Thursday, February 04, 2010
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Top Ten Years of the Decade
Monday, December 21, 2009
Torches Are Good Too, Though
If there's a better way to identify yourself as a Nepalese Maoist -- and simultaneously as a rich and fussy outdoorsman -- than by wearing a coat named after the Chinese side of Nepal's most famous mountain, I don't know what it is.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Wikipedia Sentence for Today
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The government has a rocky history with names. The three existing federal health insurance plans are good examples. "SCHIP", the most recent, is also the most clunky. "State Children's Health Insurance Program" is certainly descriptive, but it telescopes into an acronym nobody knows how to pronounce. Is it s-chip? Ship? Skip? Wikipedia doesn't even venture a guess.
"Medicare" is just dumb. Is it supposed to be short for "Medical Care"? Of the various concepts involved in the Medicare program, retirees and insurance didn't make the cut, ousted by a smash-up of two words that express one concept between them.
"Medicaid," by constrast is a rare success. In parallel with "Aid to Families with Dependent Children," Medicaid expresses the notion of medical aid, to the poor being strongly implied.
Other government programs are seldom better. Some are illiterate acronyms, like the DEA, which stands for "Drug Enforcement Agency." Others are even worse, like "Social Security," a name so vague it could literally be applied to any government program with equal plausibility.
Legislators are seldom careful, but in this case I think they should take a moment to select an appropriate name for their baby. The government, and a few key legislators in particular, have the power to control the words that hundreds of millions of people use. Every psychotic on the street has the CIA on his lips. The fact that our mental wards aren't full of people raving about the OSS is an accident of nomenclature. Except for the IRS, the post office and the voting booth, most of us have very little tangible interaction with our government. Conservatives are afraid that the government will exert control over our everyday lives, but as it stands, only 10% of Americans will even be allowed to buy into the public option. What will it be to the rest of us? Just a name.
Eat of This Candy, For it is My Body
Saturday, September 26, 2009
"Coupons were not in vogue during our period of gluttonous consumption," but now that our GDP has fallen, the Times is suggesting that this boom in the coupon sector will ease the downturn. Later on, a spokesman for a coupon company suggests that "folks are going back to the basics, trying to live simpler lives," and are expressing this Arcadian simplicity by redeeming coupons.
At no point does the article note that using coupons is not real thrift. Reusing pickle jars, or starting a compost heap is thrifty. Coupons are just loss-leaders, mere marketing devices that stores use to get you inside their doors, where you will hopefully buy merchandise with a higher profit margin. Yes, some people game the system, piling coupon on coupon and cheating the stores out of their profits. And yes, the stores put up with it because the cost of people taking unfair advantage of coupons is outweighed by the customers who use them as intended. But the use of coupons doesn't add anything to the economy, doesn't save anything, and doesn't constitute a decline in "gluttonous consumption". Praising extreme coupon-clippers is exalting people who -- by unfair means -- are making things more expensive for you and me.
Articles about coupon freaks, like the concomitant articles about people who root through the gutters for pennies, manage to channel the normal human desire for thrift into a gigantic free rider problem. The obvious answer to the question of "why don't you do this?" is that if we all did it, the stores wouldn't issue so many coupons, and the mint wouldn't issue so many pennies. Rather than urge us not to be free riders on merchants' goodwill, the Times is pretending coupons are so much moral scrip, redeemable for prudence, diligence, conscientiousness, and ample smugness.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Wikipedia Sentence for Today
Thursday, September 17, 2009
All presidents have pets, and all presidents' pets are popular, but Socks was something else. Do you know whether Ronald Reagan had a pet? Do you know what George Bush Sr.'s cocker spaniel was named? Do you care? The dog, evidently named Millie, was "featured in an episode of Murphy Brown," (and what an exciting episode that must have been) but otherwise minded her own business.
But for the first few years of Bill Clinton's presidency, it seemed like the only facts anybody knew about him were that he could play the saxophone and that he had a pet cat. Of course, my perspective is skewed from being 8 at the time, and more interested in cats than health insurance reform -- if they could only see me now -- but Wikipedia cannot lie: Socks's cultural references page is more than twice as long as any other pet's.
Even more amusing than the mere fact of a celebrity cat is how quickly he washed up. We can see the Socks the Cat Fan Club on Geocities (a double relic), which was abandoned in 1997, fully twelve years before Socks died in obscurity, and just a few days into Bill Clinton's second term. The Clintons, no doubt aware that the bloom was off the rose, got a puppy shortly afterward, but the magic was gone.
Some might say that people forgot about Socks in Clinton's second term because he provided us with a much more prurient interest, and I'm sure there's something to that. As a culture, we don't usually know much about new presidents, so we tend to seize the most accessible handles, be they saxophones, or a goofy tendency toward mispronunciation, or blackness, and when actual stuff happens, we're quick to drop our earlier preoccupations.
