Commentary & Family life 05 Jun 2014 11:34 am

Romance is much more social today

Our daughter texted my wife and me last week to say she wasn’t single anymore.

I immediately fist-pumped and did a bad imitation of Michael Jackson moonwalking across our dining room (the visual you’re getting is just as awful as the reality, I assure you), thinking she had eloped and saved me the cost of a big wedding. To say nothing of the annoyance of having to ward off dozens of women who would have found me irresistible in a tuxedo.

But it turns out that all she meant was that she was dating somebody. Oh.

My wife says that’s accurate, that people who date exclusively aren’t really single anymore. I call the BS card on that.

When you fill out any sort of documentation that asks about marital status, you usually have two options — single or married. “In a committed relationship” isn’t a choice, because nobody cares.

Or maybe lots of people do, but I’m not one of them. Evidence for this is Facebook, which gives a ridiculous number of options to describe a user’s romantic status. In addition to married or single, you can select (and I’m not making this up) engaged, in a relationship, in a civil union, in a domestic partnership, in an open relationship, it’s complicated, separated, divorced or widowed.

Wow.

Apparently, deciding when and if to change a Facebook status is a really big deal. A Facebook friend who clicked “in a relationship” over the weekend received an abundance of congratulatory messages, including one that said, “It’s about time” and another that said something to the effect of “glad you finally grew a pair.” That last was from his mother. Ouch.

Back in my day, asking somebody to be your boyfriend or girlfriend was a semi-private matter, usually accomplished with a piece of folded notebook paper on which you scrawled, “Do you like me? Check Yes or No” and then sent with a go-between who would cross enemy lines to deliver it.

Granted, this was many years ago, when I still wore sweater vests that my mother crocheted for me, sat in the back of the classroom with a copy of Mad magazine stuffed inside my history book, and had more hair than Chewbacca. So maybe times have changed.

Granted, too, that guys who wore crocheted sweater vests, read Mad magazine, and made casual Star Wars references didn’t have much experience with passing notes to members of the opposite sex. More often, guys like me received notes that said, “Do you have cooties? Yes or no” or “Did you know you have a cheese puff stuck in the back of your sweater vest? Yes or no.”

Mating rituals, these were not.

So maybe I can be forgiven for not understanding the intricacies of the modern dating scene, where every box of chocolates or bouquet of roses is cause for a tweet, a text or a status update, and sometimes all three.

Or maybe I simply do not have a heart that’s geared toward romance, which is possible since my reaction to every wedding announcement we receive is not, “Oh, I’m so happy for them,” but rather, “Oh, how much is this going to cost me?”

My wife is excited about meeting my daughter’s new young man and is already counseling me on how to dress and act. I gather that I will not be allowed to wear a crocheted sweater vest and sit in the back of the restaurant with a copy of Mad magazine, even if it is a virtual copy, in an effort to keep up with the times.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

cschillig on Twitter

Originally published in The Alliance Review on June 5, 2014.

Commentary & education 29 May 2014 07:54 am

Right of interpretation

Every year, my Advanced Placement Language students write and share “This I Believe” essays, modeled on the long-running National Public Radio series, as their final exam. This is my contribution to the cause.

***

I believe in the right of people to interpret certain phenomena however they best see fit.

For example, I was driving last weekend, thinking about a comedian who recently said that folksinger Bob Dylan was overrated. The gist of the comedian’s argument was that Dylan can’t sing or play the guitar and harmonica very well, and that he writes lyrics that are inscrutable.

As I pondered this opinion, I was reminded of the song by the Counting Crows, “Mr. Jones,” with lyrics that run, “I want to be Bob Dylan/ Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky/ When everybody loves you, son, that’s just about as funky as you can be.”

A few seconds later, that very song came on the radio. It made me arch an eyebrow, I confess.

