life as understood

by jeff carr, master of the arts, -------------------------------------------------------------------------- presumably from a couch


BLOG (blogging Oregon-style)

courtesy of Jeff |

I've mentioned that I'm from Idaho. For the geographically disinclined, that's in the northwest, bordering Oregon. Before this past week, I had never been to Oregon. I had been to 33 states and some wacky countries, including Kazakhstan, Estonia, and Mozambique. I had even been to each state bordering Oregon multiple times (and about 12 trips to Boise) without ever crossing the border into the Beaver State.

Now I have. But that's not the story. Almost all of my wife's extended family on both sides lives in Oregon, and we just returned after spending nine days there, wherein I finally got to meet them all. But that's not the story either, even though a lot of them are crazy (their words, not mine).

The story is about driving in Oregon. There are a number of unique idiosyncrasies about being on the road there that are very indicative of what the state embodies. Mostly, it appears as though they're ultra-paranoid about accidents, maybe because of all the bicycles. Anyway, Sarah and I spent an average of probably 4+ hours per day in the car over the past nine days, but it didn't take that long to notice the following:

Speed limits: 10mph lower than the entire rest of the western United States, even in the deserty parts. 65mph max on all freeways, and 55mph max on all state and federal highways. This was terrible.

The roads themselves: Like sandpaper, only bigger. It was a nine-day-long deafening, vibrating butt massage that was fun for about twenty minutes.

Road signs: This, to me, is by far the most interesting part. The vast majority of Oregon highway road signs demonstrate impressive economy by exhibiting only one word. Common examples include "DEER", "CONGESTION", "ROCKS", and "TRUCKS". The first two are fairly self-explanatory, the third a little hazy, and I never figured out the fourth. What am I supposed to do with the trucks? Pass them? Fear them? Give 'em a shout out? (TRUCKS!) But this isn't all. Speed limit signs don't even say "SPEED LIMIT 65", as they do in the rest of the country. They just say "SPEED 55".

I'm guessing that the idea behind this policy of abbreviation is to keep drivers' eyes on the road, and not spending so much time reading signs. The really funny part to me is that this same format pervades other types of Oregon signs as well. One morning, we saw a family setting up for a garage sale in a neighborhood in Salem. When we drove back through a couple of hours later, there was a homemade posterboard sign on the corner that pointed in the direction of the house and simply said--you guessed it--"GARAGE". A couple days later, my brother-in-law mentioned that he saw a Christian billboard which plastered a singular word: "JESUS". Not "Jesus saves" or "lives" or any of the other common variations. Just the one word.

Oregon's an extremely laissez-faire liberal state, though, which is why they can never decide on their electoral votes, so maybe they felt that making any sort of conclusive statement about the Savior would be better left to the interpretation of each individual passer-by. Similarly, why only draw attention to the falling rocks? We wouldn't want to limit the perception of all rocks to their common stereotype of being fallers. There are some very lovely rocks in Oregon, and there's no need to fear them all. Many of them wish to be recognized for their stability on the mountainside, not the proclivity toward gravity that gives them all such a bad name.

All in all, it was a lovely trip all around the state to some of the most gorgeous sites I've ever seen. But maybe it's for the best that it took me 24 years to get there. Without a background in more explicit signage, I don't think I would have known exactly how to react. I never did figure out what to do around trucks.

Yes, it was a fine time, but I'll admit I breathed a sigh of relief when on I-84 back in my home state of Idaho, I was greeted by the comforting sign "OCCASIONALLY BLINDING DUST STORMS". I know just what to do when that happens: move to Oregon.

Disclosure: I have not attended a business school, but am a recent graduate of a college that competes for funding with one, and wallows in mighty defeat.

I've talked about the subject of business school here in brief, but never known exactly how to approach it more comprehensively. But most of my closest friends are graduates from business school, and they're wonderful people. I don't look down my nose at their degrees or anyone else's. In fact, some of the very smartest, most driven people I know are among them. I guess I'm just trying to figure out for my own sanity if, in the grand scheme of things, business schools actually do anything. Let me explain where this comes from.

My experience with our business school in my current position has been less than pleasant. Every other college on campus is consistently helpful and professional in meeting with me and contributing to my efforts. Almost all of the staff help I've solicited so far at the School of Business, however, has shut me down hard, each time in a very belittling fashion, as though they're too important to take time for me in my job (which is to assist them). It's almost as if they need to put on an air of superiority to mask the fact that many of them are still, in their hearts, undeclared.

In fact, at my university, and I suspect many others, majoring in "business" is often just a less embarrassing way of saying "I'm undeclared." It's a tiny bit different, though. It actually means "I don't know what I want to do with my life, but I'd like to make some money and maybe go on some cool business trips." There's nothing dishonorable about this indecision, of course. It usually doesn't stick, anyway. A colleague of mine who deals with freshman recruitment told me that a very high percentage of high schoolers enter college as business majors, and within four years, the majority have transferred to other departments. Presumably, they've figured out their lives' ambitions and left to follow them.

