Commentary 17 Apr 2014 05:54 pm

Size-10 missile of protest

Hillary Clinton has become the latest politician to duck a flying shoe.

She follows in the … uh, footsteps of George W. Bush, Tony Blair and a few others in recent years who have displayed fancy footwork to dodge footwear hurled in anger. Clinton’s run-in occurred at a meeting of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Vegas last week when a woman took (bad) aim and fired an orange and black athletic shoe at the former secretary of state.

I have to admit, I don’t know why anybody would want to throw a shoe. I get that it’s considered an insult in some cultures, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to leave the scene of the crime with only one shoe, and likely in the back of a police cruiser, to boot. (Oh, the shoe jokes are easy today, boys and girls.)

I can’t speak for anybody other than myself, but I’ve never — not even when the boss won’t give me a raise or the wife demands I mow the yard — had a burning urge to chuck a shoe in anybody’s direction.

For one thing, I keep my laces tied so tightly that I’d first have to untie them, which would defuse much of my anger, or at the very least redirect it toward the double-knot at my ankles.

Secondly, I still remove my shoes like a 7-year-old, which means that I hop up and down on one leg while extracting the shoe from the opposite foot. I imagine I’d be such a spectacle, bobbing and weaving around a press conference, that security could easily apprehend me before I threw my first pitch. (Clinton’s attacker got around this by keeping an extra shoe in her purse. Not quite sure how she got it past security.)

Thirdly, my feet stink. If I threw a shoe in anybody’s direction, collateral damage would do more harm than the Size 10 projectile ever would. I would probably be charged not only with attempted assault, but with chemical warfare. The headlines alone — “Man Uses Shoe, Mustard Gas To Protest Fracking” and “Shoe-Assailant Rendered Unconscious By His Own Weapon” — would be mortifying.

And finally, shoes are expensive. Maybe Clinton’s would-be assailant found her shoe on sale or picked it up at Goodwill, but I would think protesters could find something less pricey with which to make a stand. Maybe Nerf footballs, those little green army soldiers, or birdies from a badminton set?

But if nothing I’ve said here discourages you from lobbing one or more shoes toward an elected official to protest the plight of the red-cockaded woodpecker or the outsourcing of American jobs (which is kind of ironic when you think of all those little Asian kids sewing themselves blind to make our footwear), here are a few tips:

1. When possible, throw only shoes secured with Velcro. This will make your point stick.

2. If you must throw laced shoes, tie both of them together and twirl over your head like a bola before letting loose. It also helps to scream something unintelligible in a foreign language to make yourself sound more like a ninja, even though bolas are Spanish and ninjas aren’t.

3. Have a spare pair of shoes to help you make a quick getaway or to serve as a plausible cover story if security can’t find you right away. Remember, the person with just one shoe is automatically suspect.

4. Try to be clever. Throw Crocs at politicians speaking at a slow-cooker convention. Throw stilettos during keynote speeches of the American Kennel Club or the American Medical Association. (”Heel!” or “Heal!” — get it?)

5. If protesting some liberal policy that violates your religious or capitalistic principles but brings equality to countless thousands of people (like same-sex marriage or a living wage), be sure to spell out “God have mercy on your S-O-U-L” so as to avoid confusion with the bottom of the object you are about to throw. Mixed messages are bad.

6. And, for the love of all that’s good in the world, use Odor Eaters. Unless you’re protesting poor working conditions at the Odor Eaters plant, in which case, throw baking soda, scream “Powder to the people!” and have a good attorney on speed dial.

Chris Schillig, who can be reached at chris.schillig@yahoo.com or @cschillig on Twitter, doesn’t really advocate throwing shoes at anybody, least of all politicians. This disclaimer absolves him of any liability should readers do something stupid. Not that they would. But just in case.

Originally published April 17, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

Comic books & Movies 11 Apr 2014 08:38 pm

Shake it like a Paramount picture

I saw the new Captain America movie last weekend.

It’s big and loud and everything you’d want in a summer popcorn movie subtitled “The Winter Soldier” that comes out after winter and more than two months before summer. It’s subtle and thoughtful in places, but you’re always just a few minutes away from an explosion, if that sort of thing is important to you.

