Thursday, February 14, 2008

armchair sociology

I had occasion to see some interesting social patterns in action a couple of weeks ago. (And if I were close to diligent about blogging, I'd have mentioned it then.)

Joshua Bell, world-famous classical violinist, hails from Bloomington, IN, and was gracious enough to give a free concert here last weekend, with a pianist friend of his, Jeremy Denk. Tickets were available as of 11 a.m. on a weekday morning. The line started forming around 8:40 a.m. (I know because an acquaintance of mine was first in line). I arrived around 10:40 a.m. and found a line of people waiting in the cold -- a line that looked surprisingly short, until I saw that most of it was inside the building. The line snaked back and forth through the lobby. The loops were crowded so close together that it was sometimes difficult to keep track of which was which, especially since people kept stepping across to chat with each other. And yet no one, so far as I could see, made any attempt to jump the queue. Nor was there any impatience evident, although those of us in my part of the line ended up waiting for two hours. The line etiquette/ethos may have been bolstered by the presence of auditorium staff, giving occasional updates and reassurances, discreetly keeping an eye on things. And of course, it was reasonably clear what we were supposed to do and where we were supposed to go.

On to the nearby parking garage -- and a very different scene. Cars converged from several directions on the narrow exit. The line of cars with the clearest shot did not, most of the time, take turns with those coming from the side. It took ingenuity and/or recklessness to get one's car out of a spot in the first place, and then to get the heck out. (I had to create a new lane of traffic -- yes, there was room -- in order to get out of my spot, and then play chicken with a driver in the favorably positioned lane.)

And of course, these were pretty much all the same people who'd been following the rules so nicely in the line at the auditorium.

One main difference was that there were rules apparent in the auditorium. Another was the presence of those who might enforce those rules. And finally, as my husband pointed out: people are different in cars.

Snow and the ebbing of the American spirit

Apparently some of the local schools no longer let kids play in the snow at recess. I find that appalling enough. But what's really dispiriting is the collection of letters that were in the paper the other day. It appears that some 6th grade class was given the assignment of writing letters to the editor re whether they approved or disapproved of the no-play policy. (Here's the link, but I don't think it'll work for anyone who doesn't subscribe to the Bloomington Herald-Times.) Given how much the letters resembled each other, the kids may have had a list of pros and cons to choose from. What really makes me wonder where America went and how long it's been gone is that 9 out of 16 kids thought they should not be allowed to play in the snow at recess. Reasons:
--Kids could get wet and cold. (Example: "Just imagine every kid cold and wet from playing in the snow and how fast kids would get sick.") And they might not have snow gear.
--Kids could get hurt. Someone could put a rock in a snowball.
--Whatever will the teachers do with the wet outerwear?...

Risk is the only thing to consider. Any risk is too much. The way to handle the risk of inappropriate behavior is to ban all related activity. Any difficulty is too much to handle.

Is there ANY way to turn this around?!!??...

Woman, the tool-using animal

We had ice raining down the other night, covering pretty much everything. (My daughter described this in, I think, quite amusing terms on her live journal.) One temporary casualty was the flag on our mail box: frozen in the down ("nothing here, guys!") position. So I took a screwdriver out there and chipped away the ice. Presto, functional mailbox flag!

It doesn't take much in the way of technical achievement to make me feel proud of myself....