Restaurant Rights and Race

Last weekend, I met up with Margie and Suze at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square. We’ve been friends since we all started at our first jobs at Simon and Schuster on the 16th floor of the Gulf and Western building, now a Trump building, in Columbus Circle 1987. We still talk several times a week and meet up in the city as often as we can get away from our families.

The routine is always the same. We meet up at a bookstore and then roam through the neighborhood stores talking non-stop and then eventually end up in a restaurant for more non-stop chatter. It’s good to have old friends.

It was a blustery day, so we ended up in restaurant quickly after brief visits to ABC Carpets and Fishes Eddy. As we settled into several plates of dumplings and scallion pancakes at a Chinese restaurant, a commotion broke out around us. A guy who was working outside the building got into a shouting match with the restaurant owner. He wanted to use the bathroom without buying any food. The owner blocked his way to the bathroom and said that the bathroom was only for customers. The worker yelled that he just wanted to use the toilet and leave. After lots of yelling, the worker finally left.

And because race and restaurants are in the news, I have to say that the worker was African American. The owner and the customers were white or Asian.

We got into a debate at the table. One of us thought that the owner should have let the guy use the toilet. He was in a construction outfit. He was clearly not a homeless guy. She felt that the worker’s race was one of the reasons why he was shuffled out of the restaurant.

Another friend said that restaurant owners never let non-customers use the toilet. Anybody who is in New York City knows that you can’t use a toilet in a restaurant without buying anything, and you have to know where the open-use toilets are, like the second floor of that Barnes and Noble.

Who was right?


The End Times of Brick and Mortar

Last month, Ian remembered that he had $50 worth of gift cards for Toys R Us in the bottom drawer of his desk and that those cards had to be used quickly, because the company was going bankrupt. We hastily purchased some electronic items, but we were notified three weeks later that the order was cancelled without refunding the gift cards. The company ate our $50.

So, I’m currently trying to work through the phone tree at ToysRUs to get that money back. I know it’s a lost cause, but losing $50 is bugging the crap out of me. Even if all the good stuff is gone in the stores, I want to buy diapers or something and donate it to the local food pantry. The odds of getting this money back is very slim, but I have to give it a shot.

Toys R Us is yet another business that cannot compete with the convenience of online shopping. Our local mall is a ghost town and is mostly used by retirees who pace back and forth to get their steps on the Fitbits. Sears will soon be replaced by yet another fancy supermarket with lots of prepared foods.

Is the demise of ToysRUs and its fellows a bad thing? No more teenagers hanging out at the foodcourt at the mall. No more flat-iron salesmen at the kiosks chasing me down the hallway with their products. No more lines of kids waiting to get their pictures taken with the Easter bunny. Does it matter? Probably not.

I’m quite happily buying picture frames, rugs, and eyeglasses online. My rug showed up in two days and was perfect. My glasses were inexpensive and were easy to exchange when the first pair were too large. Framing my picture online saved me several separate trips to get the picture printed and then matched to the right frame. Over this winter, I also purchased my holiday cards and a stylist-approved outfit — all online.

The stores that are going to survive the continuing extinction of brick and mortar are going to be like creatures that survived the dinosaur extinction — smart and agile and small.

People still want to go out to be inspired. They want an experience along with their shopping. So, stores that show you what your rooms can look like with their products, an IKEA for example, will be fine. Stores that provide services for the busy family, like the prepared foods at the fancy supermarkets, will keep expanding. Stores that make you feel hipper with carefully curated items and hip workers will be okay.

But you should hurry up and spend your gift cards to stores with piles of dusty board games or piles of discount jewelry. Their days are numbered.

Kids and Their Protests

Anyway, lots of kids marched out of their schools yesterday. Some faced discipline from school administrators. Other school districts supported and cheered for the kids. Here in New Jersey, it went both ways.

I watched a minute of two of the film clips of the protests, but couldn’t stomach much more. I’m too jaded to be moved by impassioned speeches of 15-year olds. I love that they are testing out their political opinions, but I don’t really care what they have to say.