Twenty years ago, “Captain America” would have been the kind of movie that Marvel Comics fans could only dream of. Back then, DC had successful Superman and Batman franchises to crow about, but the best that Marvel fans could do was remember the ’70s “Incredible Hulk” TV show where Lou Ferrigno’s green body paint dripped whenever it came into contact with water and some old Spider-Man cartoons that used the same animation over and over.

So I feel like a curmudgeon for mentioning even one little flaw in the new Captain America film, especially because it’s a shortcoming in many other films as well: shaky-camera syndrome.

If you’ve been to the movies at any time since “The Blair Witch Project” in 1999, you’ve likely come into contact with shaky-cam. Cinephiles know the technique as “subjective camera,” meant to replicate queasy, stomach-churning motion, all the better to invest a movie or sequence with a sense of reality.

“Blair Witch” uses it to good effect, although the media was filled with stories about people who claimed to become violently ill from watching jiggling footage of kids running around in the woods. Other memorable shaky-cam productions include “Cloverfield” (about a giant monster) and “The Bourne Ultimatum” (a modern-day spy flick with Matt Damon).

The latter is what made me question shaky-cam. When a filmmaker uses the technique in something like “Blair Witch” or “Cloverfield,” where one or more characters carry handheld cameras and the audience is supposed to be watching “found” footage, it works, albeit nauseatingly. It’s similar to the epistolary technique in literature, where an entire book is made up of one character’s letters or journal entries; or to the stream-of-consciousness technique in some modernist novels that purport to get deep inside a character’s head, usually at the expense of plot.

But when shaky-cam started to invade big-budget movies, I cried foul. Why wouldn’t audiences want to see clearly the meticulous action sequences and stunts in “The Bourne Ultimatum” or the expensive sets and costuming in the first “Hunger Games” film?

Instead of pulling me deeper into movies, shaky-cam now takes me right out. And the more that follow-the-bouncing-frame is overused — in sci-fi and horror and westerns and all over TV, especially in action and adventure shows — the more egregious it becomes.

Used (very) sparingly, shaky-cam still can be effective, but it’s seldom used sparingly. Instead, fans are subjected to entire sequences and sometimes whole films that look as though the camera operator had been attacked by a swarm of killer bees when the director yelled “Action!” and was intent on killing each and every one by swatting them with his lens.

In “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” I had hoped to spot some Cleveland backgrounds here and there. Forget that. I was too busy figuring out who was hitting whom in one-second microclips and avoiding motion sickness.

Maybe movie tickets these days should come with complimentary Dramamine. Either that or directions on how to empty your popcorn on the floor and use the empty tub as a barf bag.

And with Spider-Man, the X-Men, Godzilla and many others waiting in the wings, we might need fewer reminders to silence our cellphones and more signs that say, “Fasten your seat belts.” It’s going to be a long, turbulent summer.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published April 10, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 03 Apr 2014 05:44 pm

Waiting is as American as apple pie

If this week were a baseball game, we could call it Obamacare: Extra Innings.

Anybody who works with the public knew that officials would have to extend the March 31 deadline to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. This has nothing to do with politics, mismanagement, sluggish websites or other controversies stemming from the troubled law. It has everything to do with human nature.

Put simply: We are a species of procrastinators.

Procrastination is why flash mobs descend on libraries and post offices on April 15 for income tax forms, even though they’ve had three and a half months to complete their returns. These aren’t people who are racing to mail their taxes, perhaps holding out on a payment to Uncle Sam until the last minute. No, these are poor souls who are only now starting the process, which includes gathering W-2s, bank statements, and all other documentation ahead of a long, sleepless night of crunching numbers and downing Excedrin and Jim Beam in equal quantities.

As a teacher, I know all about procrastination. No matter how long the lead time on an assignment, a good percentage of students will wait too long to start it, with many getting underway the night before or even the morning it’s due.

It doesn’t matter if homework has a three-month or three-hour lead time. Regardless, the majority of students will wait until the proverbial 11th hour to begin. Then when the deadline is compounded — as it inevitably is — by printer and Internet glitches, illness, or an overwhelming desire to watch every televised moment of March Madness, it’s time to break out the litany of lies.