One can interpret this phenomenon a variety of ways. Some people might see it as a little tip of the hat from the Big Man Upstairs, God’s way of sending a sign that Dylan is either A-OK or really is overrated. Or maybe God guided the radio programmer’s hand at that instant to make the song jibe with my thoughts.

Or maybe God guided my thoughts to Dylan at that moment to make me arch my eyebrow as I did, creating a minor miracle to convince a nonbeliever.

A second interpretation is that the confluence of Dylan-related thoughts and Dylan-related song is a mere coincidence, one of many that occur throughout a normal day. According to this line of reasoning, hearing “Mr. Jones” on the radio a moment after I thought of it has more to do with the format of the station (it plays only ’90s alternative and grunge, and “Mr. Jones” is an example of the former) than divine intervention.

A third interpretation is to shrug one’s shoulders, say “Who cares?” and just enjoy the damn song.

The beauty of being creatures of consciousness is that we can choose any of these options, and many other explanations besides, to fit our own belief system — and not just about Bob Dylan.

The second interpretation above is my own, but I recognize that many people would choose what’s behind door number one. And that’s cool.

Personally, I have a hard time buying the concept that we should be thankful to a higher power when He/She/It cures cancer or lets three out of five people survive a tornado without also being angry that He/She/It gave us the cancer or caused the tornado. It’s easier not to believe.

But I recognize that many people have reconciled these conundrums in ways that I have not, and I’m fascinated by this, just as I know that some people are fascinated by the way I think and the way that I have reconciled my non-belief.

None of which, of course, will stop people who interpret phenomenon through a religious lens from praying for me, damning me, or ignoring me; just as I doubt that I will stop believing that these same people are squandering parts of their lives that could be spent more productively elsewhere.

And you know what? It’s a big, wide world out there, and it’s much more interesting with a wide diversity of people and opinions in it. If I’m fortunate to live long enough, maybe some of these opinions will change my mind about what made the Counting Crows blare through my radio that morning. But if not, the conversations will have been worth having, and the exposure to alternate points of view illuminating.

One thing’s for sure, however. Whether songs are divinely programmed or subject to chance, Bob Dylan really is just about as funky as he can be. This I believe.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published in The Alliance Review on May 29, 2014.

Commentary & education 23 May 2014 06:51 am

Rape culture alive and well on campus

Prospective female students have a new question to ask admissions counselors as part of the college decision-making process: How likely am I to be raped on your campus?

This is not an idle inquiry. According to new statistics, women have a one in five chance of being the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault at college. For many campus administrators, it’s a dirty little secret they’d like to keep on the down-low.

Well, no more. Recently, the federal government released a list of 55 colleges and universities with open “sexual violence investigations.” Three Ohio schools made the list as of May 1: Denison, Ohio State and Wittenberg universities.

The culprit here is most often “date rape,” which means that some readers will breathe a sigh of relief and sink back into their chairs, with visions of easy girls with smeared mascara who get exactly what they deserve.

The problem with this view is that it’s just not true. According to the May 26 edition of Time magazine, which features a cover story on rape in higher education, many young ladies who find themselves in danger of rape have been manipulated into these situations by a small percentage of predatory males on campus. And some of these men are repeat offenders — not that they’ve ever been arrested or convicted, of course.

One alarming study found that 6.4 percent of the male population at the University of Massachusetts in 2002 reported committing acts that met the legal definition of rape, according to Time reporter Eliza Gray. But half of those men averaged nearly six assaults each.

I’d imagine that it’s a similar story at all schools, where the majority of guys are not rapists or would-be rapists. It’s a small minority of men on any campus that view themselves as hunters, with females their prey and alcohol and drugs their weapons of choice.

The solution is not to boycott the 55 schools on the list. After all, the problem is systemic. Ironically enough, the answer to higher ed’s war on females is … education.

Parents need to educate their children — male and female — to be wary. Guys need to be taught that no really does mean no, and that finding a drunk or stoned woman, or getting a woman in such a condition to say yes, still means no. An impaired person cannot give consent. It’s rape.