I'm guessing that most of those that stick around are of some more specific persuasion than simply "business." They are accountants, economists, and so forth. But no doubt, many virtual undeclareds do in fact slip through the cracks and attain degrees. Then, when these graduates grow up and still don't know what they want to do, they decide to work for business schools, in lifelong attempts to legitimize their own degrees. They stand guard at the years-old facade that business school is in fact productive, wary of outsiders who tread near the palace to which they've dedicated their lives, lest an outsider discover that the palace is empty.

An Englishman I knew in Russia, and one of the most successful men I know, told me that if I want to make it big in business, don't major in business. He explained that it takes specialists in other fields not only to come up with the big ideas, but to bring them to fruition as well. It made sense to me. After all, if I'm selling a product, I want engineers developing, building, and testing it. Most everything else, including sales and management, doesn't require any credential other than experience.

The point is, those engineering majors go to school thinking, "I'm going to use my degree to improve people's lives," and certainly, most budding scientists, artists, lawyers and others often feel the same way. Conversely, the very purpose of the business management degree is simply to make the bearer money. Now, I love capitalism as much as the next man (probably more), but I think it's a shame that we're actually spending countless dollars and awarding degrees by training people to increase revenue through self-serving sales and marketing tactics, rather than by building better products and services to aid humanity.

In the long run, wouldn't it make more sense to have the 2000 (estimate) students in our business school each specialize in some sort of beneficial other field, and let those who are eventually going to run a business learn the ropes via apprenticeship and experience, or maybe a cheap book and a community ed class? Friends from the palace tell me that business degrees are essentially useless once you get that first job, anyway--from then on, nobody cares whether you went to Harvard or ITT Tech. Everything in the actual workforce is learned and gained by experience.

I guess what I'm really wondering is this: how many millions of dollars have to be spent on educating students who won't even use their degrees, much less for anything useful, while so many scholars with aspirations in other, often more intrinsically beneficial fields receive fewer resources as a result?

By the way, obviously, many degrees under the business banner, i.e. accounting and economics and whatnot, are actually in and of themselves specialized and useful. In addition, those who want to will go on and do great things. I'm guessing that the palace guards that have been so impertinent and unhelpful to me are in fact those who have yet to decide what they really want to do in this life. I guess, at their age, I'd be pretty defensive about that too.


the inspiration

courtesy of Jeff |

I've spent the last week or so lacking in inspiration.

Wimbledon is over, out with a bang in one of the best matches ever played. My guy lost, but he proved himself a fighter, even if his fight will be overshadowed by a broken record, like a broken record.

If there's one actually constructive reason for me to watch tennis, though, it's that it prods me to get myself out onto the court more. My recent play has been shamefully sporadic following a moderately successful junior career as a player and instructor. Late in that "career," I was faced with an ultimatum at the hands of my beloved coach: devote yet more time and energy to the sport and contend for major college athletic scholarships and subsequent bigger and better things, or have a life. I chose the latter. I've never regretted that decision, but I've often thought back on what might have been.

Since then, my prowess in the game has slipped significantly, though my love for it never waned. Last night, though, something inspired me with an excitement for a future that I haven't dared dream of since I played my last junior tournament six years ago. Last night, I finally went out and played with my wife.

I always said that if I didn't marry a tennis player, I'd teach my future spouse to become one. My first date with Sarah, though, evidenced that such would be an uphill battle. She was cute, and oh so smart, but we went miniature golfing that night, and she could barely even hit the ball. She had the club face at like a 45-degree angle. I had taught four-year-olds with better coordination. In retrospect, she was probably just nervous, and we continued to date, marrying a little over a year later. Besides, I had never said that athletic ability would or should be my number one criterion for compatibility. Just a nice perk.

We've been married fourteen months now, and until last night, she'd spent a grand total of about a half hour on the court. I guess I just never wanted to pressure her, and neither of us expected to have a great time out there. Last night, though, my wife and I ventured out, and I led an hour-long private lesson on the basic form of the forehand. The result was unbelievable. I've taught some pretty athletically intuitive people before, but Sarah outshined them all. We spent most of the hour just hitting forehands back and forth, and she returned 80-90% of them back in the court, and with flair. It turns out she's a complete natural.

The lessons/hitting sessions will continue tomorrow and hopefully throughout the summer and the rest of our lives, though it seems possible that before long, the student may become the master. This turn of events doesn't necessarily secure my starry visions of us playing in a mixed doubles league together when we're 40 and 80, but who knows? At least we're both having fun. I guess the real point here is that a potential future of rec league tennis with her is infinitely more exciting to me than whatever minor accolades I could have achieved on my own. Plus, Sarah looks way hot in tennis garb.

Inspiration attained.