On the other hand, saying that Clinton's sex scandal forced Socks out of the public eye because it was more interesting rather misses the point, and the mystery too: Socks was never interesting at all; he was just an ordinary cat.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
On the other hand, those of you who live in the New York City media market (um, are there any of you?) will know what I mean when I say that I've been interacting with those Cablevision ads for a while now, chiefly by means of the mute button.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Is Life a Boon?
The story "World's Oldest Person Dies" is published about once every six months (they last ran it in January) and unlike normal obituaries, the deceased is almost never interesting for what they have done -- merely what they have not done. Sex, race, achievments, cause of death and even age are adventitious. Consequently, while obviously newsworthy, the articles are almost completely inane. Who else could receive an obituary notice from the Times saying "she worked as a maid... until her retirement?" Most pathetically of all, the lede of this latest obituary mentions how much the deceased liked ice cream.
At the same time, "World's Oldest Person Dies" isn't just an isolated event. Human lifespans are carefully circumscribed -- everyone seems to just poop out at age 115 or so, making this a reliable event where "World's Oldest Lightbulb Burns Out," or "World's Oldest Car Breaks Down" never could be. The very nature of the story means that its recurrence is utterly inevitable, and I find that comforting. Whatever else may happen a hundred years from now, the New York Times will still be lighting the world's oldest fools the way to dusty death.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
More Knuckle Tattoos
ECCE HOMO1832 Reform Bill:
Liberty Means Responsibility
Insurance being a boring business, you might think that would be an appropriate website. But as any marketer will tell you, you need to reach out to all your key demographics. Boring people buy a lot of insurance, it's true, but what does libertymutual.com have to offer the sanctimonious?
And so The Responsibility Project was born. Featuring the kind of cheesy moralizing that can normally only be found on anti-drug websites, The Responsibility Project provides a space for incredible goody-goodies to meet and swap tips for responsible living. What do we learn, browsing the archives?
- We learn about a woman who halted a runaway shopping cart before it dented somebody's chrome. Nobody thanked her.
- We learn about a woman who hand-delivered a dead letter. The door was "slammed" in her face.
- We learn about a woman who snitched on a timecard cheat. She was "given the cold shoulder."
- And we learn about a woman who was "fired for telling the truth."
"Of course you did the right thing," the commenters respond. "We all do the right thing."
Far be it from me to say that people should let their co-workers get away with timecard fraud. But when Liberty Mutual gives them a forum to get together, preen their moral feathers, and egg each other on to ever greater acts of responsibility, they've gone too far. These little insurance companies incarnate might seem like good customers. I'm sure they always lock the gates to their swimming pools, get their chimneys swept yearly, and have more radon detectors than radon atoms in their basements.
But this thing is getting out of control. Do you really want to insure someone who would never leave the scene of an accident? If somebody is "fired for telling the truth," will she pay her premiums on time? It's the timecard cheat, after all, who gets the money; all the snitch gets is a cold shoulder. If The Responsibility Project is right, and virtue is its own reward, whose reward is cash? Not the responsible people, and not Liberty Mutual.
Monday, August 10, 2009
"Let Us Think Cool"
Rather than commemorating saints' days and suggesting prayers, the Pope is kicking back and handing down tips to beat the heat. Freed from temporal responsibility, he's going to yard sales, fantasizing about snow, and meditating about hell (which, we are supposed to understand, bears some resemblance to Kansas in the summertime.) In between, he brags about the Popemobile, and describes a pact he made with his buddy Phil to take a vow of chastity together before his 19th anniversary as Pope, a sort of reverse American Pie.
Later on, he puts up a poll: "Do you wish me to discuss prophecy?" Although I voted 'yes' twice, most of his parishoners don't seem so favorable, although I'm not sure why the Pope would take his cues from an online poll. He's the Pope! If he wants to talk about prophecy, I don't think we have any business stopping him. (And given that his blog has entries for August 11th and 12th, he may be dabbling in prophecy himself.) By constrast, voting 'no' seems a little bit like voting for Evel Knievel not to jump over the Snake River Gorge: It's what he's there for. As Pope Michael says, "if you don't want prophesy, what do you want to hear about?"
Speaking for males aged 18-25 everywhere, I want to hear about fun, sun, sand, surf, chastity and wild hijinks. You're only an 18-year Pope once, and the summer won't last forever.
Friday, August 07, 2009
Euphemism Of The Day
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Department of Records
Members of the US House of Representatives and several state legislatures nevertheless are taking action, and demanding laws requiring future presidential candidates to submit their real birth certificates (no fakes allowed) before their names can be put on the ballot. A lot of people are taking offense at this idea, although it strikes me as perfectly harmless. Indeed, the fact that such a law isn't already on the books is a little surprising.
We always hear that bureaucracy is the glue that holds the government together. Every form at the DMV has a little box for your middle initial, it's impossible to replace your Social Security Card without a birth certificate, and don't even think about trying to use your handgun license as a form of primary ID. And if we weren't required to sign on the dotted line, swearing that the above information is true, what would become of the public sector?