Women need to be reminded that not all guys are good, and that alcohol and drugs lower one’s inhibitions and invite disaster.

And all these Dudley Do-Rights on campus, the ones who would never dream of taking advantage of another person, need to be taught that the innocent bystander role doesn’t cut it anymore. If a woman is in danger of being taken advantage of, step in and get her away from the situation.

Just as importantly, women who have been assaulted need to do an end run around campus security and dial 911 to get in touch with real police officers. Many colleges and universities are all too happy to handle such matters internally because it keeps them out of the public eye and avoids any embarrassing PR.

People who have been assaulted at work or at school have zero loyalty to these institutions and every right and responsibility to file a report with authentic police officers, not rent-a-cop wannabes. (Handling matters in-house is what allowed the Penn State child-sex scandal to continue for so many years, after all.)

Education extends, too, to those troglodytes in society who still believe that women ask to be raped by the way they dress, the things they say or do and the places they go. There’s a term for the type of environment that is created when people think this way –rape culture.

No woman asks to be raped, but plenty of women are.

Our college campuses should be places of learning and growth, not of coercion and violence. If you have a student starting the college-search process this summer, ask about on-campus violent crime. Ask about rape. Don’t stop asking until you get a straight answer.

And if you never get a straight answer, strike that school from your list. When we start to demand not only a quality education, but also on-campus safety, for our tuition dollars, we’ll see how quickly profit becomes a factor for nonprofit institutions.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

cschillig on Twitter

Originally published May 22, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

education 16 May 2014 01:23 pm

Emphasis on the exclamation

Whenever I write about exclamation points, which is more often than you might imagine, I get a larger-than-average reader response.

Larger-than-average, however, must be taken in context. Generally, I receive little to no feedback on this column.

I’m like the Maytag repairman of writers, honestly. Even one or two emails is a comparative landslide.

Maybe the “heavy” feedback is because so many people use exclamation points in almost all their sentences that they believe I’m attacking them personally. Maybe they think I’m the Punctuation Police and have the power to issue citations. If only.

This time of year is especially bad for exclamation-point misuse. “Little Percival is graduating college!!!!” reads one such Facebook message (with the name changed to protect the overly excited). It is accompanied by two photos. In the first, baby Percy mugs for the camera, his diaper sagging. In the second, an older, wiser Percy with a tattoo sleeve and approximately 10 pounds of metal affixed to his eyebrows, nose and lips hoists a beer stein (filled, I assume, with lemonade) above his head.

Undoubtedly, if Percy attends medical school, his well-wishers will matriculate to a fifth exclamation point. Marriage will couple him to a sixth, and his first child will deliver an unprecedented seventh. By the time Percy becomes a grandparent for the first time — long after this crotchety columnist is dead (a death that will be announced by my legion of fans with any number of exclamation points) and long after Percy’s tattoo sleeve has stretched into an amorphous, gelatinous mass of inky scribbles, like a TV picture in the wrong ratio — the news will warrant upwards of 15 exclamation points.

And that’s my rationale for limiting them. An exclamation point signals emotion. Extra exclamation points do not signal more emotion; they merely devalue a useful piece of punctuation. An honest expression of joy, disgust or dismay becomes a contest. I can imagine divorced parents dueling on social media about who loves their tiny tax-deduction more. Their weapon of choice? The exclamation point. “You think you love Elektra? Your 36 exclamation points after ‘Happy Birthday’ are nothing. I have more than forty. Top that!”

(By the way, if Mourning Becomes Elektra, whom does evening become?)

My own rule, as my students can tell you, is to limit exclamation points to two a year. As I’ve said before, sometimes the rule changes to two or three a semester. The exact number doesn’t matter. The point is to keep them manageable so that when they are used, they mean something.

