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Friday, September 28, 2007

Observations of the Week: TV

Observation number 1: Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

On the show, adult contestants pit their wits against the minds of Fifth Graders, who are - according to the premise of the show - smarter than the average adult. This is of course, not true, they are merely much more versed in the useless trivia that is taught in grade school. And we all know that trivia-
savvy and intelligence are not the same thing.

The show is amusing nonetheless. The contestants are allowed to choose one of the five Fifth Graders at a time to assist them with answering the trivia questions. More often than not,
I've noticed that contestants will begin the game by choosing the Fifth Grader who most resembles themselves physically. Maybe this is the same reason that dogs often resemble their owners, and lovers often look like kin -- maybe we are naturally drawn to things that resemble our reflections. Perhaps we are all a little narcissistic.

Observation number 2: Fox 13 News Quickcast

For a couple nights in a row, Ian and I were tricked into watching Fox 13's evening news program, even though it's completely useless. It's funny how those damn shows can just suck you in. In fact, I'm convinced that the only business these people are in these days is the business of sucking in viewers. It's an art form that they've managed to mind-numbingly perfect.

Each of Fox 13's fluffy little "news" stories is told a minimum of three times during the show, depending on how many commercial breaks it takes to get to the actual story. Just like how the plots of some movies are completely spoiled by their previews,
each news story is pretty much told in its entirety during the pre-commercial teases.

Turns out the stories are so fluffy and light of content that a little 10-second blurb is all it takes to report all the worthwhile details of the story. In fact, the entire hour-long newscast could be entirely condensed down to the five-minute
Quickcast at the end of the hour, during which time they rehash everything they've already reported. No details are lost, but the fluffy filler is trimmed down. You get the same stories, only packaged more efficiently. If only they would condense the fluffy feel-good stories into a segment called Fluffy-Feel-Good-Stories-in-a-Minute, and then give the World-in-a-Minute stories the reporting they deserve, then Fox 13 News might actually be worth watching.

Observation number 3: Jodie Saeland

On a related note, Ian and I suspect that Jodie
Saeland (aka "The Weather Troll" in our house) is actually played by identical twins. Why? Because one day she'll be pregnant, the next week not, and then two months later she's pregnant again! There's got to be two of them! It's local TV's best kept secret.

Observation number 4: Maruchan/Toyota

Ian pointed this one out to me, and if you haven't payed attention to the ending screens of Toyota ads, you probably won't know what I'm talking about.

But first recall if you will the little oval-shaped face on the
Maruchan Cup-of-Noodle packages. This face bears a mighty resemblance to the little oval-shaped Toyota face at the end of Toyota commercials. You know the one? It touches a pointed finger to its head and then morphs into the standard oval-shaped Toyota emblem. I guess that's what you get when you hire your ad consultants right out of college. They are so used to eating the Cup-of-Noodles that they have visions of Maruchan Man floating in their heads.

Where's the trademark infringement suit on this one?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Meaning of Life is to Strive for Something

Die Bedeutung des Lebens ist nach etwas zu streben.

That little rhyming German sentence, which I just came up with myself, thank you very much, means: "To strive for something is the meaning of life." The idea is not mine (and really who has an original idea anymore anyway?), but it was taught to me by Professor von Schmidt, head of the German department at the University of Utah, during a class on Faust. For some reason, the idea of striving sticks out in my mind over many other things that I learned in college.

For anyone not familiar with the story of Faust (and I do recommend that you become familiar with it), it's about a man who has mastered his knowledge of medicine, law, and theology, but is unsatisfied and craves further knowledge. So he sells his soul to the devil so that he can gain full knowledge of the universe through magic.

Interpretations regarding the morality or immorality of Faust's deeds depend upon whom you ask. Christopher Marlowe told the traditional version of the myth in Doctor Faustus, which ends with Faust pleading for the salvation of his soul. But Goethe's Faust, on the other hand, ends with the redemption of Faust's soul. The telling of Goethe's version is similar in many respects to the Book of Job. In both stories, God and the Devil make a bet about the protagonist. The Devil bets on the one hand that Job will curse God, and on the other that Faust will go astray from God. In both stories, our heroes do just that, but are saved nonetheless.

Why are they saved? That's something that I don't really understand in either case. The bets appear to be lost, and yet God wins anyway. There is probably a good explanation, but I haven't been able to reach it yet. That leaves me some understanding yet to strive for as far as the story is concerned.