And yet at the highest level, they seem to go without paperwork altogether. When I heard about the bill under consideration to compel Obama to submit his birth certificate for cursory analysis by the Missouri state legislature in 2012, I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking, "Man -- Presidents have it easy."
I'm supposed to believe that at no point during his historic campaign did Obama have to paperclip a photocopy of his birth certificate to a ballot access application. He didn't have to bring a piece of mail addressed to him in Chicago to verify his current address. And if he has any felony convictions in his past, I'm sure he didn't have to admit it to a sheet of paper.
I can't help but wonder whether the upper tiers of government all share this disdain for the paperwork that nourishes them. When the House and Senate pass a bill, do they have to ink up the "PASSED" stamp to make it official? Or do they just expect the American people to take their word for it? When the president signs legislation, does he really need to sign it at all? Does he need to sign white, pink and canary copies, and initial each page? If his signature doesn't match the ones on his canceled checks, are we, the American People, allowed to call him and note that, "there's been some unusual activity in your branch of government, and would you verify that you approved these recent bills?"
A wise man once said that when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal. I can only assume that the same spirit that animated Richard Nixon informs elected officials' approach to paperwork. If Congress says they've passed a bill, or if Obama and his family say he was born in America, what pencil-pusher is going to call such important people on such petty details?
Now we know. That's why I think it's helpful to look at the "birthers," as they are known, as the political wing of the bureaucracy. This obsession with proper documents and formalities has manifested before, in the "tax protestors" who deny that the Sixteenth Amendment was ever ratified. We are told, for instance that "a number of states returned uncertified, unsigned, and/or unsealed copies [of the amendment], and did not rectify their negligence even after being reminded and warned by [Secretary of State] Knox."
"With carelessness like that," I can hear the birthers fume, "you'd be lucky to get a fishing license."
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Wikipedia Sentence For Today
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Same As It Ever Was
...nothing but water and darkness, ruled by the giant Mbombo... brought with him a chicken, a shell full of sand, and a palm kernel...two loons which dove to the bottom of primeval waters to retrieve a piece of the bottom...formed from an egg that was broken...After that, other animals emerged in different sequences: Bear, Deer, Snake, Frog, Otter...Whatever was thought of by Tepeu and Gucamatz came into being...This is all very amusing, and if you somehow haven't encountered these peculiar stories before, please take a moment to roll your eyes. Heaven knows I've taken plenty in my life with regard to this topic, but now I have a question. Why don't any societies, primitive or advanced, have a null creation myth? Why doesn't anybody seem to believe, "it was always pretty much like this," with unbroken time stretching infinitely into the past?
In looking, the nearest thing I could find was the Jain belief that the universe was not created, but rather "passes through an endless series of cycles." Unless their concept of "cycles" is very petty (we have a day cycle, then a night cycle!), and I don't think it is, then this isn't the static universe we're looking for.
The null creation myth has a lot to recommend it to the hunter-gatherer mind. Most obviously, from the point of view of a typical tribe, things have (to a fair degree of approximation) "always been like this." Ancestors have always been dying, babies have always been being born, hunters and gatherers have always been hunting and gathering. Traditions (or so I am told by the anthropologists) develop, of such old vintage that nobody in the tribe can remember how they began.
I can hardly say that a given tribesman's life is exactly like his father's or grandfather's, but the differences -- a larger or smaller territory, different food sources, new songs or dances -- can seldom be called momentous. Indeed, it's hard to see what could change in a stone-age lifestyle to make it a reasonable inference (so reasonable an inference that almost every society in the world has leaped to it) that the world must have begun.
I understand that this is probably a "religion thing," which of course I do not understand. Possibly the idea that "nothing much happened ever" is too quotidian to have a lot of sacred appeal. But I should note that the belief in an eternal universe is not inconsistent with most of the elements of religion, including all the ones that people seem to find important. After all, even those cultures that postulate a created universe often say that an eternal god created it, and what goes better with an eternal creator than an eternal creation? Miracles, prayers, spirits, priests, sacraments and liturgy, all can fit completely unchanged into a non-creationist framework.
I certainly don't expect every jerkwater religion to embrace my null creation myth. To see it universally ignored, however, in favor of the theory that the universe began is a little galling. To the pre-modern mind, I think I have a good theory. I'm almost prepared to believe it myself.
Ironically, astronomy and modern physics teach us that the tribesmen were right all along: Things really haven't always been like this. The universe is expanding from a pinpoint, and at one time, darkness was upon the surface of the deep. Still no word about Mbombo, though.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Names Have Not Been Changed To Protect The Innocent
Alex Nicola... likes to watch TV without his pants on.Next week, an exposé on sissies who still like to sleep with their dollies.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
At Least It's Green
- Sodium polyoxyethylene lauryl ether sulfate
- Coconut oil dialkanolamide
- Dodecyl dimethyl betaine
- Hydroxy ethylidene diphosphonic acid
Friday, June 26, 2009
"Waxman-Markey? More like Marxman-Wacky!"
