Archive | May, 2012

Creeping on Google

16 May

Google ads have been creeping me out for a few months now. This is the one that came up while I was responding to a friend’s quips about silly work stuff. Really? Google concludes that we should head to Hong Kong to get away.  Or that wooden lockers might make End of Grade testing go more smoothly?  Maybe a VPN connection would help stop me from creeping on Google.  A few weeks ago, I sent a particularly bitchy email to my husband about his lack of attention to detail – nothing earth shattering, but a clear message about my discontent over a relatively minor thing and google hawked divorce lawyers from the side bar. That was the first time I really took any notice of the ads. I had to sit there for a moment and regain my composure. Had I been that nasty in my email? Did Google know something I didn’t? Do people who write direct emails about what pisses them off get divorced? Geez. I thought that was one of the things that makes my marriage strong – no festering resentments here. You disappoint me, piss me off, or make me happy, I tell you. No guessing games. It’s quick and to the point. We are very happily married; at least he agrees with me when I ask. And I did ask after the ads I got.

I stopped to think about the fact that someone has written a computer program to scan my text and aggregate a series of targeted marketing messages based on what I write. It’s creepy. It’s also brilliant. The fact that google in turn provides me with free email and other great tools makes it hard for me to complain too loudly about it. I just wonder about the accuracy of my digital profile. Maybe I should write more emails about my love of art or my culinary expertise or my desire to do good in the world.

Yesterday, I wrote an email to a friend about my job search – google offered plumbing school, an MBA program, and psychological counseling services. Maybe I should get some counseling about a new career path that promises to be crappy.

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These Colors Don’t Run

14 May

20120514-145456.jpgIf traveling abroad causes one to reflect on one’s nationality and it’s influence on personal identity, then living abroad calls for a full psycho-analysis of the effect. At least if you are me, it does. My analytical nature will not allow anything to just be. I pick it apart and examine all the pieces until I can thoroughly make sense of them within a context that is familiar and logical.

So, what does it feel like to be American and live in Britain? Watching the portrayal of America and Americans on television in Britain and the locals’ reactions, comments, and questions to me, I have a pretty good sense of the image Americans and America portray. Sometimes I am sickened by the accuracy of the impression of our Great Nation. We are selfish and self-indulged, over-confident and all too comfortable with the super-power role and status, even though that appears to be dissipating. We don’t know nearly as much about others as they know about us. When I share stories about people I know who are struggling to pay for or don’t even have health insurance, there is disbelief that our country could allow such things to happen. The basic services in Britain that provide for healthcare, education, affordable housing, public works, and many other government programs are not dragging down the society in taxes, but rather lifting them up in a communal shared concerned for their fellowman. I know I am over-simplifying the issue, but this society does, to me, seem more evolved and farther along in the realization that everyone benefits if everyone is taken care of at the most basic level.

Then there is gun-control. I am a staunch supporter of gun-control. Statistics show that arming yourself for defense leads to more crime and violence in our society. The police here in Britain are armed with clubs and pepper spray. At home, the officers patrolling elementary schools carry high powered hand guns, because of the fact that children can and do bring guns into schools. It’s outrageous. I will never own a gun and hope one day Americans see the light about gun ownership and what accessibility does to the American psyche. Gun control in Britain has allowed a relatively low incidence of violent crime. Yes, knife violence is a problem, but killing multiple innocent people in an instant with a knife is just not possible.

A few weeks ago, however, I had an experience that reminded me that I am American through and through. My socialization and upbringing in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave came out like an animal instinct. I was walking along a busy street talking with a friend while my husband walked several paces ahead of us talking with the wife of our friend. I saw coming towards us, a woman who appeared to be a bit disheveled and watched her bump into the woman my husband was walking with. She regained her composure and looked ahead at me. She came straight for me. Without a moment of thought, I planted my feet as she barreled into my shoulder, obviously drunk and looking for trouble. She seemed surprised by her solid hit, and my commanding voice, “What are you doing?” I think she expected me to move out of the way and apologize, which I did not. In fact, I turned around and watched to see if she carried on walking or was daring enough to come back. In my mind, I was ready for a physical confrontation if necessary to stand my ground. And there it is. Don’t mess with me. I am polite and courteous and considerate with everyone I meet on the street and in life generally. I am affable. But don’t mess with me. I will fight you. How stupid!

My reaction surprised my friend — he kept asking, “Are you alright?” Yes, at the moment, I was alright, riding a bit of an adrenaline induced high. Then of course, I was not alright. What made me react so differently from my British friends? I felt brutish in my over-reaction. History has shown over and again the fortitude, strength and bravery of the British people. World War II happened on their soil; they endured the German air raids and rallied against their invasion. We Americans have enjoyed generations of peace on our soil — yes, I know about Pearl Harbor, but that was not on our mainland, and did not include bombing our civilian population. Yet, Americans cling to our “right to bear arms” when really the only enemies we fight with handguns are our own family members, ex-lovers, innocent boys on the street and others we perceive as threats. Couple this absurd bravery with a semi-automatic and there you have it — American cowboys on urban streets.

Lots to think about in terms of what will it take for our society to become more safe, more cultured, more concerned for each other. For this American, I will again start with “the man in the mirror.”