Pinkeye, car troubles, golfball-sized hail, runaway pets, unexpected weddings and surprise tickets to see a Guns N’ Roses concert are all excuses that have been floated by procrastinating students, often with trembling voices and the glimmer of impending tears in their eyes.

I had an adult student several years ago who I would swear lost the same great-grandmother three times during one semester. It was the most amazing thing: She always succumbed the night before a major paper was due — once to cancer, once to a heart attack, and once to a bizarre four-wheeling accident.

OK, I made up that last demise while I was daydreaming during the student’s lengthy description of yet another slobbery, bedside farewell straight out of “Brian’s Song.” If I taught a fiction class, I would have failed him for the preponderance of cliches alone. Since I teach a class in nonfiction composition, however, I gave him one more day and one more chance. I’m pretty sure he was still writing the paper — which, it almost goes without saying, was horrible — as I walked through the door and greeted him at the start of the next class, five days later.

Such is the power of procrastination.

So, yes, many Americans are going to wait as long as humanly possible to visit healthcare.gov and sign up. A click of a button gets them an extension with no excuse needed, so the Obama administration won’t have to hear 6 million variations on the dog-ate-my-homework story, one of the few smart moves they’ve made during this troubled rollout.

For those who really procrastinate, an extension of the extension exists, but only if they phone a federally sponsored call center and select from a narrow list of excuses. On the approved list are new baby, divorce, loss of job with health insurance and technical glitches. The Washington Post says that these excuses are approved through “self-attestation,” which means that the government assumes all callers are telling the truth. That’s a big assumption, but why not?

After all, it’s the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs, and Uninsured American Procrastinators are down by three. Let’s hope the guy with the continually dying and miraculously reviving great-grandmother isn’t up to bat.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published April 3, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 27 Mar 2014 09:05 pm

Scoring points for sitting

Chances are good you will see somebody else’s name in this space within the next six years.

That’s because I’ll be dead before then, according to my horrible score on a sitting-and-standing test in the April issue of Reader’s Digest.

Granted, most Reader’s Digest readers will likely be dead in the next six years. The magazine’s demographics don’t exactly skew young.

But I’m talking about a specific article, “Can You Pass the Longevity Test?” by Becky Lane, reprinted from Discover magazine in November. The test involves going from a standing position to an Indian-style sitting position on the floor and then back again.

Not that the magazine ever uses the expression “Indian-style.” Part of the fun of reading the piece — maybe the only fun — is observing the verbal gymnastics the writer uses to not say “Indian style.” If it weren’t for the pictures, I’d never know exactly what I was supposed to do.

Digression: I get that “Indian” has fallen out of favor and that “Native American” is the preferred descriptor. I also understand that caricatured drawings of Native Americans, such as Cleveland’s much-criticized Chief Wahoo, are culturally insensitive and long overdue for retirement.

Still, I can’t imagine that “Indian style” is offensive, as it does not denigrate Native Americans but merely describes a sitting position, which is similarly non-offensive.

But what do I know? I’m going to be dead in six years, anyway.

End of digression.

So I spent about 15 minutes trying to go from standing to sitting position. The sitting part wasn’t too hard, although I went down on the floor so hard that I made the coffee table in the living room jiggle and probably broke my gluteus maximus. (I know I did some damage because now it has a crack.)

At this point, the dog became interested, came over and sat on me. I think he was offended that I had used the term “Indian style” to explain the exercise to my wife and was attempting to kill me. Don’t worry, buddy, I’ll be dead before 2020 and then you’ll have the floor to yourself.

Still, I managed this part of the exercise without losing even one of my allotted five points.

Next came standing up. The article says to add five more points to your sit-down score before attempting.

I rocked to the left and the right, my arms flailing like a squid. (Did I mention that you’re not supposed to use your arms for support? Well, you’re not.) Finally, I mustered the courage to push off with both crossed feet, which sent me pinwheeling backward, out of the living room and into the dining room, like a high-flying kite that suddenly experiences a strong downward shift in wind.

