Thursday, August 20, 2015

Forty years ago today.

I remember just where I was forty years ago today.

Forty years ago, a little earlier in the day than now, I was driving to Ridge Lea Road to take my oral comprehensive exams that would qualify me as a doctoral candidate.  For those unfamiliar with the dance steps, when you begin a doctoral program you, essentially, contract to take a certain number and certain types of courses in your area of study. At the conclusion of the coursework you take what are called qualifying exams. These have both a written and oral component. After the written, you go in and your team of advisers ask several questions to ascertain that you have sufficient foundational knowledge to then proceed and study something that nobody has written about previously.  The result of that research is a dissertation. Get done with that, face another oral exam on the research you did, and you earn your Ph.D.

That Ph.D. is your ticket to college teaching and a guarantee that, should you continue on the path of academia, you will be a peasant compared to the guy you knew at college who graduated with a BS somehow despite the fact that he spent a good portion of his college years on a barstool.  The Ph.D. earns you the right to make 50k less than that guzzler who now works somewhere in Marketing.

So, I was en route to relative insignificant means forty years ago, today.

I was tense on the drive to the test and tried to psych myself up on the highway. My anxiety was based on something very peripheral to the test content itself.  Two of my professors were at loggerheads over issues that were unrelated to me.  One accused the other of being an easy mark, which made the accused I predicted (accurately as it turned out) grill me like a piece of swordfish on a hibachi during the orals. The accuser--wanting to show that his disparaging comments about his colleague reflected his superior intelligence--also would hit me with his best shot.

I can remember that morning like it was yesterday.  I had a routine that summer that served me well as I prepared for the exams.  Every morning, almost as soon as I rolled out of bed, I put on my shorts and ran 1.8 miles around a beautiful park in Buffalo called Delaware Park.  When that was done, I came back to my apartment two blocks away, knocked back a cup of coffee, hopped in the shower and then ritualistically parked myself at 9 in front of a little portable tv set to watch the Honeymooners.  After the Honeymooners I drove to school.  On the morning of August 20, 1975 I figured if the Honeymooners that day would be one of the better episodes it would be a good sign. The episode was the one with the handcuffs (Unconventional Behavior)-- a pretty good one.

Ridge Lea Road housed the temporary campus where my department was temporarily housed.  The campus looked like a series of Howard Johnson restaurants kerplunked together.  I went to graduate school in a parking lot with, essentially, triple wide trailers as classrooms and academic offices.

Anyway I get there and the two antagonists were loaded for bear. They acknowledged me, grunted at each other, and said effusive hellos to the third interrogator who was straddling the fence on their dispute.

They started the questions. What happened was--and this was something that was either pure serendipity or I was far more prepared than I gave myself credit for that day--every question they asked me was something I happened to know.  This may sound like false modesty, but it really wasn't.  In those orals they can ask you what Aristotle had for lunch and it is fair game.  They were asking all sorts of questions about their respective areas and in a number of cases I had just reviewed what they were asking about a few days before the exam.  I remember one guy asking about a really picayune label used to identify certain individuals in a grapevine communication configuration. Just the day before I said to myself that I might as well remember what the labels were. He pulled his head back when I responded with the right label. "That was my best question," he said.

I passed easily. And, as a residual effect, it soothed the tension between the two combatants.  I am not sure if it was my performance or if, after pelting each other with memos (in the days before e-mails), when face to face for a period they became less aggressive toward each other.

So, here I am forty years later, a tenured professor at an excellent university. Earning nearly 200,000 dollars less than contemporaries, whose gut might as well read, "Budweiser".  Nevertheless, career wise I am content. How did I get my ticket punched. Well, there were some other factors. I did write a good dissertation that is so complex that now, when I look at it, I have to remind myself what I did with the charts. I absolutely give credit to myself for some industry at various stages.  But a big factor, no baloney, was luck or divine intervention.  There were a lot of questions a grand inquisitor could have asked that day for which my response could have been, "damned if I know".  And had they asked such questions, I would not have passed Go.  As it happened, the zingers they sent my way were zingers I studied.

Forty years ago today.

I have since considered August 20th a lucky day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Blue Jays, fandom, Brady

Since my recent visit to Toronto I have become a Blue Jays follower.  When I was there, the Jays picked up Troy Tulowitzki and then David Price.  After that, Toronto played inspired baseball and didn't lose much. The team was several games out of first behind the Yankees when I arrived in Toronto. Now, because of the additions and how those additions affected team chemistry, the Jays are just one game back of the Bronx Bombers.