And that is the point of this blog: it dawned on me today how important it is to strive for something; to be challenged by something; to always keep the carrot dangling in front of your face. (That is, of course, if you're a rabbit. The point is to find your impetus and follow it.)

The meaning of life is to have a reason to keep on living. Once there is nothing left to push for, then we might as well just give up the ghost.

How this applies to me: I will not settle into a routine that fails to keep on challenging me. I can master my 9 to 5 job, and then I must move on. I must always work to improve myself. Sustaining life is a purpose of jobs, yes. We need the money to live, and the health insurance to ensure that living. But that is not all that life has to offer. We can't just get up, go to work, come home, eat, sleep, repeat. That is a cycle that goes nowhere. There must be something else to keep us going.

It could be our careers, if they're headed somewhere. It could our hobbies. It could be our families and friends. There just has to be motivation to keep on moving and improving.

You see, I finally feel happy and optimistic about the future because I have recently decided to pursue law school. Preparing for the LSAT is causing me to oil the gears of my mind and get them moving after the 2-year mental dormancy my post-graduation life has been. I am excited to prepare for and hopefully excel at this task ahead of me. At last, I feel like I have a direction, and it's a relief to have somewhere to go.

Immer wieder mit dem Streben.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Utah Private School Vouchers

Seeing as how there might be a vote on vouchers for students to enroll in private schools in Utah this November, I thought I'd try to get informed about the issue, but I'm having a hard time coming up with hard facts about the referendum.

For one thing, I'd like to actually see what the referendum says, not what people say it says. But I'm not quite sure how to do that. For another thing, the information out there seems to be rather one-sided in the direction of opposing the referendum. Opponents to the bill seem to be teachers in public schools, the UEA, and democrats. Proponents of the bill seem to be republicans, but I'm finding little support for the referendum online.

I'm a liberal, but that doesn't mean this issue doesn't appeal to me as someone who floated through the rather lackluster Utah public education system. Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn't be smarter now if I had had the opportunity to attend private school.

My bottom line philosophy is this: our education system here in Utah, and in America in general, is pathetic. I think we should take most of the money we are spending on this country's "defense" (aka "The Business of War") and shift those funds to (1) universal socialized health care for all citizens and (2) education. I think our guvment doesn't invest in these two essential needs because they like to keep the people uneducated and dependent upon the workforce for livelihood. It's a way to control the people, and just generally keep everyone down. That sounds really paranoid, but that's how I really feel.

So that's what I think should be done. But knowing that it won't, there has to be another way to address these issues, and in the case of education, the voucher system is a possible way to boost the quality of our education in Utah.

Here's the proponent position:
Vouchers give families who wouldn't normally be able to consider private school a choice between private and public. This is done by offsetting the cost of tuition from between $500-$3000 per year, according to the financial needs of the family. This will also include offering money to already wealthy families ($500, supposedly, although since the wealthy have the power, I could see them finding a way to get the $3,000).

And the opponent position:
Putting public funds into private schools is akin to using taxes to fund private business. We should instead invest in public schools, especially since 96% of Utah's students attend public schools.

I think there are some flaws in the opponent way of thinking. Namely, I don't believe you can draw a direct analogy between funding private businesses with public money and funding private schools with public money. For one thing, schooling is a service and an investment for the public in general. We all benefit if our people are better educated. Business on the other hand, generally only benefits the business owners.

I think public schools are worried that the vouchers will pull students out of public schools, and public schools will consequently lose the funding that they are allotted for those students. (The voucher bill supposedly will allow for public schools to still receive funds for students who switch for up to five years following the switch. So in essence, they will get money for students that do not attend their schools, and thus will be better funded in a per capita sense. Of course five years isn't a very long time.)

On the whole, I lean in favor of the vouchers, in the sense that I am in favor of bettering our education. But I don't understand the issue enough to know what is really going on .

I'd love to hear what anyone else thinks about the issue.

Update: After reading the Voter Information Packet, I began thinking that the money we would be spending on Tuition Vouchers wouldn’t really be increasing the amount of money spent on education in Utah. Instead, it would just be diverting some of the source of that money. The same amount of money would be spent on tuition, parents just wouldn’t have to foot as much of the bill (although they would still have to pay the bulk of it).

Now imagine if we took that same amount of taxpayer money that would fund this program and feed that into public schools. That WOULD be increasing the amount of money we are spending on education, and would thus be a much better way to spend our tax dollars IMO.

In the end, I feel that the whole voucher movement is motivated by rich people who already send their kids to private schools and who want a little rebate on some of that expense.

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