I caught myself with my left hand, but not before I thumped my already cracked gluteus and my head on the hardwood floor, feeling a lot like Wile E. Coyote after he’s just been painfully foiled in another fruitless Road Runner pursuit.

My wife, meanwhile, was laughing so hard that she almost aspirated on an animal cracker. Kids, don’t try this at home.

The end result is that I could stand only by using one hand on the floor and the other on my knee while pushing off with one leg. Each of these offenses equaled a one-point deduction, bringing my final score to seven. Anything less than an eight means I’m twice as likely to die in the next six years as those who scored better. It’s like the kid who’s one point off the qualifying ACT score to be admitted to his favorite college, but with a casket instead of a sheepskin for the prize.

All of which makes me wonder: Who sits around, Indian-style or otherwise, and makes up these goofy tests? Who is the first person who saw somebody sitting cross-legged on the floor and said, “Hey, I wonder how that correlates with life expectancy, and I wonder if somebody will give me a big, juicy grant to study it?”

I’m going to initiate a test of my own. I hypothesize that people who ignore goofy magazine tests that require them to flail about in their living rooms, be sat on by dogs, sustain concussions and give their wives the Heimlich maneuver will live longer than people who are dumb enough to take such tests.

Anybody want to give me a million dollars or two to find out?

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

cschillig on Twitter

Originally published March 27, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Media 20 Mar 2014 11:07 pm

Funny business with the president

About three and a half minutes into an interview with Zach Galifianakis, President Obama tips his hand and mentions “healthcare-dot-gov.”

“Here we go,” sighs Galifianakis. “Let’s get this out of the way. What did you come here to plug?”

It’s not the way an interviewer should address the president, but this is no normal interview. Instead, it’s an example of something we see far too little of in politics and the media these days: humor.

The latest episode of Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns,” posted last week, features a spirited give-and-take between the comedian/actor and the leader of the free world. Its humor depends on how much the viewer likes Galifianakis and/or Obama.

I can take him or leave him. Galifianakis, that is. Apparently, a lot of people feel the same way about Obama, judging from his dismal 41 percent approval rating.

The interview is funny. The duo does indeed sit between the two titular ferns, verbally fencing over vital national issues, such as Obama’s basketball skills and whether he will build his presidential library in Hawaii or in what Galifianakis calls his “home country of Kenya.” (This last exchange likely had “birthers” foaming at the mouth — “At last, somebody asks the hard questions!”)

It also gives Obama a chance to sell the Affordable Care Act to those healthy young Americans on whose shoulders his law will prosper or wither. Some critics might see this as an indication of desperation — really, the president had to go on an Internet talk show, the digital equivalent of a community-access cable program, to plug his federal health care law?

But there’s a method in Obama’s madness. By Sunday, the segment had been viewed 17 million times, and a direct link to healthcare.gov lurks right below the clip on the Funny or Die website. That’s a lot of eyeballs for a six-and-a-half-minute interview. If even a few of those viewers, many of whom might never sit still for a more serious presidential interview on “60 Minutes,” click over to the government site to learn more before the March 31 deadline, maybe it was worth sparring over diabetic shoes.

In a kinda-sorta-related pop-culture occurrence, comedians Keegan-Michael Lee and Jordan Peele, better known as Key & Peele, scored the front cover of this week’s Time magazine. The annual “Ideas Issue” finds the two men waxing almost eloquent on the topic of humor and the importance of making fun of everything.

“When a humorist makes the conscious decision to exclude a group from derision, isn’t he or she implying that the members of that group are not capable of self-reflection?” they write. “… A group that’s excluded never gets the opportunity to join in the greater human conversation.”

I’d like to think that includes U.S. presidents, who are roasted regularly on SNL and other late-night programs but who seldom have the chance to poke fun at themselves. Some people think such shenanigans demean the office of the president, but in a world where George Dubaya wore a codpiece on the deck of an aircraft carrier in 2003 or gave the German chancellor a creepy back massage in 2006, we doubt that a little ribbing about drones with Galifianakis will do any damage.

If the executive office — and the nation — survived 12 years with two Bushes, it certainly can withstand six minutes amid two ferns.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published March 21, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Family life 13 Mar 2014 10:38 am

Memories of home remedies

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Sometimes I’m amazed that I survived my childhood.