My primary allegiance is still to the Red Sox and I might have some mixed emotions if the Sox were to play the Jays in a game that was meaningful.  However, given the hapless Sox performance this season, I need not worry about any meaningful game between the Sox and the Jays.  We, the Sox, are mired in last place and playing God awful baseball.

So, go figure, when two tickets came my way for tonight's game I reacted like a five year old excited kid. I called my buddy Ken and he was similarly thrilled, so the two of us are going to the Sox/Indians game tonight.   Such is fan enthusiasm for sports.  On the way in to work today I was thinking about my first game with my dad. I was skipping along Bragg Street in Sheepshead Bay-- five year old me.  Now 60 years later, if I could still skip, I'd be bouncing along the Fenway to see the last place Red Sox.

Go Red Sox. Go Blue Jays.

On another note, tomorrow Tom Brady appears before a judge in the interminable Deflategate saga.  I continue to fear that the commissioner has some evidence that he is waiting to spring as an October surprise.  Otherwise I simply cannot believe that Goodell would continue hiking on this bizarre trail.

Every few days another bit of evidence surfaces that suggests that Goodell (1) fined the team and Brady, (2) removed draft picks from the Patriots including a number 1 pick, and (3) for 25% of the season--suspended one of the best players in the game---on a hunch.

Why would Goodell do that?

  • Is he just doubling down like a stubborn simpleton at a poker table who has no hand?  
  • Does someone have a gun to his head for a reason that I cannot fathom?

Today one of the owners opined that it was time for this to be over. As students of mine used to say during the Clinton administration, Duh.

And where are the other owners? It is football season and we are still talking about this fakakta nothing for which there is (a) no evidence and (b) an apparent conspiracy to fabricate evidence------Unless, there is evidence, that Goodell is waiting to pull from his hat like magician with a rabbit.

Meanwhile earlier today it was 90 degrees--bright and sunny. Now it looks like the day the earth stood still.  Big dark clouds.

Two weeks ago today we had a similar situation when hail came down the size of golf balls denting cars and bruising noggins.  Not sure if I should wear a baseball cap or a football helmet when I skip--er walk to Fenway in a few hours.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Killer

Yesterday I wrote a short review of Sharp Objects, the first of the Gillian Flynn novels.  Today I went to Amazon to see what others had written about the book. Before I got to the reviews I saw and read a brief interview with Flynn.  In it, she made this comment:

"When I wrote Sharp Objects I didn't know who the killer was for a bit."

I don't know how a writer can do this, particularly a writer of mysteries or books that have a whodunit dimension.  If I, as a writer, do not know who did it, when I introduce a character who might have done it, might I depict him or her in a way that is an unlikely characterization for a killer?

But what do I know. Maybe if I wrote novels I would get it.

I have, in the hour or so since I read that interview, begun to think of the comment in a broader sense. Do we have a clue about our desired outcomes when we begin our day, or spend our time?  I think it is fair to say that for many, what we do on a daily basis is inconsistent with any long term planning. We just want to get through this particular "chapter" i.e. day.

Tomorrow I will look at my outlook calendar see what is in store for me at work, get ready for the thises and thats I will likely need to address, but do I know who the killer is?

I once was accused of thinking that I would live forever and maybe, just maybe--according to the accuser--I needed to plan out life beyond the short term.  Not sure that was a fair characterization of much of my decision making, but it was worth considering.

Do we know who the killer is? That is, do we know when we go about our business that we are going about our business because it fits in with some important objective? Or do we just get through the day and make sure we beat the traffic, are prepared for a meeting, get some exercise, and have taken the chicken out of the freezer in the morning so that there is something to eat for dinner.

I think novelists have a responsibility to the reader to think through their stories, especially mysteries. I think they need to know who the killer is, before they can tell the tale. And, on this Sunday morning, it comes to me that we, or I, would be better off if there was a notion at some point of a desired end, and then motion toward that objective.  Otherwise you get to the end of your own story and the killer who aborted and abridged your life is the person you look at in the mirror.

Don't know if this maudlin musing came about because of a dream I had just before I awakened.  I was thinking, in the dream, that my dad's funeral had been a week ago (it was actually over a year ago). So, I decided in the dream, to give him a call and ask him how it went.  And then I was startled--still in the dream--to acknowledge that such a phone conversation was impossible even with the new whiz bang technologies of 2015.

I woke up then and figured that lying in bed was not optimal even on a lazy Sunday.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

yo mama

Sharp Objects is the first book that Gillian Flynn wrote.  It preceded Dark Places and Gone Girl--the latter a successful movie.  Both Dark Places and Gone Girl are well written and fast paced. Gone Girl has a ridickalus ending but it is still a good read.

