after a unit on nutrition, students would sign a pledge to eat healthy, or after learning about communities, each student may have signed a pledge to be a better neighbor. Or perhaps after a unit in math class, students signed an agreement to practice their multiplication tables.

As a side note, when my daughters would come home from elementary school, I often admonished them to “Be fruitful and multiply.” They would look at me quizzically and ask, “What do you mean?” To which I would reply, “Eat an apple and do your math homework!”

As I have added a few years to my life, and a degree in Psychology to my resume, it is now quite clear to me that these pledges are meant to manipulate behavior. It is a very good thing to eat healthy, be a better neighbor, and know how to multiply. Having a student sign a pledge is a small commitment that, hopefully, encourages the individual to comply with the commitment.

The alternative is to mandate a behavior, and nobody likes to be told what to do. Early in my adult working life, a flyer was put in my mailbox at work. It was an invitation to a class on how to write documentation properly. The flyer was full of examples of good documentation (which is very important in the human services field), and I became more excited about signing up to go to the class. As I finished reading the photcopied flyer, I noticed the little note that our director had penned on the flyer, before she copied them and put them all in our mail boxes.

“This training is Mandatory for all Vocational Services Staff.”

When I read that, I crumpled the paper into a ball, walked past the recycling bin, and threw it in the garbage, mumbling angrily to myself about how stupid the class sounded and how much I resented being told I had to go to this class. At that moment I wouldn’t have gone to that class if they paid me to go, but I did, becuase I was mandated and they paid me.

In the program I work in currently, we have twice monthly staff meetings -- mandatory twice monthtly staff meetings. In our most recent staff meeting, we were reminded that the individuals we work with are people first. We should not define them by a deficit or a disabilitly, nor to treat them as children; we should treat them as adult people.

Then with glee, we were handed a pledge to sign, complete with curly-que border and a faux seal, signifying our commitment to treating the people we work with as adult people.

And suddenly, I flashed back to elementary school and felt very much like a child.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Is There Really a Conspiracy?

Conspiracies are everywhere. I am sure that someone in my house deliberately leaves the top of the Men's Multivitamins loose after taking their vitamins in the morning. They do this, to watch me pick up the bottle by the cap and have it fall back to the counter. I jump to grab the bottle in order to keep it from spilling all over the kitchen. When I accuse my wife and three daughters of sabotaging my vitamin taking regimen by leaving the top loose, they just roll their eyes and point out I am the only male in the house.

I still say it is a conspiracy against me.

Conspiracy theories capture my attention, mostly because they make for good books, movies, or television. Hollywood, and the rest of the entertainment industry, would have us believe that Yeti (Abominable Snowman) and its North American cousin, Sasquatch (Big Foot) are actually from another planet, or monsters from a different dimension, banished to wander Earth after committing some crime. People would rather believe the conspiracy theroies, rather than think that these creatures are hoaxes perpetrated by pranksters, or the misperceptions of an overactive imagination.

There is website after website that "expose" these conspiracies. Some websites say the government has lifesaving drugs - drugs that could even cure cancer - and that the government keeps these drugs secret, out of the public's hands. Let me point out that the government spends billions of dollars every year to keep us healthy. In between the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control, and the National Institute of Health, the government seems to have ranked the health of it’s citizens as a high priority.

Let me point out, lest you think that Big Brother has developed a soft spot for us little people, that only healthy, living people can work and pay taxes; the infirm and dead cannot work and pay taxes. It is, therefore, in the government’s best interest to not keep medicines out of the public’s hands; especially a cure for cancer.

The latest conspiracy theories revolve around the missing Malaysian MH370, a Boeing 777, that was en route from Malaysia to China. One British paper, the “Sunday Sport” claims that the jetliner has somehow made it too the moon, defying international law and the laws of physics.

Other theories espouse the possibility that someone wanted to steal the plane. Stealing it is probably easy, compared to finding or building a place to land it where no one would see it land, and a large enough building to store it where no one would look for it either. It would seem that it would be easier and less expensive to simply buy a large jet, than go through the trouble of landing and hiding it.

I believe that when the missing plane is found, the explanation for what happened to it will be less farfetched than the present conspiracy theories. I do not believe these theories as they are too implausible.

Let me wrap this up, because I need to go to the airport. There is a Malaysian airliner, piloted by a Yeti, and carrying the cure for cancer, that is about to land. I have to see it to believe it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

How did I Escape Vulcan Unscathed?

I dislike writing about the same themes week after week in my blog. It brings back memories of elementary school and the mind-numbing busy work teachers sometimes gave students to keep them occupied. I would have much preferred that some of those teachers kept their word searches, math worksheets, and color-by-number worksheets to themselves and had simply let me read from the books they had in the room. Reading is a flipping good time, after all.

However, this week I am going to write about the weather, again.

