The Abridged Challenge

Small Talk 

This one is too easy, I swear. I mean, you ask the question, what the hell can make small talk interesting. Well here it is:

Humans evolved as a social species. The development of language is its own fascinating bundle of fascination, but what strikes me about small talk is its purpose. If you meet someone at a cocktail party, especially someone you don’t know too well, you ask them about their job, their hometown, and, of course, the weather (This, in major cities, is relegated to traffic, the urban weather). People look at small-talk as useless dribble, information less nonsense we resort to when we have nothing good to talk about. I don’t usually resort to absolute, but those people are wrong.

A great deal of information about social compatibility is exchanged in Small Talk. It helps to look at small talk as Human Butt-Sniffing. Dogs, when they great each other for the first time. First: they will smell each other’s noses. This serves as an indicator of mood for both animals. Second, they will sniff each other’s asses. Why? to tell the gender, pack status, and cleanliness of the other dog. It is an exchange of social data. Humanity has evolved its small-talk to include the basic social data. Who do you know, what Friends, if any, do we share, how much money do you make, and what kind of a person are you (Do I want to be your friend).

While social posturing and small talk may seem useless, try approaching it with this in mind. It also helps those less socially adept to function in those group situations. When in doubt, ask questions and gather info. People not only love to talk about themselves, but the more social information that is shared, the more of a subconscious connection is felt.

Homework

Right. Everyone’s favorite topic. Homework. THe bane of the weekend and afternoon, scourge of the high-schooler, and joke of the undergrad. A large subject that has been beaten to death by the likes of my peers. So lets take a different tack.

The main component of learning a skill is repetition, and this is where the homework paradigm comes into play. Sheets of simple math, grammar, spelling. The hundreds of calculus problems that professors will assign to drill the basics into your head. This is where I will take my contention

Tell me if this sounds familiar: An elementary school teacher with 40 kids has 2 hours to teach the basics of adding fractions with different denominators, in between trying to calm the class down and an ill-timed fire drill, she only has 45 minutes to teach some very important fundamentals. After blasting through the materiel, she sends the children home with their math worksheet because she has another 4 furrow days to go this semester alone, and has to keep her curriculum up to speed, or they won’t be ready for the standardized test at the end of the year that dictates how much funding the school gets. So the children go home, not really understanding the materiel, and try to complete it, not knowing how. Some get help from their parents, but most don’t. They try to complete the homework, don’t know how, build bad habits by “Incorrect Repetition”. Learning a skill depends on correct repetition, incorrect repetition breeds incorrect skills.

This is a small diatribe on the fact that we need more educational funding, and some teaching methods need to be changed. But how are we supposed to change education?

Homework is necessary. We hate it (and some don’t), but its true. What needs to change is the nature of the homework. The current paradigm is to lecture in class, and to assign the repetition outside of class. This is effective as long as the students completely understand the method, which they often don’t. It might be more effective if the repetition was guided in class, allowing the students to perform the correct repetition. This also allows you to introduce the idea outside of class, developing critical thinking skills, and intellectual independence. To put it simply, Have a student learn outside of class as much as they do inside of class. Make intellectual exploration a habit outside of the classroom.

Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting (Three Panel), 1951

http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/25855#ixzz22V4P8YQW

Take a moment to imagine what would happen if a painter from history happened upon this painting. Michelangelo might be intrigued, Van Gogh could be somewhat disgusted at its simplicity, Leonardo would be in awe of its technical proficiency. But all artists before the last 150 years would never have seen a painting like this receive recognition, much less be painted at all.

More than a 1000 years ago, it would have been nigh on impossible to achieve such a smooth and perfect white. The technology didn’t exist. Canvas was rough, oil paints were of poor quality, and keeping it such a pure white would have been next to impossible in most studios. In fact, going back to antiquity, the easiest way to achieve a smooth white was to polish the proper type of marble or granite to a sheen, and hope it doesn’t have any faults or mineral lines. This simple painting illustrates the technical proficiency of our time.

But this painting is more than that. It is an identifier of one of our species’ most unique qualities. Meta-thought. The analyzation of abstract ideas as their own entity. Art was about recreation and imitation, Landscapes, God-forms, theological idolatry. Then, suddenly, Artists started changing their view. They created altered versions of reality. Impressionists, surrealists, abstract artists. Then, somewhere along the line, the alteration of reality was surpassed by art that was completely independent of the world it inhabited. It didn’t mimic anything, it didn’t reference anything, it became art that reflected thought-form. Our reality became our mental construct of reality. And more than anything, this is what makes this very dull, very minimalist painting interesting. How in the world did we get from cave paintings to 3 white sheets of canvas?

Being an Office Receptionist

This isn’t interesting? I mean, it already seems to be to me, but let me spell it out for you, since you asked.

First, look at the prevalence of the service economy in this day and age. If you go back just 200 years, there wasn’t much of an economy around supporting the needs of others. You could carry packages or be a servant. Other skills, like service manufacture, required the creation of physical goods. Nowadays, there is an entire economic ecosystem of people’s whose job it is to coordinate, organize, or communicate. Office Receptionists, who write memos, and fill date-books, are just the tip of the iceberg. Someone from 200 years ago would look at jobs like that, and would likely laugh. “what kind of a job,” Says blacksmith joe, “Requires you to sit and talk to people all day”. But the fact is, without the service economy, we could not survive. As society becomes more complex, we have more of a need for people to organize it all, prevent it from collapsing. Office Receptionists form the basis of modern society.

But then we move on. Office receptionists are not only the cornerstone of modern society, but they also lead lives of intrigue. We are a society that thrives on social interaction, and, to a smaller extent, gossip. I am not lending any credence at this point to general archetypes, I am only using them because we as a society use them. Anyone who works HR or Reception in an office building has a better idea of what is going on in the office than anyone else in that building. This is because it is their job to deal with the people, to organize it all, and to know what to say to who to get what they need. Social information is power.

The receding Hairlines of Congressional Aids: A Study

Hair-loss, for some odd reason, is inextricably linked with stress. Which, when constantly getting texted pictures of a congressman’s junk on capital hill, is fairly high. Hair loss, in our society, is almost a sign of weakness. One can be bald and still be strong, and one can have hair, but if one is in between the two, we suddenly see weakness.

Its funny, in this way. We have had an African-American president, a Catholic President, and with any luck we are well on our way to having 2 X chromosomes sitting in the oval office. We haven’t yet elected an openly balding president. Can you think of one?

Well, there is Benjamin Franklin, I’ll admit. But he was elected in an era where wigs were the commonplace, and unlike most of the founding fathers, he was shoved far back to the 100 dollar bill, behind all of his peers and contemporaries. His name is even being redacted from history by a few southern and midwest states who don’t like his policies.

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2 Comments on “The Abridged Challenge”

  1. Andrew says:

    Benjamin Franklin wasn’t a president…


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