But I’ve been slipping. I recently wished a colleague good luck on an impending surgery and affixed an exclamation point after “Get Well.” The expression looked too lonely with only a period to accompany it. Last month, I posted a message on Facebook and used two exclamation points at the end of two successive sentences. Somebody wrote to give me grief. If memory serves, she called me a hypocrite and used three exclamation points.

I was tempted to respond, “Do as I say, not as I do” and punctuate it with a bold-faced exclamation point, but I restrained myself. That would have put me at negative-two exclamation points for the year. Frivolous and unnecessary.

I know I’m losing the war, but I’m a sucker for lost causes. In a somewhat-related situation, I am trying to revive correct semicolon use. I tell my students the semicolon is the chocolate mousse of desserts — rich in small amounts, but sickening when too much is eaten.

Use a semicolon correctly at least once in every written missive to impress your audience. (See my sixth paragraph.) Use it incorrectly and prepare for their wrath or, more likely, their indifference. (The semicolon is the polar opposite of the exclamation point in that regard.)

But even the slight chance of reader wrath is better than indifference, says the Maytag repairman. So; I’m; trying; something; new; today!!!

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

cschillig on Twitter

Commentary 08 May 2014 10:05 pm

The book thief

Would you confront a thief if you knew he had your smartphone?

An increasing number of people are, according to the New York Times. A woman in California recently tracked down her stolen device using the Find My iPhone app on her computer. It took her to a house in West Covina where she knocked on the door and demanded her property. The thief handed it over.

For the record, police say that playing amateur Inspector iGadget or Android Rambo is a stupid idea. You never know who or what could be waiting on the other side of a door, something you need to weigh against the value of a phone with data that is probably backed up in the cloud or on a laptop computer, anyway.

So I repeat: Would you confront a thief if you knew he had your smartphone?

I know my answer. N-O. At this point, your newspaper should get all wavy and blurry because we are going into a flashback, just like they do in all those old movies.

***

The year is 1982, and a friend and I are convinced that a senior boy — hell, he’s a man, with a lush, shag carpet of chest hair sprouting from beneath his shirt and a beard thicker than anything I can grow in my 40s — has stolen something from my friend. The something is a copy of “Lord Foul’s Bane,” a paperback fantasy by Stephen R. Donaldson that isn’t exactly worth the risk of having my tookus handed to me by a neanderthal.

For whatever reason, I decide to saunter over to his table at the library and confront him. I don’t know what I expect will happen. Maybe that he will break down under my steely gaze and grueling interrogation techniques and return the item, along with a blubbering promise to never, ever do anything like that again.

What really happens is far less dramatic. I stammer out something about how the book he’s reading looks an awful lot like the one that has just gone missing from my friend’s locker and that I wonder if it could maybe, excuse me for asking, be the same one. I should mention that he has the book open when I approach him and that he is on page one, much like somebody would be if they had just, you know, stolen the book out of a locker.

He raises his head about one-tenth of an inch, squints with his already beady eyes, and says: “No.”

And that’s all. No “sorry, but it’s mine,” no receipt of purchase pulled from the depths of his denim jacket (hey, it was 1982), no “have a nice day.” He doesn’t even stand up and overtly threaten me, demonstrating his hulking superiority over my 115-pound-dripping-wet physique. He just raises his head and pins me with his gaze, as if to say, “Go on, make my day” or “You have to ask yourself: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?” or “E.T. phone home.” OK, maybe not that last one, but definitely the first two.

I slither back to the other side of the library on my belly and tell my friend it’s all a mistake. And I’m not kidding — Bambi confronting Godzilla is always a mistake.

***

The newsprint is coming back into focus now as we leave Teen Schillig in the 1982 library, in a world without smartphones that can be stolen and then tracked down by young college women who can somehow command their return better than he ever could. I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip.

What we learn in school is often far different than what our parents and teachers hope. What I learned that day is to keep track of my stuff and to report to the police whenever anything is stolen. And if that doesn’t work, steal it back.

