Friday, June 12, 2015

base line simplicity

On the very day when my daughter returned from grade school toting an electronic calculator, I went to the principal and bitched. Please don't provide my daughter with such a crutch, I argued: It'll just make her dumber and less capable, not smarter and more adept. I was politely but firmly informed that this was the wave of the future and that it gave children the opportunity to exercise their math skills in a wider perspective.

That was long ago, of course, and today I am stuck with the legacy of my daughter's inept training when the cashier at the local supermarket cannot readily subtract a $10.37 purchase from a $20 bill when the electronic cash register goes on the fritz. Perhaps the cashier has wider skills I am unaware of, but at the moment I just want to pay for the milk and sundries and go home.

There is something to be said for learning the shit that everyone else griped about as well. It's simple and the world works somewhat more smoothly when everyone knows how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Whether anyone goes on to ponder the depths of E=mc2 may be a wondrous thing, but if there is no mastery of the base line, how wondrous could it be?

Base line simplicity is deliciously attractive, especially in this age of too much information. On the negative side, it can lead to a teaching-to-the-test vortex that scares the shit out of all imagination. On the positive side, I get my milk and sundries in a time of electronic failure.

In 1904, Amadeo Peter Giannini opened the Bank of Italy in San Francisco. He specialized in providing a haven and a lending institution for the people who went unserved by traditional banks that catered to the well-heeled. "He offered those ignored customers savings accounts and loans, judging them not by how much money they already had, but by their characters." On a recent TV show, Giannini was said to have made loans based on the callouses he felt when he shook a man's hand. After the 1906 earthquake and fire devastated San Francisco, Giannini was there to help the metropolitan phoenix rise from the ashes. 

His bank today is called Bank of America. I doubt that the transparency on which Giannini founded his operation is still in evidence, but still ... it's nice to think it has very simple and straightforward beginnings ... balls instead of "human resources" directors.

Two days ago, Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show," took a five-minute bite out of the New York Times for its coverage of Republican presidential wannabe Marco Rubio's financial maneuvers. The Times reported on a boat and house Rubio had purchased and noted his attempts to pay down law school debt. It also reported on the number of parking tickets he and his wife had accrued: “Oh sh—! Marco Rubio got … 4 tickets! In … 17 years! I assume The New York Times obtained this damning information from Marco Rubio’s plaque in the ‘Hall of Best Miami Drivers Ever,’” said Stewart.

Of course news organizations are dying -- and the New York Times more than most -- to be known for their hard-hitting research and level-headed presentation to a public that is not in the business of rooting out what is under personal and policy rocks. And naturally, the New York Times had its excuses for wasting time on Rubio's non-infractions. It's a money-saver, that's for sure ... pretending to dig where the soil is softest. OK ... give 'em another Pulitzer.

But note the implications: If this is news to the New York Times and if this is editorial judgment, what service is the public receiving outside a gosh-and-golly gossip? People are hungry; people are jobless; wars sap the economy; racism is no joke; and politicians pursue venal adventures. But that sort of observation invites research and hence money. No one wants to spend money if they don't have to so the topics for research become increasingly simple-minded and inexpensive.

Risk takes nerve. Nerve is expensive.

Easier to use a calculator.

Easier to believe in god.

1 comment:

  1. Well, the 4th estate was bought up by bigger interests in a world out of balance. An editor shalt not offend an advertiser or owner lest hell fire rain down upon him. But it's not the hell fire really. If an editor doesn't toe the line he's replaced by someone who will.