At some schools, there were counter protests by students on the right. Some students say that left-leaning school administrators tried to squash the counter protestors.

Administrators were largely just afraid that the situation would get out of control and someone would sue the district.

Will those protests make for any changes on gun control? My guess is no. The protests were impressive, but nobody is talking about them today. The moment is done.


Why Colleges Are Embracing the #NeverAgain Movement

As high-school students around the country organize in support of stronger gun-control legislation in the wake of the Parkland shooting, many are finding that, at the very least, one thing they don’t have to worry about is the possibility of disciplinary action hurting their chances of getting into college some day. Superintendents in some school districts have warned that students who participate will face disciplinary actions such as suspension. But over 250 college-admissions offices around the country have responded to these concerns, most of them with assurances that students’ activism will not hurt their chances at admission, even if their high schools do take disciplinary action.

Because college applicants must disclose whether they have ever been suspended from school or faced other disciplinary measures, many students have been concerned that colleges might rescind an acceptance or look unfavorably upon future applications. According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), many member colleges have reported that large numbers of students have been calling admissions offices worried about the effect suspensions could have on their admissions prospects.

More here.

Is Florida’s School Shooting a Failure of Schools?

Today we’re going to hear a lot of punditry responding to the latest horrific school shooting in Florida. Some may have even had their articles written even before this happened and are just plugging in the new details. The school shooting happened because there were too many guns. The school shooting happened because there are crazy people out there who should be locked up.  The school shooting happened because of cell phones.

I have to admit that I checked to see if the shooter displayed any autistic symptoms, bracing myself for the inevitable witch hunt against autistic people.

There is nothing wrong with those sentiments, except maybe the cellphone explanation and the criminalization of mental illness. Let me add another wrinkle. Let’s talk about how schools handle kids with behavior problems.

Schools handle behavior problems by either expelling the students, placing them in horrible private programs with other kids with behavior problems, or ignoring the issue all together. Students with behavior problems are supposed to be handled with the same care and support that schools offer kids like my son who has autism.

Yes, I’ve complained about special education many times on this blog and in IRL. They could be doing much better in that regard, but if you know the system, special ed students can get what they need. Kids with behavioral issues do not have those same legal protections.

It’s obvious what kids like that need. They need therapy, medication, follow through at home, and a structured school environment.

All that costs money. And like special education, schools try to get the private insurance companies to cover those costs. Private insurance companies want schools to pick up the tab. Unless there is a parent who devotes their life to demanding help from both of those entities, nothing happens.

We can get rid of guns, but we also need to support students with behavior and/or mental health issues.

How Hard Do Professors Actually Work?

If there were a “10 Things That Piss Academics Off the Most” list, ranking near the top would be the perception that academic life is easy and relaxing. Professors get annoyed at having to explain to their neighbors and family members that their work extends far beyond the lecture hall—and far beyond the seven-month-or-so academic year. They might be seen walking their dog in the middle of the day, but chances are they’re going back home to grade papers or prepare a seminar discussion or conduct research.

Despite broad consensus among professors that their job isn’t for slackers, they tend to disagree, primarily among themselves, about exactly how hard they work. While some scholars say they maintain a traditional 40-hour workweek, others contend they have a superhuman workload. Take Philip Guo, an assistant cognitive-science professor at University of California, San Diego, who on his blog estimated that in 2014 he spent 15 hours per week teaching, between 18 hours and 25 hours on research, four hours at meetings with students, between three hours and six hours doing service work, and between 5 hours and 10 hours at “random-ass meetings (RAM).” That amounts to as many as 60 hours per week—which, he noted, pales in comparison to the 70 hours he worked on average weekly as an undergraduate student at MIT.

America’s higher-education system is under increased scrutiny largely because of rising tuition costs and ballooning student debt; concerns about liberal indoctrination on college campuses, which are subsidized by taxpayer dollars, have also started to bubble up. People want to know where their tuition and tax money is going—are professors working hard for that money?

More here