Saturday, June 06, 2009
Wikipedia Sentence For Today
Saturday, May 16, 2009
In film, or if the events take place in an unfamiliar location, that might be excusable. How are we going to know that our hero is in Paris if we don't see a shot of the Eiffel Tower? We're only human. But in most TV sitcoms, the action only ever takes place in half a dozen locations, all of them rigged up in a studio. If we can't recognize Jerry Seinfeld's apartment immediately, there's nothing NBC can do. Stock footage of an ordinary apartment building seems unlikely to help.
Of course, the aggregate time lost to establishing shots in the course of a 22-minute television show is small, almost certainly less than half a minute. Still, that's enough time to air a brief commercial or tell another joke. Are we supposed to believe that a static, repetitious, inane establishing shot is the best possible use of the public airwaves?
The only obvious justification is that an episode aired without establishing shots might have a "bald" quality, disorienting not because the omitted scenes are really helpful, but because, like eyebrows, we only notice them when they're gone. People are easily conditioned to accept the aesthetic necessity of something that, considered more fully, has no merit at all. The networks can feel free to indulge the prejudices of the TV-watching public when nothing is at stake, but valuable ad time is being lost to these establishing shots. And if there was ever a reason for iconoclasm -- or anything else -- on network TV, it's money.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Naturally, politicians are still getting it wrong, but we wouldn't respect them if they didn't. As representatives of a class that fails half the time at their most important job, running for office, politicians are uniquely suited to let us know, by trial and error, what works and what doesn't. If Twitter isn't bad enough to sink the Republican party of 2009, in other words, how bad can it be?
A much deeper level of mystery adheres to the new CDC e-cards, which allow you to nag somebody about their health by e-mail, while adopting that level of creepy familiarity and official neutrality that can only be summed up in the phrase government e-cards. If you wonder when it's appropriate to use Twitter, then you might well wonder whether it's ever appropriate to send someone wishes for a seizure-free day.
I was turned on to the Center for Disease Control's venture into greeting cards by libertarians, who were enraged that the government would fund a project like this. "Your tax dollars at work," was a common sentiment, although as Kaylen noted, "it can't be that many of them." And while I generally like the government to be useful, I can't deny that the CDC has a pretty stressful job.
Between naming and renaming the swine flu, and the "enhanced interrogation" of the smallpox viruses they have in custody, I'm not going to begrudge CDC employees the opportunity to blow off steam by making a "congratulations on your new fish" e-card, detailing the ways to keep your new pet fish healthy. But even that attempt at levity provides no relief from the death and disease the CDC deals with every day. Browsing over to their section on fish health confirms what those of us with aquariums have known all along: There is no way to keep fish healthy. They drop dead in the blink of an eye, and the best you can do is save yourself from the salmonella they carry. Stressful, indeed.
Update: Coincidentally, the Centers for Disease Control got a new chief today, Thomas R. Friedan. It's just too bad we don't know his e-mail address. If there was ever a good time to offer our congratulations with a government e-card, this would be it. After all, we wouldn't like the head of the CDC to come down with frostbite or syphilis; not when there's so much work to be done, and so many more e-cards to make.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
For instance, when the subway doors open, and a crowd of people head for the surface, they meet a bottleneck at the staircases. As only two or three people can walk abreast on the stairs, everyone else, approaching from every direction, tries to work their way to the front of the human knot that immediately forms.
What's the appropriate etiquette here? Are we supposed to pretend that the crowd in front of the stairs is like a tightly compacted bunch of lines, stand in our "line", and wait for it to advance? Are you allowed to skip between lines? When they're so poorly defined, can you avoid it? However you look at it, there are invariably more lines than can fit on the stairs, so this is an imperfect solution at best.
If you don't think of the situation in terms of queues, it gets even worse. Are you allowed to proceed forward by any means necessary? You're not allowed to elbow people out of your way, I'm sure, but can you step briskly in front of someone, startling them? Can you always account for what will startle people? Can you brush someone's coattails, or are you requested to avoid all physical contact whatsoever? Do you have to yield to old ladies? You don't have to yield to old ladies in a queue; that's why I like queues.
Or on a crowded sidewalk, can you walk between people taking photos of one another? Can you walk between people preparing to shake one another's hand at arm's length? If you can, how much leeway do you need to leave? If you can't, that's almost six feet of sidewalk cordoned off by clueless pedestrians.
