Thursday, October 27, 2005

My Arch Nemesis

Who could it be? Who makes my blood boil? Who, when I approach them, knowing that only they can give me what I need, looks at me with an un-moving, in-human face, promising to make my life more difficult?

Answer: The copy machine. That diabolical contraption with hundreds of moving parts; built to help mankind, but somehow frustrates us beyond belief. The copy machine. For the past few weeks, it has been my arch nemesis.

This quarter, I am a teaching assistant for UCLA's course ESS 9: The Solar System and Planets. Every week on Thursday morning, I make 86 copies of the lab handout to give to my 86 students. Every week I put my fate in the hands of a whirring plastic-and-metal beast the size of a juvenile buffalo. And every week this beast arbitrarily decides whether to make my morning easy or difficult. More often than not, it's the latter.

I want to save paper. Save a tree!, they tell me. Ok. I will tell the copy machine to print all 4 pages of the handout onto two pieces of paper, by printing on both sides. 1 side to 2-side copying? No problem! shouts the copy machine, grinning a little too widely to be sincere, that's-a mah special-tee! 86 copies? Psh. Child's play. And here I go. . . I'm a making your copies. . . and out comes the first all nice and crisp. . . and here comes the second.. . and we're doin pretty good. . and BUZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!.

The instrument panel lights up like a christmas tree. Apparently there is something wrong with absolutely every part of the copy machine, and the LCD screen is kind enough to show me all 22 steps I need to take to un-clog the machination. Open the left cover, wind the spool to make it spit out the paper, open the internal door, careful don't touch that part because it will burn your skin off, find the paper that got crunched when the copier was trying to flip it over, rip the paper out and make sure and grab every last piece of it so it doesn't gum up the gearworks, now open the right cover. . . it just goes on like this.

Got me all unclogged? asks Mr. Copier as if it was my fault. Good, now I can continue. And here I go. . . out comes the BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!

Lather rinse repeat.

Preventative action does not seem to apply here. The copier rolls dice to decide whether or not it will malfunction. Eventually, I'm able to force out all 86 of my copies, some with unsightly ink marks, others a bit crumpled from me yanking them out of the bowels of the machine. I turn on my heal, hard won copies in hand, and step solemnly away. I am at the mercy of this beast. I will be back next week to negotiate with it. I must have it's product. Despite it's shortcomings, it is the best copy machine in the building. It knows how important it is. It toys with me because it can. It is that for which I have the utmost contempt, and the utmost respect. The copy machine: My arch nemesis.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck.

Reg and I went to see an interesting movie tonight. Film would be a more appropriate label, I suppose. People tend to use the term "film" to indicate that the show is worthy of a little more consideration intellectually; that it has merit beyond it's entertainment value. Good Night, and Good Luck was about the efforts of Edward R. Murrough, a newsman with CBS in the early 1950's, to expose Senator Joe McCarthy for his unjust and misleading methods of questioning those he would put in the spotlight as having ties to communism. The movie glorified Murrough for his brave decision to stand up and call Senator McCarthy out for doing something that should not be tolerated in a country where individuals rights are assured by the constitution. It reminded me of the parable about the Emperor's New Clothes, where an Emperor is convinced by a wily trickster that he is wearing the finest clothes in the land. The trickster acts as if only those truly worthy can see the clothes, and so the Emperor, not wanting to look stupid, pretends that he can see them, and his entourage follows suit. Everybody just goes along with the idea that the Emperor, actually naked, is wearing fine new clothes, until someone finally points out that it's all hogwash.

The news media certainly has its problems, but it is also vital in its influence on people's opinions (and votes) regarding major social and political issues in this country. It's nice to hope that not all people in the news media are simply after money and sensationalism, but the actual truth, and the preservation of the ideals of liberty. Since the invention of the television, and now the amplified power of the internet, the majority of the population bases their opinions on information that is presented to them by news organizations. The media have a great amount of power and responsibility when it comes to what happens in this country, and the freedom of speech is a vital part of the checks and balances that allow us to live without fear of repression. I am probably a bit of an idealist, but I like to think that people are generally good, and are motivated by either their desire to improve their own situation, or the situation of others. It may not always be a realistic view, but I can at least hope that there is a significant fraction of people working in the news organizations that are motivated by the latter.

It is interesting to me that George Clooney has written and directed this film, given that he has shown his political opinions about freedom of speech in the past. Terry Gross interviewed him on Fresh Air a few days ago, and he spoke about how he and other Hollywood celebrities were outspoken against the Iraq War in its early days, and how various politicians and news organizations referred to them as "traitors" because they (the celebrities) did not believe in the claims the Bush administration put forth about the reasons for going to war. Since September 11th, it seems that those who speak out with the cool voice of caution and reason are trumped (at least on the front page or in prime time) by those who cloak themselves in the veil of patriotism, which is used as a backstage pass for many actions that later seem a bit ridiculous. Those who don't support the Iraq War have been labeled as unpatriotic. I recall a debate between Bush and Kerry last year in which Bush said that Kerry was projecting a non-presidential attitude by implying he did not support the war. Bush was basically saying that the troops would feel betrayed if Kerry was elected, since Kerry did not support the war, and therefore did not appreciate the sacrifices they were making. Patriotism is an easy out for someone who wants the public to forego basic reasoning, and rally blindly to the flag.. . but I digress.

This film about McCarthyism may be as topical in today's political environment as Arthur Miller's The Crucible was in the McCarthy era; though it's unlikely this film will be as lasting or as well remembered.

Anyway, it was a good flick, and I thought I'd think out loud for a bit.

Good night, and good luck.