This book isn't a good read.   The characters are not believable and are stick figures to boot. Even the main character is not well developed. The events are unlikely. The chances that the doer could have been the doer are nil.

I am glad Flynn was encouraged to write because she has gotten so much better, but geez how did this novel get a second look.  It has the value of being short and it has a science fictiony feel if you like that.  There are killings if you are into blood and strange murders. (Worked with a guy in the post office once who said he didn't like any movies with no killing). And there are some sex scenes which, while implausible, can produce a little steam.  But my recommendation is that you skip it.

The book is told in the first person by a journalist who comes to her home town to investigate the murders of two young girls. The doer in the story just could not do it. The mother is a prime suspect and unless you lived in hell as a kid, you never met a mama like this one.

priorities in order

Last Thursday Donna and I had to go to court.  Over a year prior, we had come home one day, and found that someone had crashed through a tiny window in our basement leaving shards of glass everywhere. Upstairs my ipad had been taken, and in the bedroom jewelry had been stolen. Drawers were opened everywhere, clothes thrown around as the perp looked for items.

The police came and knew this was the m.o. of a repeat offender that they had been trying to handcuff for a long time. He has been referred to as "a frequent flyer."

The police were great, but told us that it was unlikely that we would get our items back. More than the jewelry however, the sense of security and peace that we took for granted had been dented. We live near a wooded area so a burglar could hide easily undetected and come into our windows relatively effortlessly.

We had resigned ourselves that we were just going to lose the items and retain the sense of vulnerability. But the police returned and said that they thought they could prove that the repeat offender in fact had done it.  He had pawned some of the jewelry and the pawnbroker had identified him.

So fourteen months later we were in court.  That was a four hour scene in and of itself that maybe I will go into some other time.  The nutshell version here is that up from the courtroom basement comes the guy who did it.  He is in shackles because he is now in jail for another b and e.  While the lawyers do their interminable--very unlike Perry Mason/Law and Order song and dance--he smiles and chats with the court officer. The guy has a glaring tattoo on his neck and false teeth that stand out when he grins. His mother, in the courtroom for support, runs up to kiss him.

The perp's lawyer knows we are in the courtroom as is the pawnbroker, so he decides to try and plea. He and the district attorney go to a back room with the judge to make a deal.  They return from the back room and the deal is that the burglar will admit to breaking into the house and stealing the jewelry. He will get 18 months in jail which will include the time in jail that he is currently serving for another offense.

The bottom line is for the burglary to my home he will serve about a year.

Today, I wake up early as is my wont these days and look at the computer.  Not sleeping all that great recently--not because of the break-in---probably because of drinking too much caffeine during the prior day.  Anyway, I am up and looking at headlines.

And I see something that at first startles me, then amuses me, then gets me sort of annoyed.

A man in Florida has been sentenced to 2 1/2 years for a crime. His crime is that he had sexual intercourse on a beach.

I click on the link and discover that the crime was less benign than I originally thought.  The intimacy took place in the daytime, and there were people around who could and did see, some of the spectators were children. One child wanted to know what was going on. The mother was upset.

The news story included comments from observers who were aghast at the "vulgar" behavior they were forced to witness.  I think "forced to witness" is a disingenuous phrase, but that was what was said.

The alleged perpetrators contended that the woman (who was on top) was merely dancing, and that there was no penetration and therefore there was no offense. The prosecutors argued that a video taken by an observer--no doubt an outraged spectator who wanted simply to be a responsible citizen--showed that this was no harmless cha cha, it was indeed the deed.

The penalty for the outrageous behavior: 2 1/2 years.

Some repeat offender breaks into my house--we still haven't fixed the window, just have it boarded up--steals a computer and some family heirlooms, leaves literal and figurative filth in his wake, and gets 18 months to be served concurrent with other crimes.  The court clerks joke around with him while he awaits his lawyer's plea bargaining.

A couple has consensual sexual intimacy on a beach and gets 2 1/2 years.  Observers are outraged at the vulgarity of the crime.

Glad to read that that our societal outrage is appropriately placed.

I wouldn't be surprised if adult readers here, if you were to candidly fess up, have indulged once or twice in the open air, in the daytime, when it wasn't beyond the possibility that you could have been seen, but you started up and then took a chance.  But even if you have not, I would be curious to hear anyone's rationale for outrage because a couple had publicly engaged.