I doubt there are any hard-and-fast rules for crowded passageways. The situation is so fluid and manifold that it would be useless to codify anyhow. But in the absence of rules, all I'm left with is an equation plotting my pace against the number of dirty looks I'm prepared to receive. People who walk defensively; yield to all; and are last in and last out of every situation surely win the hearts of those human obstacles who cluster in the middle of the sidewalk, stroll five abreast, or just stand and gawk. Thinking of the bitter sweet of days that were, it was no trouble to be so considerate. But now? I'm adrift on the sidewalks and staircases of the big city.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Instead Of Chewing Gum, Chew Bacon
I was impressed by their logo, and never one to ignore a promising lead, I visited kidney.org. After totally acing the Kidney IQ test and satisfying myself that I don't have chronic kidney disease, I stumbled on their top-secret tip for people with CKD, a subject near and dear to my heart: How to eat more.
Now honestly, their tips boil down to, "just eat more, dummy." And they're even less helpful than that, given that I don't have CKD, and thus I don't need to worry about phosphorus or potassium or protein intake. Still, it's refreshing to read, even in a tentative and inapplicable form, tips like:
- Eat candies such as gum drops, hard candy and lollipops at the end of a meal or as a snack.
- Instead of milk, use half and half, cream, or non-dairy creamer.
- Add sour cream to omelettes, noodles, rice and vegetables.
- Instead of plain water, drink beverages that have calories from sugar.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Just Flip 'Em!®
A case in point is www.horseshoecrab.org, a website started by the Ecological Research & Development Group, a generic-sounding foundation whose sole mission, as it happens, is horseshoe crab boosterism. You probably think of horseshoe crabs, when you think of them at all, as somewhere between starfish and hermit crabs, living flotsam that washed up from the Cretaceous Era and will probably go back out with the evolutionary tide.
But no! Horseshoe crabs, we learn, are a linchpin of the marine ecosystem. (What isn't?) The ERDG is worried because seagulls depend on horseshoe crabs for a large part of their diet, perhaps unaware that seagulls will survive, if they have to, on cigarette butts and pebbles that considerate children throw at them.
What can we do, concerned citizens ask, to ensure an adequate supply of seagulls screaming at us and stealing our french fries? Well it so happens that horseshoe crabs sometimes get flipped over on their backs, waving their nasty legs and genitals piteously, and becoming easy prey for, um, seagulls. Fully 10% of horseshoe crabs die in this way, a fact that is presented to us straight, without any implication that this is something horseshoe crabs should be ashamed of.
What to do about these shameless sea monsters? Just flip em!® There's a song and everything. Now, I'm not saying that there's any reason not to turn horseshoe crabs over, if you find them foundered on the beach. Heck, turn them over and over, or put them on your sleeping friend's belly. But a foundation? A foundation with sponsors and a mission statement and a "staffing philosophy" that reads:
ERDG has developed an international network of professionals with whom it consults on a wide variety of issues. As each project evolves, ERDG assembles a multi-disciplinary team of individuals whose skill levels and training backgrounds are best suited to solving the current problem. This case-by-case approach assures that the best possible talent is utilized to accomplish a project’s goals. Because each team is assembled on an as-needed basis, the majority of ERDG's financial resources are directed to the project at hand and not expended on maintaining a large full-time staff.For horseshoe crabs?
Turning a gigantic helpless sea tick right-side up is presented as our duty, fully in keeping with the dignity that we posess as the pinnacle of evolution and stewards of God's creation. As I say, flip a horseshoe crab over if you feel like it. I just have a simple question: Who is to be the master?
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Great Moments in Banter
-- sample of the humor Obama is said to have dispensed at the Summit of the Americas.
Somebody accidentally hit a light switch, prompting Obama to ask:
''Who turned off the lights, guys?''
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Suppose you truly had the magic power of clairvoyance, and were able to know the order of a pack of playing cards without looking. What would be a good trick to devise such that any reasonable person, layman or expert illusionist, would be forced to conclude that you weren't a charlatan?
To put it another way, magic tricks usually turn on hurdles that the magician sets up for himself, to make his eventual ability to pick the right card all the more amazing ("I'll pick the card... blindfolded!" or "I'll use a brand-new, factory-sealed, unaltered pack of cards") although of course, they turn out to be no real impediment to a skilled magician. Is there a simple obstacle, or set of obstacles, that it is genuinely impossible to overcome without supernatural powers?
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Possible Items In A Magazine for Autistic People
- Letters to the copy editor
- 'Popular Jokes, Explained'
- 'Banging Your Head Against the Wall: Do's and Don'ts.'
- 'We Rank the Greatest Numbers of All Time!'
- 'Take the Turing Self-Quiz'
- 'Other People: Why Bother?'
- Soothing, white overstimulation page
- 'The Hottest Celebrities with a Prime Number of Letters in Their Names!'