I didn’t grow up in the golden age of home remedies, but just slightly thereafter, perhaps in the slow sunset of that era. It was long before this current age, certainly, when running to the doctor for every hangnail and cough is the default setting for most parents. I bet I survived any number of horrible diseases — diphtheria, whooping cough and dengue fever among them — without anybody making formal diagnoses. This is probably true for anybody over the age of 35.

Back in the dark ages when Jimmy Carter was president and Elvis had morphed from a pelvis-rattling rebel into a fat, sad man in a sequined jumper, parents didn’t have access to WebMD, 24-hour hotlines and fancy phone apps to pinpoint a child’s illness the way smart bombs hone in on Middle Eastern targets today. Instead, they had to work with the tools at hand.

For my mother, these tools consisted of McNess Mentholated Ointment, an old sock and sticks of butter. Any sore throat or respiratory problem could be cured with a combination of these elements, and often with all three.

I don’t know if you can still buy McNess. My guess is that the government banned it around the same time as DDT, but Mom squirreled away a lifetime supply in the basement, next to the strychnine-laced rat traps. McNess came in circular, red-and-gold tins, one of which could last for approximately seven years, no matter how often it was used. The ointment was a thick, viscous yellow, like phlegm in an old man’s handkerchief.

As kids, my sister and I would go to ridiculous lengths to disguise a sore throat. I can remember practically turning blue at the dinner table to avoid coughing, for fear that the dry hack would be occasion for Mom to break open a tin of torture the way a boxer opens a can of whoopass on his weaker rival.

Sometimes, I’d pretend to whisper to hide impending laryngitis, or practice flexing my throat muscles to tamp down the urge to sneeze, or quickly dart my tongue up into my nostrils to wipe away the telltale drainage, lest sickness be discerned there.

Despite my best efforts, though, illness was always found out, in which case came the trifecta of terror. First, Mom would rub McNess all over my chest and throat, massaging it in with broad, firm strokes. Next, she would wrap an old sock around my neck, secured with a safety pin, the better to seal the salve, which announced itself through a pungent odor that sent the dog scurrying from the vicinity.

Then it was off to bed, even if it were 7 p.m., with the door closed, copious covers piled atop me and a vaporizer — Mom’s only concession to 20th century medicine — running at full blast. If I survived until morning, that meant school.

But school could only be faced with the help of the third item on the list, the aforementioned butter stick, melted into liquid on the stove and fed one spoonful at a time to the complaining victim. The objective, she said, was to coat the throat — a piece of rhyming doggerel that she no doubt learned from a voodoo medicine man who practiced near her childhood farm in Maximo — and prevent future coughing.

If I was lucky, I’d be given a few Smith Brothers cough drops to carry in my pocket to class, in case the all-night McNess treatment, respiratory-choking sock and butter didn’t do the trick. The goal was always to keep me healthy enough to face another day of elementary drudgery.

Smith Brothers, you may note, is not even considered medicine today. Instead, it is shelved with the candy. In other words, my entire war against pneumonia, strep throat, raging sinus infections and any number of other medical woes was fought with a variation of motor oil, a tube sock, a dairy product and some sugar-laced placebos.

Amazingly, I lived. More amazingly, I tried some of these remedies on my own child. But the first time I melted a stick of butter in the microwave and tried to feed it to my daughter, my wife threatened to call Child Protective Services.

Instead, we went to the doctor.

I suppose that was for the best. My childhood toughened me considerably, but it’s an entirely different century and millennium these days. Although part of me wishes I could enter “sore throat” and “hacking cough” into Google and see the words “McNess” and “white sock” pop up as treatments.

For one thing, it would be a heck of a lot cheaper.

Chris Schillig, who can be reached by email at chris.schillig@yahoo.com and on Twitter at cschillig, actually had a very good

childhood, as long as he stayed healthy.

Originally published March 13, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & education 06 Mar 2014 05:46 pm

How politicians should talk about teachers*

Always use the word “disgruntled” or “bitter.”