Friday, August 14, 2015

google earth

Count me in as someone wowed by sites like Google Earth. I have spent time looking at homes where I have lived from the vantage point of a satellite.  I have gotten a kick out of it nearly every time.

There is a problem, though, that I have noticed.  When I put in my own address on Google Earth, the satellite focuses in on the wrong house.  It is not mine.  It is my neighbor's-- two doors down from mine on the small road on which about a dozen homes sit.

The first time I saw this--a year or so ago--I figured it was an error soon to be rectified. At that time I saw that my actual house--not the one indicated--had a canoe in the backyard and a red honda civic in the driveway.  And indeed, a few years back one would find that canoe in my backyard and red civic in the driveway.

The canoe, for the last three years, has been housed at a dock not far from here and the red civic was sold at about the same time.  I figured that maybe when Google updated the image, they would get the house right.

So, I  checked the other day.  I can't see the civic or the canoe anymore and I can see the new school across the street. Apparently the image has been updated.  However, when you type in my address it is my neighbor's house that is identified as mine.

Not a big deal, I guess, but it makes me wonder how Google Earth [thinks it] knows which house is which house.  And wonder if other sites that "know" things about me are correct.  I discovered one day that when you type in my name at one of the several sites that claim to know everything about everyone including their address, age, and relatives--that there are seven or so Alan Jay Zarembas living in the Boston area.  Then after some more scrutiny I realized that each of these Alan Jay Zarembas were precisely my age and, also, that the addresses for these Zarembas coincided with all the homes I have lived in since I moved to the greater Boston area since 1981.  Not likely that I live in all these domiciles concurrently. As my grandmother would say: "me kennet dantzen mt ayn toochas aft tzvey chasanahs".  {translation:  "you can't dance with one ass at two weddings"}.

So, the sites can get it wrong or, at least, not completely right. I wonder what happens when someone tries to find out about other things about me.  Do I have children, siblings, parents--how much money is my house worth; how much is in my bank account; what are my hobbies; do I like peanut brittle.  How about if they get it wrong when they want to see if I have a criminal record.

I think that new technology is wonderful but wonder if I am fortunate that my name is not John Smith.  Or perhaps John Smith is less vulnerable since criminals would know there was too great a chance of mistaken identity sleuthing out a Smith's background.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Curiouser and Curiouser

There is no smoking gun. No evidence at all that Brady did what the NFL claims.  No evidence even that he was "generally aware" or that it is "more likely than not" that he was generally aware.

So, I don't get it.  Unless there is some October surprise, I do not get it.

Is Goodell a fool?  Can't believe that, though he has behaved foolishly.  There are so many questions about the NFL's behavior.

  • Why has this taken so long? 
  • Why go after a person whose behavior has been impeccable and is an NFL icon if there is no evidence of wrongdoing?  
  • Once Goodell realized that there was no evidence, why didn't he put an end to the investigation--even if he felt in his gut that Brady was culpable? 
  • Why did Goodell conduct an "independent" investigation that was clearly nothing of the sort?
And why are the other owners silent?  This has been a terrible distraction for the league. After the hearing on Wednesday the 12th, it became clear to anyone who looked at the transcript that the NFL had nothing, bubkas, and had drawn conclusions on the basis of logic that would be ridiculed in a middle school classroom.  Why have the owners not met collectively and then fired Goodell?  The owners are interested in the health of the NFL. The season is about to begin.  The league office looks goofy.

At the very least, the result of this nonsense will be a huge battle when it comes time to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.  Maybe a strike.  No owner wants that. 

So why haven't the owners stepped in to say Goodell got it wrong.

 I never went to law school, but if what I read from yesterday is the case, the only leg to stand on that the NFL has, is their right to unilaterally make rulings.  However, it would be myopic or arrogant to believe that that right would mean much if the ruling was so clearly inappropriate.  Sure, the judge might uphold the suspension on the grounds that the CBA allows for it, but how long would it be before Brady files a defamation suit that would be a sure winner in a court that does not hop and have a pouch.  

And what is this about, anyway?  The Patriots were winning 17-7 at the half. They inflated the balls. The Patriots won 41-7.  In the superbowl when the balls certainly were not tampered with, the Patriots prevailed with Brady playing impeccably. 

The judge is urging the sides to settle. If you were Brady--AND assuming you did nothing wrong-- what is to settle?  

Consider this scenario.  Someone accuses you of stealing 100 dollars from your wallet. You did not do it.  They form a commission that contends you stole the 100 dollars.  You deny it.  A judge comes in and finds that there is no evidence that you stole the 100 dollars.  

Would you settle and agree that you stole only twenty dollars just to end the matter?