- 'Obsession Corner'
- 'Answers to Frequently-Asked Small Talk'
- Blackjack column
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I Was An NPC for Capitalism
I don't know about you, but I piled up the gold as fast as I could, even switching to my left hand when my right hand got sore clicking through the dialog boxes. I didn't care if I robbed the whole fantasy world blind; I was just happy to beat the system. I know exactly how these investment bankers must feel.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Adamantine Chains And Penal Fire
In a moment of democratic zeal, Mr. Pollan seems to have invited the masses to contribute their own aphorisms. What vaguely worded, self-serving rules do you pretend to follow when deciding what to eat? The responses, predictably, fall into two camps. A few individuals who know that tall poppies get their heads cut off, wisely quote the party line. "Eat your colors," they nod. Since Michael Pollan is clearly looking for agreement rather than honestly new ideas (Nobody asks a crowd for new ideas. Come on.), this exercise starts to feel pleasantly catechistic.
On the other hand, much more of the commenting body considers itself holier even than Michael Pollan, proudly describing their unwillingness to eat cooked vegetables or milk, in a challenge to the epicurean Pollan. Perhaps they figure that Pollan is naturally appreciative of fussy people, and hope to impress him that way, or maybe they just get worked up about their opinions and feel the need to off-gas. No matter. By now it should be clear that any pretense to being holier than Michael Pollan is a wicked illusion, for it is he who created food virtue. Lucifer in his pride rebelled against God, and likewise the vegans who scold Pollan would rather reign in Hell.
Friday, March 06, 2009
Wikipedia Sentence For Today
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Monday, March 02, 2009
Attention Must Be Paid
This theory may be right, for all I know, not being an expert in children, or even liking them. But can we please consider how utterly cracked it sounds? The child is the father of the man, but who among us can say we crave attention? Most adults hate public speaking, and what is public speaking if not the receipt of a huge amount of aggregate attention? Shy people hate getting attention, and the most gregarious people would prefer to be left alone at least sometimes. And does anyone, other than those hypothesized children, prefer to be yelled at rather than peacefully ignored? Can you even imagine such a person?
We're always advised to rear children like animal trainers train animals, those other sentient yet stupid creatures. Children benefit from rote memorization, like animals. Children respond to praise, like animals. But give a dog negative attention, yell at it and beat it, and it won't be anxious to repeat the experience.
Children, this theory needs us to believe, are different from both animals and adults, and even the worst dross is good enough for them. Even if children don't get what they like, they like what they get, and they always come back for more. If the attention theory of child-rearing is correct, I have no qualms in saying that children are horrible little aliens.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The DBC bears some resemblance to the international maritime code. Much like means "I wish to communicate with you," "DBC 5/10" means "Thank you very much for your comments. They are much appreciated. Thanks for taking the trouble to communicate with me." Similarly banal phrases make up most of the rest of the de Bono Code banks, divided into such thrilling categories as "negotiation", "response", "attention directing", and "meetings".
While I'm sure any meeting would be livened up by judicious recourse to the Edward de Bono Official Code Book, the DBC truly shines in section 14, codes for ending relationships. Whichever way you want to leave your lover, there's a code for it. From
"This relationship has run its course. It was never meant to be a long-running event. It was great, but now it's over"to
"The plain truth is that I have met someone else. It is best you hear this directly from me,"painful situations can be streamlined with the de Bono Code. If breaking up with your girlfriend requires too much talking and feelings and crying, or if you're just strapped for time, text (or tweet!) "DBC 14/9". If she knows her DBC, she'll get the message.
By contrast, the section on moods, No. 10, is disappointing. Mr. de Bono notes:
"Very few people find it easy to indicate their mood to others. The most people manage is 'I am tired' or 'I am under pressure'. To this might be added: 'I got to bed late last night' (meaning 'I have a hangover')."It's definitely illuminating to know that when Edward de Bono goes to bed late, he goes to bed drunk, but the ensuing mood codes, focused on feelings of happiness, anxiety and sadness, provide no way to express in DBC that you are hungover. It seems like being hungover is one circumstance in which it would be helpful to describe your mood in an 8-character shorthand, but the DBC does not provide us with the tools to do it. On the other hand, Mr. de Bono is always soliciting ideas from his reading audience. Let's help him out!
- 10/25: "I drank 2 bottles of wine last night and 8 shots of Jaegermeister. My vision is fading in and out, and I have a splitting headache. I'm going to lie in my office with the lights off."
- 10/26: "I have been up for 5 days straight on a crystal meth binge. I am full of energy and confidence, but increasingly worried whether there are bugs crawling on me"
- 10/27: "I am sleepwalking under the influence of Ambien. I have limited awarness of my surroundings, and poor motor control. Please don't let me operate heavy machinery."
- 10/28: "I am high on PCP, and inexplicably enraged. You are nothing to me, and as a god-like creature, I can destroy you with a flick of my wrist. Beware!"
The signal, however, is disappointing. As the DTV public service announcements have only recently started mentioning, you need an antenna array the size of McMurdo Station's in order to get decent reception. Without it, (and we only have rabbit ears made of a coat hanger and a bra underwire) you get static, and not wholesome analog static, either. Digital static, like a scratched DVD, has all the sinister qualities of a malfunctioning robot. With stuttering; melting, pixellated faces; and large blocks of dead, signal-less screen, it doesn't generate faith in the digital revolution. It generates a vague fear of Skynet.