Never talk about a teacher smiling, unless he or she has received an award, in which case you should note that the educator is exceptional and not typical of the profession.

Remind constituents that most teachers bolt for their cars at the end of the day. Don’t talk about the ones who show up long before sunrise or stay well after the final bell has rung.

Be sure to mention that teachers have three months off. Never say that they spend that time taking classes to make themselves better teachers and working a second — or third — job to make up the difference between their salaries and those of other professions requiring similar training.

It’s also best not to mention that the average teacher’s grading and lesson planning during the school year cancels out most of those three “vacation” months. Nobody wants to hear about that anyway.

In your speeches, be sure to talk about how most teachers are members of unions, and that unions exist solely to get more money for their members. Avoid any mention of how teachers’ unions fight for smaller class sizes to benefit children and for creative curriculums to combat the steady encroachment of standardized testing.

Similarly, remember that teaching is easy. Who couldn’t stand in front of a room five days a week, read aloud from a book, and hand out worksheets? What teachers in their right minds would spend time crafting a powerful lesson about human rights, or leading a class to discover the beauty of poetry, or working with students after school to master the intricacies of calculus?

Don’t hesitate to mention that technology has made teachers’ lives much easier: Calculating grades can be done with the push of a button. But the time teachers spend educating kids on how to use technology responsibly, or tracking down cyber bullies, or consoling students whose boyfriends or girlfriends have just broken up with them by text message … well, that just goes with the job.

Remember that teachers don’t work on snow days but instead hang around the house in their pajamas, playing on Facebook and watching movies at taxpayers’ expense. They certainly don’t spend any of that time reconfiguring lessons to ensure that learning targets are still met. Teachers might also be responsible for spreading water on roads in the middle of the night to ensure a day off, so of course it’s fair that they work extra in the summer to make up for any time they’ve missed.

Your list of typical educators should include teachers who spend most of the day in the lounge, eating free food from the cafeteria; teachers who belittle and embarrass students; and teachers who never, ever give a kid a break.

Absent from this list should be teachers who call home to check on students when they don’t show up to school; teachers who spend money out of their own pockets to buy lunch, clothing, and even Christmas and birthday gifts for students; and teachers who counsel and seek extra help for young people who write about cutting, killing or medicating themselves.

If you must reference teachers who have the nerve to say that socioeconomic factors impact student achievement, be sure to follow up with a quote from an expert — defined as somebody who graduated from any school in the last 70 years — who talks about how it’s a poor craftsman who blames the tools and how a superior teacher can, in just 45 minutes a day, overcome all barriers created by social and financial inequalities that have lasted for generations.

And never, ever, give credence to the belief that a student’s academic performance has anything to do with the emphasis his or her parents place on education. Because, remember, students won’t keep you in office. Parents will.

Biting the hand that votes is bad for business.

* This column owes its genesis and structure to Binyavanga Wainaina’s 2005 essay,”How to Write About Africa.” Google it.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Commentary & Family life 27 Feb 2014 03:17 pm

Smarter than the average bear

I saw a picture in the newspaper recently of a man wearing a bear suit, dancing with some folks at an area business.

It wasn’t a Yogi Bear or Baloo the Bear or Berenstain Bear suit, either. Just some generic bear with really big bear eyes and head. It was a little grisly, I have to tell you.

As a kid, I hated when people dressed in big, fuzzy costumes. Mickey and Donald might be all cuteness and light when animated, but make them into papier mâché heads here in the real, three-dimensional world and they are trés creepy.

I think my costumed fear factor stems from an episode of the television show “Emergency,” where rescue workers responded to a distress call at an amusement park and found a costumed employee suffering from heat stroke. He was passed out on the sidewalk with his white, clammy head protruding like an albino balloon from inside a furry costume. It might even have been a bear costume.

(Apropos of nothing, I had an “Emergency” lunchbox in grade school. It was one of those weighty metal kinds that you could smash other kids’ faces with on the bus, not the wimpy plastic garbage they mass-produce these days. My mom still has the lunchbox. She keeps Christmas cookie cutters in it and probably has no idea how many blunt force head traumas it inflicted. Ho ho ho.)