See, with the benefit of 33 years’ hindsight, what I should have done was point to the window behind the troglodyte and scream, “Look, a pterodactyl!” Then, when he turned to bludgeon it to death with his bare hands, I should have grabbed “Lord Foul’s Bane” and ran like the wind, Forrest.

I would recommend the same for anybody whose smartphone is stolen. Either that, or offer to trade the thief for a copy of “Lord Foul’s Bane.” I know where you can get one, cheap.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

Commentary 02 May 2014 07:38 pm

Space in our brain

Last December, conservative columnist David Brooks wrote in the New York Times about how much space politics should occupy in the mind of a good citizen.

Brooks’s answer is about a tenth. If your job isn’t intimately involved with the government or you’re not a political columnist, Brooks concluded, you’d be better off filling most of your brain with “philosophy, friendship, romance, family, culture, and fun,” a balance he wishes was reflected on talk-show television, as well.

One of the columnist’s metaphors is a picnic. If the country were a picnic, he opines, the government would be in charge of background details: providing a park, keeping it clean and managing ways for people to get to it. But guests at a picnic don’t often comment on those things unless they’re lacking, such as unmown grass or out-of-order restrooms. Otherwise picnickers return home with memories of guests, games of frisbee, conversation and food.

I found myself in agreement with Brooks at the time. Despite the name of this column, Left of Center (which was always designed more to describe my goofy worldview than my politics) and a few areas where I am unrepentantly liberal (such as abortion rights, pay equity and education), I probably skew moderate in most respects.

For me, a federal government that governs least generally governs best. I’d rather see state and local officials effect changes than our friends in Washington, who often can’t see the forest for the trees. And like Brooks, I’d much rather fill my brain with literature, art and movies than with what he calls the “slow trudge” of government.

But as time passes, I’m finding it harder to reconcile Brooks’ conclusion about how much space in my brain to allot to government with the stark realities. Earlier this month, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that it is illegal to limit the amount of money that big donors funnel into elections, dubbing these sacks of money that armored trucks deliver to the doors of super-PACS a form of protected free speech.

Similarly, and perhaps not coincidentally, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. Today, the 85 richest people in the world own about as much as the poorest half of the world’s population of 3.5 billion, according to OxFam.

It’s a situation that doesn’t much trouble Microsoft guru and philanthropist Bill Gates — and why should it? In a recent interview with Jeremy Paxman of BBC Newsnight, Gates denies that the gap is growing, citing lower child mortality rates and increased world literacy. Apparently, as long as people can live and read, it doesn’t matter if they have nothing to live for and nothing to read.

Closer to home, Republicans in Ohio have worked zealously to curtail access to voting by eliminating evening and Sunday hours at the polls, closing down the so-called “Golden Week” when people could both register and vote early on the same day, and making it illegal for anybody except Secretary of State Jon Husted to mail unsolicited provisional ballots. These changes hurt the poor, making it less likely their voices will be heard.

Meanwhile, the cost of escaping poverty through education has skyrocketed. According to the Pew Research Center, a college undergraduate degree increased in price by 33 percent from 2002 to 2012, even as student debt during that same period jumped from $56.5 billion to $117.9 billion.

And then we have the pervasive movement inside government to railroad public education, shuffling students and public dollars into private charter schools that do little more than fatten the coffers of wealthy entrepreneurs and companies like Pearson, which sells both tests and test-prep products. Every boost in difficulty for the former means more need for the latter; the company wins twice.

(And to be fair, much of this renewed emphasis on testing is because of President Obama’s horrific Race to the Top program, which is nothing more than No Child Left Behind — on crack. I may like Obama, but he has screwed up royally on education.)

Unlimited campaign contributions, growing inequality between rich and poor, unfair voting laws, and educational monkey business — nope, nothing to see here, folks, says David Brooks and any number of politicians on either side of the aisle, too many of whom have as their a primary goal the continuance of privilege for themselves and their big-money contributors.