For now, at least, there's still analog broadcasts, delivered in delicious sinusoidal waves. But "on June 12th," as our DTV catechism has it, the bandwidths used to carry analog transmissions will be gone... and like contrary clockwork, hipsters will have found a new way to be hip. "Analog television just had a warmer feel," they might say. "DTV is so crisp, so cold and soulless."
Recreating analog broadcasts might present a problem, but where there's a will to ironically relive the past, there's a way. Look for cool kids to set up pirate radio transmitters entirely within their homes, converting digital television back into a low-wattage VHF signal for their personal enjoyment. Just rig up a (re)-broadcast antenna in your kitchen, tap your household appliances to provide that familiar, comforting interference, and all that's left is to settle in with some snowy, flickering reruns of Green Acres and drink your ironic drinks as you reflect that the FCC has it all wrong: It doesn't get any better than analog.
Monday, February 23, 2009
"Tweets", as they are called, are limited to 140 characters, a length that encourages either unusually florid sentences, or unusually spare modern poetry. For reference, that's about as long as the average sentence by Samuel Johnson, two thirds as long as "Buffalo Bill's/ Defunct", and even a little shorter than "This Is Just To Say", by William Carlos Williams. I guess you could tweet the whole poem without spaces, but it might fall short of the vision of the original.
Its appeal to clownish old men and suppositious modern poets aside, Twitter seems to be just the newest way that technology has invented for me to be a bad friend. With cell phones, The Facebook, online photo galleries, YouTube videos, cell phones that operate as walkie-talkies (I also don't understand that one) and text messages defining what it is to be a friend, and now Twitter, I am left stranded deeper and deeper in the cold. I'm shut out of the community of hip young people -- and the politicians who represent them -- all of whom know what one another had for breakfast.
As this twittering, tweeting vanguard of friendship passes me by on the road of ever-accelerating computer-aided amiability, I can almost see the coming technological singularity, a hypothesized date at which artificial intelligence will be able to befriend itself, with superhuman interest in breakfast, dinner, lunch and tea, and needless to say, billions of characters per tweet.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Ugly Holds Its Own
There's room here for the designer who's prepared to admit that during Fashion Week, there's no bad publicity. Most fashion designers, they tell me, purposely make hideous garments to run interference for the more serious offerings. Oddly, the models themselves are never called on for heavy duty in this playbook of the ugly/not ugly. Why not hire models with severe acne, models with one eye, models with oozing cold sores, balding models and hirsute models? Models with stitches and models with scars. I'm prepared to hear people say that a fashion show isn't a freak show, but I'm not prepared to believe it.
I Shall Wear The Bottoms Of My Trousers Rolled
For instance, I saw a designer whose entire output seemed to consist of big boxy David Byrne suits. We all know that nobody is going to wear those -- on account of they are hilariously ugly -- so what could he have meant? Maybe he just screwed up, or maybe the joke is on me and that's what's really in store. But I think this fashion designer is taking a leaf from the great poets. Boxy suits as boxy suits is a little obvious, he might say. Perhaps the boxy suits are a metphor for some boxy pattern, perhaps check or houndstooth, or maybe they symbolize some headier, more profound fashion trend that we can only guess at. It's a ritualistic industry, and I'm not the one to deconstruct it. Just remember that despite the outwardly superficial gloss, as Fashion Week draws to a close -- or is it only beginning? -- there are unfathomable layers of meaning under those clothes.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Wikipedia Sentence for Today
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
"My Child Is A Crack Baby At..."
Two that came to mind were, "Junkies do it between the toes," and "I (silhouette of a syringe) NY." Ashley suggested "Spoons aren't just for stirring coffee anymore." Of course, junkies don't typically have much disposable income, so this may have to remain one of those good ideas that never leaves the ground. Story of my life, friends.
I'm not sympathetic to what is basically a very dumb youth movement, but bros are people like the rest of us. We may not like to admit it, but don't we all like beer? Although their baseball caps and polo shirts may seem off-putting, all of us can appreciate the unique narrative conflict their lifestyle implies. What is drinking yourself into a stupor, after all, but Man versus Self? When a bro seduces a bro-ette, it hardly needs a very skilled playwright to bring out the hostility. Whichever way you look, you can hardly deny that bros have problems, and problems means stories.
The possible settings are as numberless and varied as the bros themselves: An apartment littered with pizza boxes and decorated with flattened beer cases, the quad of a state university, or the bleachers of a football game. And from the opening of Act 2, which finds two bros scribbling on their passed-out friend with Sharpies (Song: What a fag!) to the climactic party that ends with the cops being called, there would be plenty of engaging scenes. Playing off the homosexual subtext of bro culture might seem cheap, but I think it could provide some of the piece's most tender moments (Song: You're my bro, slurred boisterously in Act 1, then meaningfully reprised in the final act, or maybe Don't leave me, bro!)