I live in a suburb of Rochester and here we have a saying about the weather, “If you don’t like it, wait a minute.” This week’s weather is a prime example of why we say that. Tuesday was one of those amazing spring days. The sun was bright and hot, and there was just the slightest hint of a breeze. The air smelled like freshly melting snow. I, especially after my commitment last week to immerse myself in the weather, was tempted to pack away my coat, hat, and boots and break out the shorts, especially when the thermometer indicated it was 64 degrees. (For those of you in the civilized world, 64 degrees is around 18 C.)

This was even while the National Weather Service was monitoring a rebellious batch of cold air fleeing Canada and invading the States.

The National Weather Service had issued a Winter Weather Advisory early on and the Weather Channel promptly named it Vulcan. It was strange, talking about the potential for a winter storm when the thermometer said spring was here. By early Tuesday morning, the Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning. The topic of conversation for everyone that Tuesday was whether the storm would really be as bad as all the Precipitation Prognosticators said it would be, or whether it would fizzle into an over-blown snow flurry.

By 8:30 that night, I was overjoyed to announce to my co-workers that the Winter Storm Warning had been cancelled. They were overjoyed and quickly took an “these people are over reacting” stance towards all the Weather Wizards and all the schools and businesses that had closed. Waiting until just the right lull in the conversation, I interjected, “They issued a Blizzard Warning to replace the storm warning.”

The response was immediate and overwhelming; “I TOLD you so, I knew it was going to be bad.”

And it was bad. The Weather Channel sent Mike Seidel in to town to cover the weather. By the way, if you caught the coverage on TV and are not from these parts, Irondequoit, is a suburb to the north east of Rochester and on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Irondequoit is not pronounced, I ron dee kwat, it is pronounced, Eh ron duh coit.

I awoke around 8 am on Wednesday and immediately reached for my phone. Then I remembered my commitment to eschew technology (at least a little bit) and immerse myself in weather. I took a baby step and peeked out the window; it was just beginning to snow.

By 1:00 pm, the weather had reached blizzard criteria, there was a State of Emergency in place (with no unnecessary travel) and I decided to snow blow the drive way and then go to work. My boss thought it was necessary that I worked. After working a 16 hour shift, shoveling three times, then yet again to get my car out of the prison of snow the plow contractor seemed to gleefully construct around my vehicle, I was finally able to go home. 

What did I do when I got home? Snow blowed the driveway of course.

Photo by Eldest, @pianowoman94

Later that afternoon, I was able to sit back with a cup of coffee and read the news. It appears that there were a fair number of people who actually made the trip to see the Weather Channel live shots.

People watch the Weather Channel’s on the scene reporters to see and hear about the bad weather. Suddenly they were driving on dangerous roads, standing out in the middle of a blizzard, so they could see and hear this reporter tell them about the bad weather.

They went to see and hear someone tell them how bad the weather was...

I give up.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How has Technology Changed the Weather?

This past week, while driving school bus, I pulled up to a house in an upper middle class section of the school district, to pick up a student who is attending a private school a few towns away. The young man exited his home, walked past two moderately expensive vehicles, and checked his smart phone for Facebook updates as he got on the bus. The temperature outside was hovering around zero Fahrenheit, and the wind was blowing around 10 miles per hour, resulting in a wind chill of sixteen below zero.

It was dangerously cold, and he was wearing shorts, t-shirt, and sneakers. No coat, hat, or gloves. 
And this scene is common amongst teenagers all across the country.

What drives this behavior? Why do todays young people, the leaders of tomorrow, dress in a manner so unsuitable to the weather?

It is, without any doubt, the fault of technology.

My mother and father made sure that my siblings and I learned first hand about dressing appropriately for weather conditions by immersing us in nature and the outdoors. In the brutal winters of years gone by, my mother would make sure we were dressed in hats, coats, snowpants, mittens, and boots, then she would send us outside. She would tell us to commune with nature, to feel the cold wind on our cheeks, and the sense of accomplishment as we cleared the driveway and sidewalks of snow before we ate dinner.

Often she didn’t use those words, she would say, “Get out of this house, you are driving me crazy."
In the summer, we went out side in shorts, lightweight shirts, and sometimes sneakers, but more often with bare feet. My father always made sure we drank plenty of water, for that was his cure for everything.

We were immersed in the weather, as were all children.

Then came video games, and children stayed inside to play with little dots bouncing off white lines. As the years have passed, technology has only strengthened its hold. Computers, the internet, and smart phones have all dragged us away from experiencing meteorological marvels of the outdoors.

I have felt this hold. Last summer, after working an exceptionally late night, I awoke in the later morning to hear what sounded like water falling from the sky, onto the house, and splashing against the window next to my bed. I grabbed my phone, opened a weather app, checked the radar, and confirmed it was raining.

I did not pull back the blinds and peek outside to see if it was raining.

I opened an app--I opened an app and checked the radar.

I have determined to shake off technology this summer. To go outside in shorts, t-shirt, and bare feet. To re-acquaint myself with the wonder of weather.

Why wait until summer you ask?

Because it is way too cold to go outside in shorts and a t-shirt right now!