Anyway, my suit squeamishness doesn’t mean that I can’t see the possibilities inherent in owning my own bear costume. You might think a grown man would have little use for such a suit, but you’d be wrong.

For one thing, you could wear it when answering the door. Imagine the look on the faces of unsuspecting Jehovah’s Witnesses when they go to hand a pamphlet to a 6-foot-tall Ursus americanus, especially if said bear handed them a pamphlet in return. Maybe one that said, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

Then there are the endless possibilities around the neighborhood. I’d mow the lawn in my bear costume, just waiting to see if neighbors would poke their heads out of windows or doors for a better look. Then I could shake my bear tookus in their general direction or do an exit stage left, a la Snagglepuss. Even though he was a mountain lion and not a bear.

I don’t think it violates any ordinances to wash a car or paint a fence while wearing a bear costume, so I expect the police would have little to say. Probably the most they could pin on me would be “inciting panic,” but I bet I could fight that in court. Get myself a good mountain-man attorney, like Grizzly Adams, to plead my case.

Yes, a bear costume would be just the thing to spruce up humdrum daily living. I could show up for work in my bear costume, go out to eat in my bear costume, and even sleep in my bear costume. Some poor thief would be scared straight if he broke into the house and found himself attacked by a bear. All those gun nuts enthusiasts could forget their Castle Doctrines and just invest in animal suits. Save a ton of lives. And because we live in the capitalist capital of the world, if all those other activities get stale, I could always rent myself out to parties and bar mitzvahs as Chris the Dancing Bear, sashaying and prancing around rooms with little shame because a) I’m making money and b) I’m completely disguised.

Of course, too much sashaying and prancing could cause overheating, and that may require a visit from paramedics.

If I’m not careful, my picture could end up on some kid’s lunchbox, smashing the snot out of unwashed ruffians on the schoolbus.

There are worse legacies, I guess.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published on Feb. 27, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

Media 20 Feb 2014 11:39 pm

Bronze badgering

Bode Miller’s impressive bronze showing Sunday in the men’s super-G was overshadowed by the interview with him afterward.

The race was a historic one for the 36-year-old skier, who became the oldest Alpine medalist in the history of the Olympics. But NBC’s Christin Cooper didn’t focus on that in her interview with Miller. Instead, she wanted to know how his run was impacted by the loss of his brother, Chelone (Chelly), who died in 2013.

Following up on Miller’s first answer, that the race was emotional, Cooper pushed with subsequent questions, each one causing the skier to lose more composure. Finally, with NBC’s cameras in a close-up on his face, he had the emotional breakdown that the reporter and presumably the network were looking for — bent down, overcome with tears. Cooper even put her hand on Miller’s shoulder to demonstrate her compassion.

It was shameless exploitation of the moment, designed to create must-see TV.

It’s hard to blame Cooper for the entirety of the interview, as she may have had a producer in her earpiece, pushing her to proceed. She is also not an experienced reporter, but a former skier and Olympic medalist herself.

When assigning blame, remember this: Most audience members did not watch the competition live, but instead saw it during prime time Sunday. NBC executives had most of the day to determine how to edit and present the interview. They led into the men’s super-G with a story about Miller and his wife that emphasized Chelone’s death and the emotional impact it had on the family. They also put a microphone on Miller’s wife during the competition.

Clearly, NBC was not just covering a story, but partially creating and entirely packaging it. Similar to what is done with reality TV, all elements were designed to create maximum emotional impact on the audience.

If it were otherwise, Cooper would have interviewed the gold-medal winner, Kjetil Jansrud. But perhaps his story was not as compelling as Miller’s. It’s not so hard to imagine NBC executives cursing him for having the gall to win, thus robbing them of another avenue to wring more pathos from Miller’s saga.

Following the storm of criticism after the interview, Miller defended Cooper, basically saying that the reporter was just doing her job. It was a nice touch, and certainly more consideration than NBC gave him. Nobody would have blamed Miller for stopping the initial interview three questions earlier than he did, let alone for not coming to the defense of his tormentor.

