Thursday, August 2

Things I Say Just To Keep The Little Voices Happy

I WAS standing in line the other day at the Modern American Supermarket--ironically, one of the best arguments I know of for starving yourself to death--and I was, as usual, being vexed, though I'd picked the best cashier-bagger combination the place has to offer. Because when the employees aren't testing what little patience you possess after fifteen minutes of being assaulted by the cleverest packaging some of our finest minds can design to obscure the barely-merchantable crap inside, some customer, with or without the aid of a cellphone, is.

The young woman in front of me had either escaped from the Express Line due to someone claiming her rightful spot at the front, or her physical exhaustion was so complete she could not manage the remaining twenty feet to get there. Whichever it was, the resulting energy savings had freed her from all earthly considerations including Time and Space Itself. Her six items were spaced, singly and regularly, across the entire available area of the mechanical grocery conveyor, and she and her cart remained stationary as the belt moved and she perused some People clone for some tidbit of some Paris news which hadn't come over her car radio on the way over. I am congenitally irritable but, I like to think, by a harnessing of will comparable to the highest levels of the martial arts, also considerate and forgiving. I try to have my selected items on the conveyor as quickly as possible, little plastic divider placed thoughtfully behind for the next happy consumer, date, payee, and signature affixed to check ahead of time. I try to grab non-sackables like milk or kitty litter as they pass the scanner, freeing the bag guy to concentrate (or not) on his task. I bag my own, happily and vigorously, when the bag guy is unavailable due to his chatting up his cousin on the next aisle. I'm seething inside, but you probably wouldn't notice unless you looked close, and I sure wouldn't hold you up.

This is rendered impossible when the person in front of one simply refuses to move until prompted a second time by the cashier for some method of payment, and one is always tempted to turn to the person behind one in line to propose a wager that the living statuary in the vanguard will take a minimum of one-hundred thirty one-Mississippis to deposit change (paper first, then coin), receipt, unused coupons, used Kleenex, glasses, breath mints, and cell phone in their various and proper slots before the cart moves again. I console myself with the knowledge that anyone who'd bet the Under on that is so simple that my conscience would bother me for days.

Anyhow, I was stuck fifteen feet behind the conveyor so long that I actually glanced at the periodicals gracing the endcaps, and I noticed Vanity Fair, the thinking person's celebrity rag. There was a nice oral history of the Simpsons, and David Halberstam's last (? !) piece, so I bought it.

The Simpsons piece contained the following:
Even conservatives have come around. "It's possibly the most intelligent, funny, and even politically satisfying TV show ever," wrote the National Review in 2000. The Simpsons celebrates many...of the best conservative principles: the primacy of family, skepticism about political authority....

Okay, maybe you recognized it, or maybe you jumped before I did. I avoid any Goldberg mention of the Simpsons like someone with a shellfish allergy avoids paella. I try to keep an open mind. It wasn't until that "skepticism about political authority" that I fully acknowledged we were once again, unmistakably, rooting around the waxy colored flakes at the bottom of the crayon box.

Jonah! I might have put the "skepticism" bit together with "in 2000" a little quicker, but the downhill slide at my age is inexorable. I briefly wondered how many Simpsons references he'd already worked into his skeptical assessment of the major anti-war critics O'Hanlon and Pollack's--who, of course, are not technically politicians, but who, of course, are technically worse--Op-Ed piece.

How does a piece of Goldbergian flatulence wind up as an example of "conservative thought?" Why is the NRO imprimatur--especially by Y2K Anno Domini--enough to bestow "conservative" cachet? The author presumably had to read enough of the piece to collect the quotes. Was that not enough of an excuse to identify Jonah as a Cheeto-flecked wanker utterly devoid of pop-culture discrimination? Does "even Cheeto-flecked wankers..." add any less of a point than the fact that Goldberg burped it up on NRO? Like I say, it's a nice little oral history, and Jonah sinks from sight after a paragraph. But what's the friggin' point? The Simpsons isn't a blatantly partisan political show. Would we say, "even conservatives like Bill Maher" just because Jonah had written, "well, readers may correct me if I'm wrong about this, but I occasionally find him funny?" It's actually hard to separate this sort of thing from "noted liberal war critics O'Hanlon and Pollack". We can't seem to tell the truth anymore, regardless of how much or how little it means. "Conservatives" were the dominant party in Congress for 2/3 of the Simpsons' first twenty years. They've held the White House for all but eight of them. Red State values dominate the map. Eighty-six percent of Americans believe Jesus is cosmically interested in what they see on teevee. Still The Simpsons has been on for two decades. Maybe Liberals just own lots of teevees. Maybe it's fucking immaterial what "even conservatives" watch, especially as explained by total morons.

Fortunately it was time for my nap.

It did remind me to mention, however, that the other night I was flipping vegetatively through late-night teevee fare when I landed on a local access tape of a seminar for small business people conducted by a guy who works in security for a check-printing company. It was surprisingly entertaining, and I was sticking around for an update on identity hacking when he started talking about pens. Specifically, about a major school test publisher looking for a replacement for the #2 pencil.

They were looking for an ink which would fill in those multiple-choice circles in an instant, saving the time it takes to color them in sufficient for grading by optical reader. The ink, of course, had to be erasable. But they wanted one which was erasable for the duration of the test and permanent thereafter.

And he was curious about why they'd need it to be permanent. Surely the possibility of students getting ahold of answer sheets and changing their answers was very slight?

It's not the students we're worried about, they told him. And they intimated that this was a very large problem nationwide and growing worse.

And I immediately thought about the remarkable, some might say unbelievable one-year test-score improvements shown by some of Indianapolis' plethora of new charter schools. But then, I'm skeptical about non-politicians as well. Especially right before nap time.


John deVille said...

I am a high school teacher in NC, which along with Texas, Florida, and Virginia was the proving ground for the current standardized test mania. When we started I was allowed to give my students the standardized test solo. Five or so years ago, the state mandated that we utilize proctors to make sure we weren't cheating (because a lot of teachers and schools were). Seeing that this wasn't enough to stop the problem, this past year we were required to fill out the stuff like projected final grade on the student's answer sheet in the presence of two other people to make sure we weren't changing answers at the same time. And starting with this fall's exams, teachers will no longer be allowed to test their own class and probably not within their own discipline. Of course, loopholes still abound and the truly committed will still find ways to manipulate data up their career ladder to the Office of Special Plans.

Anonymous said...

How does a piece of Goldbergian flatulence wind up as an example of "conservative thought?"

That seems like a rhetorical question?

Incidentally, I leave the cat litter and Tab in the cart with the bar code pointed in the direction of the checker, also I stack the cat food by flavor and advise them to scan the top one four times. And the market we go to now has signs on the express lane which say "Around Ten Items". I gather they're sick of having people rat each other out for eleven items.

Porlock Junior said...

Too much synchronicity going around. I was just over at Sadly No, reading a thread that was largely about my old home town of Oakland.

Then I come here, and it's schools cheating on tests. Well, Okaland has that, too.

UPrep was doing a good job at getting kids from behind-the-8-ball backgrounds into colleges, until it turned out they were falsifying transcripts and stuff like that. Next thing you know, somebody else will get caught.

Judging from Oakland's experience, it may not be good to put a school in the hands of a fearless high achiever who has not expserience in education and a record that shows him as a bully and cheat.