Nobody’s Marshall

If you’ve ever watched the TV show Alias, and you think the coolest character is Marshall… you might be a geek. Marshall is the techno-gadget guy who invents the combo satellite cam and stun gun concealed in a lipstick. He does this in his spare time as he is usually busy hacking Russian missile command codes and finding a cure for the latest bio-hazard the cosmopolitan spies he works with have stumbled upon.

And my girlfriend Kim thinks he’s cool, which might explain her “I ‘heart’ My Geek” t-shirt.

All of which leads me to this confession. I am not Marshall (and she already knew that). But apparently I’m not even as close as I had fantasized.

I fancy myself a pretty good computer tech. I can handle hardware as well as pretty much anything Bill Gates can throw at me. I’m comfortable hacking the registry, writing code, and manually extracting nasty viruses. I feel as if I can hang with the big guys here. It was my geek domain.

Which is why I shouldn’t have done it. I was becoming bored with Windows. So this week I built a Linux system. I had a false sense of confidence in that I had been exposed to Unix in the past. However, in fairness, this was back when there was vigorous debate about whether this Internet thing would really catch on. The last time I had a Unix system, I would start X-Windows to play, but for any serious work, I used the command line.

So I downloaded a “distro” of Linux and installed it parallel to a Windows install. I beat my head on that for awhile and finally removed the Windows drive altogether so Linux could have all the hardware to itself. It was happier that way. Then I spent a couple days getting all the hardware to work under Linux. Okay, that was painful but educational. Finally though, I was ready to be a Linux user.

There are a ton of applications installed with Linux. And apparently that’s a good thing, because installing any additional ones is next to impossible. I’ve been two days trying to get the Firefox browser installed. I’ve finally figured out that I don’t have the proper C++ libraries installed to install Firefox. I’ve tried to install older library versions to make Firefox happy, but there is no joy. So I decided to try and live with what came out of the box. But videos don’t play and Flash doesn’t flash. I clearly don’t have what I need. And apparently what I need is a clue.

Now I do not wish to disparage Linux. Lots of geeks love it. I wish I could. Maybe it’s a lack of time. Maybe I’m just getting old and resistant to new things. Maybe I can’t cope with the “freshman syndrome” of going from a Windows guru to a Linux newbie. Hey, I still think I want to know about Linux. But the curve is steep and scary. I can’t bring myself to make this a priority, nor can I toss it from the list of things to learn… someday… maybe.

I’ll bet Marshall knows Linux. I’ll bet Kim is burning that t-shirt as I type.

Be Careful What You Wish For

It is not often I agree with columnist Suzanne Fields. But I think her latest column, “As Literature, the Bible Towers”, is spot on. (Unfortunately, the column I’m referring to is not online yet, but will probably be posted here soon.) Her thesis is essentially that schools can teach Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey without violating separation of church and state laws – despite the danger that children will start to worship Zeus and Apollo. However, The Song of Solomon is arguably as significant a piece of literature as The Iliad, yet schools can’t even discuss it. In fairness, she does acknowledge the distinction between moribund religions and thriving ones, but she then dismisses it. And I agree with her.

I firmly believe the Bible should be taught as literature. It is arguably the most influential book in Western culture. I also think the Qur’an, the philosophies of Confucius and Buddha, and the Vedas should be studied. These are the cultures which define the world in which we live, and to ignore them would be a travesty.

However, I somehow suspect the same Evangelical Christians who are so eager to have the Bible resurface in the classroom, would be appalled at the notion of the Qur’an receiving billing on the same playing field. Not to mention the uproar which would ensue from the scholarly discussions of “Christian mythology”. Nor do I think the majority of teachers in this country could pull off an objective discussion of Christianity without making it sound like the “correct” answer. It’s too ingrained in our culture. Further, you can’t really have it both ways. If you want the bible introduced as history book and science text, you can’t also treat it as cultural literature.

So while I completely agree with Ms. Fields with regard to how the bible should be treated in school, I think the actual execution of such a strategy would be hopeless.

Everybody’s Equal

As we approach graduation season for high schools, it is interesting to learn that 39% of U.S. schools have eliminated the traditional anointing of class valedictorians. Apparently this trend is continuing as several local schools announced that this year’s valedictorian would be the last. And why is this happening? Well, of course, because competition is not healthy for students. It’s not fair that many valedictorian races are decided by hundredths of a point. Further, it is noted that some students duck Advanced Placement classes so that they can “inflate” their grades by taking easier courses.

This is probably the right solution, because in the real world no one ever wins or loses by a narrow margin. Or sure, there is the occasional Olympic event, election, or bingo match. But it’s not like losses in real life ever carry the life-long emotional scaring of not being valedictorian. I know that even after 26 years, I and the 236 other students in my class who were not valedictorian are still licking those wounds. Oh, the humanity.

And this business of people taking easy way out in order to play the system to their advantage rather than doing the hard work which will prep them for the future? A cynic might say there’s a Darwinian self-correction to this. After all, it seems plausible that Harvard would rather accept the #5 person in the class who has A.P. Calculus and Chemistry than the valedictorian with honors in film appreciation and typing. But that aside, again there is the real world aspect to consider. After all, in my 23 years in the corporate world, I’ve never seen anyone favor office politics over actual work and be rewarded for it. That never happens.

So let’s keep our kids in this utopian bubble of equality where no one loses and no one succeeds for as long as possible. They deserve it. After all, when they grow up all those hyper-competitive students from India, China, and other countries that will be sitting in the jobs our kids wish they’d gotten will doubtless respect the culture of equality that our kids were raised in. Right? It’s only fair.