Saturday, June 17, 2006

Ringtones and the Survival of the Species

NPR : Teens Turn 'Repeller' into Adult-Proof Ringtone

This week brought news that there is now a high-pitch frequency ringtone that can be heard by most teenagers, but not by adults. Tagged with names like "Teen Buzz," it is touted as a way for kids to communicate with each other without parents knowing. It appears that this new tech breakthrough could signal the further decline and ultimate end of Western Civilization.

Those of us who have been parents are not overly concerned. We have long known that there were sound levels that teens couldn't hear--like whatever frequency transmitted the words "clean your room." These words were seldom heard by teens, along with other phrases having to do with things like curfews and vegetables. So it is logically consistent to assume that there were also things we adults couldn't hear as well. It figures that these frequencies would show up on cellphones, gadgets that serve as lifelines for youth around the world.

I have to tell you that the idea of ringtones I can't hear did not send me to the depths of despair. I have sat in theaters and heard cellphones that ring by playing Beethoven's Unfinished Symphony. The ringing went on and on while someone tore through their purse trying to find their phone. Thank God Beethoven didn't finish the darn thing.

But I think there may be a deeper issue to ponder here, one well beyond whether a 14-year-old can furtively buzz a friend and send a text message from places where cellphones are supposed to be turned off, whether by legal or parental decree

It has to do with communication, both its quantity and its quality. It has to do with noise and understanding. It has to do with linking what is being said to what is being heard. I believe we have a crisis in our culture that is driven by problems in communication.

In the movie Cool Hand Luke, the character played by Paul Newman utters the memorable words, "What we've got here is failure to communicate." In the context of the film it's a hilarious line. Today it's a serious call to all of us who care about global community.

While I earlier made light-hearted comment about adult/teen communication, in truth I know how meaningful it can be when significant understandings are achieved across generations. Kids and parents do think differently, do draw upon unique experiences, and do express themselves in distinct ways. Some of my most memorable conversations have been with our kids, including a long time before they became adults. When those built-in barriers are overcome the result is powerful and redemptive.

The same principle applies to all kinds of human diversities--racial, gender, sexual orientation, economic, geographic, language. On and on it goes.

Communication boils down to listening for the purpose of understanding. First we hear, then we reflect, then we speak.

Let's all download that high frequency ringtone and see if we can train our ears to hear it. After all, we wouldn't want to miss a call, would we?

I'm getting tired of the William Tell Overture ringing on my phone anyway.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Ignoring Ann Coulter

"Deadly Intent: Ann Coulter, Word Warrior" - New York Times
I refuse to be an accessory to Ann Coulter's book-selling game, as detailed by this excellent column in the New York Times.

This post is to declare that I am wise to her tricks and way too smart to post anything on my blog that might sell her hate-mongering book or draw attention to her leggy interviews on the cable news channels. Let Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson take her on. That's good enough for me.

I hereby offer this advice to the teeming masses of people who read this blog and look to me for appropriate responses to cultural affairs. Ignore Ann Coulter. Resist the temptation to discuss her during lunchtime conversations. Do not refer to her outrageous comments. Rise above her vitriolic sound bites and prove to her that we will not succumb to her marketing plan. Do not look at her legs.

And above all, do NOT call her names. To do so is to demean ourselves and to ennoble her. We will not be Ann Coulter enablers.

Taking this principled stand has cleansed my soul. Thank you, Ann Coulter (rhymes with "rich").

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Apocalypse Diverted

apocalypse now / then
Originally uploaded by joshc.
"On 6/6/6, the Possibilities Are Endless" - New York Times

It's still a few hours until midnight on the day we've all been dreading, but it looks like the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year of this millennium is going to pass without ushering in the apocalypse. The end-of-the-world prognosticators will now have to go back to the Bible and see where they blew it.

This was a biggy though. For centuries prophetic numerologists have combed the Bible for clues that explain contemporary tribulations and pestilence and thereby foreshadow the end of the world. But 6/6/6 is special, and ready made for doomsayers. Snipped from the Book of Revelation, it is seen as the "mark of the beast," usually understood as the Antichrist. So ducking this bullet is no small thing.

As for me, I tried to take on my day in the same manner as St. Francis of Assisi, the beloved 12th century mystic. It is said he was once approached while hoeing his garden and asked what he would be doing if he knew that today was the last day of his life. "I would be hoeing my garden," he said.

In that spirit I moved through my day in routine fashion, mindlessly whistling away any underlying uncertainties. On a couple of occasions I turned on the cable news channels, watched the headlines, and thought, "Oh my God, it's here!" But then I realized I had inadvertently tuned in the FOX network. It wasn't the apocalypse, just some reporters warming up for it.

I did take occasion to log on to, an evangelical site that tells all you need to know about the end of time. They have breaking news updates on Armageddon, a Prophecy Gopher that makes learning about burning in Hell fun for kids, and tips on how to pack for the Rapture. I would never have come across this treasure trove had I not been hedging my bets on 6/6/6.

I'm glad our world has been given an extension. For one thing, I'm a Royals fan and that's about as close to the apocalypse as one can get. Beyond that, however, is my hope that all this silly hysteria will cause each of us to think about this earth for which we have responsibility. There are starving people around the world whose tribulations are all too painfully real. I daresay there are many Iraqi families who have experienced their own Armageddon. The horrors of crime, abuse, and domestic violence devalue life and defy hope.

On 6/7/6 let's give up this Biblical scrabble game and work on behalf of peace, justice, and love. Wouldn't that be rapturous?

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Homosexuality at the Altar (of Political Expediency)

President Bush's renewed declaration of support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage ("Bush Revives Gay Marriage Ban" - Washington Post) points to the vacuum of moral leadership at the highest levels of our government. It's an election year, the president's popularity is at historic lows, and his supporters are afraid they will lose control of the Congress. What shall be done?

Well, let's dust off an idea that has not a wit of a chance of being approved, but will stir the juices of the conservative base. Never mind that it will drive another huge wedge through the heart of the country and stir angry controversy in a time that can ill afford it. Never mind that it plays with the hearts and souls of many people who yearn for an open and searching dialogue about this delicate issue. A leader with depth and true compassion would refuse to allow something this important to be kicked around as a political football. But instead we get this nonsense, an attempt to redirect the political debate away from war and peace, massive deficits, and a broken health care system. The cynicism of those who offer that kind of leadership is shameful.

This post is not about taking a position on gay marriage--that's for another time. Instead it is simply a call for leaders who understand the issue and who create a process that is worthy of the moral complexities and personal sensitivities at stake. But no, all that is put at risk so political hacks can keep their cushy jobs and avoid accountability for their failures.

The problem is worsened by the evidence that Mr. Bush seems not to be personally invested in this agenda. He has not made it a priority except when it needs to be lifted up as a political club. His vice-president also is reluctant to get into the issue, no doubt in part because it has a human face in his own family. But like good soldiers they lay aside their own ambivalence and become shills of partisan demagoguery.

It would be wonderful if Mr. Bush would use his remaining two plus years to try to heal the festering wounds that his war-making and budget-breaking presidency has inflicted on our nation. But the evidence is that he will go out the way he came in--a decider who decides wrongly, a unifier who divides, and a "compassionate conservative" who is compassionate toward a few but seems not to give a damn for the most vulnerable of people in our land.

If I sound angry it's because I am. We deserve more from our leaders. We should demand that those whose voices speak to the world on our behalf are bold voices of wisdom and courage, not small-minded, pandering voices of fear and division.

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