It would be nice if politics could take up only 10 percent of our brain, but that’s a luxury — like a living wage, apparently — that most of us can no longer afford. After all, when somebody tells you not to worry and just keep enjoying the picnic, that’s when you really want to be on the lookout for ants.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

cschillig on Twitter

Originally published May 1, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 24 Apr 2014 09:18 pm

Now that’s a sharp hunger pain

voodoo_doll

A message to all husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends: Feed your significant other — or else.

The “or else,” in the case of a study performed recently at The Ohio State University, is your significant other stabbing pins into a voodoo doll that looks like you. Or he or she subjecting a video-game avatar of you to excruciatingly loud and annoying sounds, like nails on a chalkboard.

In a study performed by psychologist Brad Bushman at OSU, volunteers were more likely to stab voodoo dolls or torture video lookalikes of their partners when they were hungry. In a story on National Public Radio, Bushman blames these violent tendencies on low blood sugar.

We needed a study for this?

Anybody who lives with anybody else should be well aware that provoking a hungry partner is like poking a bear. And not Yogi Bear, Winnie the Pooh or Smokey the Bear, either.

(Yogi isn’t threatening because he wears a hat and tie, and Pooh has no hands, which limits the damage he can inflict. Smokey, however, always looked vaguely threatening, like he might whack you over the head with a shovel if he caught you playing with matches in the woods. But when he talks, he sounds like somebody’s grandpa, so that makes it all right.)

No, when I say “bear,” I imagine something really big and nasty, like the one that eats the goofy researcher in the movie “Grizzly Man” or the one that chases the little girl in Stephen King’s “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.”

My wife can tell horror stories of my rotten attitude when I’m hungry. Stay out of my way if I don’t get breakfast. If I skip lunch, I’m generally OK, but if dinner is postponed by more than an hour or two, I’ll Hulk out.

Spouses are the opposite of gremlins. You can and should feed them after midnight — and any other times, too. Not doing so turns them evil.

The scary part of Bushman’s research is that he involved voodoo dolls in the mix. According to the NPR story, he sent every volunteer out of his lab with directions on how to measure their blood sugar, a miniature voodoo doll and 51 pins.

Why 51 and not 50? Is that extra pin the one with which volunteers delivered the coup de grâce to effigies of their poor, long-suffering partners? Is there a cosmic significance to 51?

Apparently, Bushman has never seen episodes of “The Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits” where some little fetish doll is always lying in wait for its unsuspecting victim. Sometimes, the prey is the person being stabbed, and sometimes it’s the person doing the stabbing. You never know which one until you hear Rod Serling’s booming baritone deliver a life lesson that applies only to people who attempt to murder their partners with straight pins and Barbie-doll knockoffs.

They say — they being the first 100 people in the phone book — that voodoo dolls are only as effective as a person’s belief in them. So if you believe a spouse can kill by gouging a miniature stuffed version of you, then you might behave in a way that’s reckless enough to cause your own demise, like walking in front of a steamroller or playing hopscotch over downed electrical wires.

So now this egghead is handing out little voodoo people to spouses and giving them 51 pins — 51! — to go a-stabbing. Is he insane? Promoting a belief in hoodoo or voodoo or doodoo?

All I know is that every time I get an annoying stitch in my side or in my leg from here on out, I’m going to check under my wife’s side of the bed for a mini-me all porcupined with needles.

I don’t expect to find a voodoo doll, of course. But just in case, I’ll be plying her with lavish steak dinners to keep the grumblings in her stomach at bay. No sense tempting fate, after all.

Thanks, OSU, for another wonderful application of science in my daily life. Maybe it’s time I started poking my Brutus mascot with a fork to see if I can influence a Michigan win.

Originally published April 24, 2014, in The Alliance Review.

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.

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