Reporters sometimes have to ask tough questions. That’s required and expected. When these questions lead to spontaneous expressions of emotion, the moments are real and revelatory. Even when reporters stick microphones in the faces of people who have just suffered indescribable tragedies and ask that most insipid of questions — “How do you feel?” — the faux pas is somewhat excusable because, really, it’s the only question that can be asked.

But reporters can’t force such moments, and Cooper certainly had many other questions worth asking a six-time medal winner. When she kept prodding and prodding, and NBC’s cameras kept moving closer and closer, like vultures circling their prey, the real agenda was revealed.

This wasn’t reporting, it was ratings.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Comic books & Commentary & Media & Movies & Music & Television & education & technology 13 Feb 2014 08:38 am

Stomping out all signs of fun

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If you’re a kid who’s ever been told that texting will rot your brain or pop music is immoral or video games are turning you into a zombie, you need to read “Bad for You.”

If you’re a parent, teacher, minister or some other well-meaning adult who’s ever told kids that texting will rot their brains or pop music is immoral or video games are turning them into zombies, you need to read “Bad for You.”

Subtitled “Exposing the War on Fun,” the book, by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham, looks at popular fads and new technologies throughout history and exposes some depressing similarities in the way some people respond.

For instance, the book quotes one sarcastic critic as saying that, as a result of a popular new form of entertainment, “There is now very little danger that Americans will resort to the vice of thinking.” Is he referring to heavy metal music? Xbox One? The Flappy Bird app? None of the above. Writing in the 1920s, he was expressing concerns over radio and, separately, “incredibly frightful” jazz music.

One by one, Pyle and Cunningham examine hiccups in the social psyche down through the centuries, including printing presses (a pundit in 1494 noted that paper was less permanent than parchment), telephones (which allow children talk to undesirables against their parents’ wishes), Elvis Presley (derided as “deplorable” by that paragon of virtue, Frank Sinatra), Dungeons and Dragons (believed to cause an increased risk of suicide), and Harry Potter books (feared by some to promote witchcraft).

Text-messaging is examined in depth. As a teacher who believed that goofy abbreviations and jargon used in “text speak” would somehow worm their way into students’ more formal writing, I was abashed to learn how wrong I was. According to some researchers, kids who use “textisms” often have a better understanding of spelling and grammar — and larger vocabularies, to boot.

Rather than being corrupted by “IMHO” and “ICYMI” (google ‘em), kids can easily “code switch” between different registers of language — in this case, between informal text messages and more formal school essays.

To which I can only say: OMG.

But it’s not until the end of the book that Pyle and Cunningham really win me over. In a chapter called “Bad for You: Thinking,” they examine American schools. The section covers the history of education in the U.S. and how schools were influenced by the efficiency movement or “factory model” popular during the Industrial Revolution.

One result of this model is the discovery that workers are more productive with periodic breaks, which led to the idea of recess in public schools. Today, however, recess is under fire as a waste of time, eliminated or reduced in 40 percent of American schools to allow children more time to prepare for standardized tests.

Also cut in favor of standardized-test prep is access to the arts, history, and music.

Standardized testing, which measures convergent thinking (the ability to select one correct answer), is practically a relic in today’s high-tech world. What is needed, experts argue, is more emphasis on divergent thinking (the ability to find more than one answer or solution to a problem), something that can be aided by the very activities being trimmed from the school day — including recess.

“Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun” is written for kids but can be just as rewarding for adults. A word of warning: It’s laid out like a comic book, another form of fun that has come under fire in the past. In the first chapter, the authors look at the hysteria over comic books in the 1940s and ’50s, when a U.S. Senate subcommittee was convened to study their insidious effects and comics were burned by concerned parents.

As a comics-obsessed kid in grade school, I can remember teachers who wrinkled their noses at my preferred choice of literature, immune to my belief, even then, that comics were teaching me more vocabulary and reading skills than anything in their classrooms.

I don’t remember if my teachers ever told me that comics were rotting my brain, immoral, or turning me into a zombie. If they did, I wish that Pyle and Cunningham’s “Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!” had been around to set them straight.

Chris Schillig, who is still a self-diagnosed comic-book addict, can be reached at

chris.schillig@yahoo or @cschillig on Twitter.

Originally published Feb. 13, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

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