The chances of a musical success might be hindered by the fact that bro music is universally considered terrible. A talented composer might be able to fashion something that sounded bro-ish yet listenable, but he would be unable to capture its main feature: An incredible loudness that obliterates any possibility of conversation. The theater might not seem like a good venue for a musical tradition that prides itself on thumping bass, forgettable lyrics and little discernable melody, but the existence of atonal opera suggests that the boundaries of musical theater are set far wider than it may seem. And not to knock musicals in general, but the modern theatergoer is simply in no position to complain if Bro the Musical turns out to be unlistenable. Compared to what, we might ask.
I'd write the book myself, but, as I'm sure you've noticed, my talent for narrative fiction is limited. So I'm going to relinquish the idea to the budding playwrights out there. All you need is actors who can vomit on cue and a way to make the whole theater smell like Axe, and you'll have a license to print money.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Someday We'll Live In A World Without Love
Operas provide us with two or three hours, a fraction of which is used to establish each character, and an even smaller fraction of which may be used to establish interpersonal relationships. All the falling-in-love, all the sweet nothings and all the loving must happen in real time. There can be no montage in the opera world. With these time constraints, the figures in an opera can scarcely be more than types. Reasons of plot or character may require one cipher to love another, but it's hardly enough to build a whole theme on. Even if the characters are well-drawn, and characters seldom are, it can hardly be anything novel. If you've seen two people in love, you've seen them all.
Perhaps I hold a minority perspective. The general public can't seem to get enough loving, whether on stage or screen. Notwithstanding that it's good to be in love, what is there to say? If two people are in love, they really really like each other, and that's all there is to it. The public's apparent desire to see an endless series of fundamentally similar love scenes play to predictable and familiar conclusions suggests a more lurid form of entertainment. I, for one, don't want to watch sublimated pornography.
Without really inspired wordplay, it's difficult to infuse new interest in the tired idea of love. Operas, however, are seldom known for their lyrics. (Quick! Name a librettist). While most librettos are merely a series of by-the numbers emotion songs (e.g. The Queen of the Night's famous aria: "I am very angry" ), a creative approach would do well to ditch love altogether. Countless books, plays, poems and screenplays have been written in which love is completely absent. Although the move away from romatic plots has been greater in modern times, several of Shakespeare's plays, including some of his most popular, have scarcely any love. Julius Caesar, King Lear, and Timon of Athens, not to mention Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe and etc. manage to concern themselves with plots less trite than questions of who thinks who is sexy.
So I ask you, why are operas stuck in this romantic ditch? I assume some of it relates to the need to find meaningful roles for women, and in the past, women were known primarily for their lovin'. (Although King Lear, which is chockablock with women, has never been made into an opera). Perhaps it is merely a sad fact of history that women's liberation happened after classical music died a natural death. As for modern operas, Nixon in China abandons the concept of love, but it throws out the baby with the bathwater, being too modern and minimal to have much of a plot at all.
Maybe it doesn't matter. John Adams can do what he wants, but opera is as dead as Caesar, and everybody knows it. It doesn't really matter what anybody does now; that canon isn't getting any bigger. People may think they know why the grand opera died out, but if you ask me, twas beauty killed the beast.
Monday, January 12, 2009
A Plague of WASPs
Glen W. Bowersock
O. Delton Harrison, Jr.
Hartley R. Rogers
Miss Leontyne Price
Winthrop Rutherfurd, Jr.
Mrs. Bryant Reeve Dunn
Langdon van Norden, Jr.
Evelyn M. M. Popp
Monday, December 22, 2008
Some Animals Are More Heroic Than Others
The very first result on Google is about a parakeet that died of CO poisoning, and thereby saved us all. Seemingly more Christ-like than heroic, on further consideration this puts all the canaries in the coal mines on a pedestal with 9/11 firemen. Doesn't that appeal to you?Rat
Though you might not think it, hero rats are out there. As Herorat.org informs us, some hero rats can detect landmines. Others can detect tuberculosis. As the owner of two rats, I'd like to think that I have one of each. You never know what tomorrow holds.Turtle
When I began this search, I had forgotten that there was an entire TV/movie franchise based on hero turtles. I don't think there are actually any hero turtles, bodacious as that might be.Goldfish
A Google search for "Hero Goldfish" turns up no obviously relevant results. On the other hand, "Villain Goldfish" leads us to this ominous blurb (6th from the top).Parrot
Dogs predicting seizures, and cats dialing 911 are a thing of the past. All the buzz on the internet now is about dogs saving dogs and cats saving cats. Perhaps dogs and cats have grown too heroic to redeem a fallen mankind. Let them save themselves, if they can.
Monday, November 17, 2008
InventNow.org is a bizarre attempt to drum up business in the patent office by appealing to our nation's worst inventors: Children. When I first saw the web ad for InventNow, I thought perhaps it was designed to hector computer scientists and mechanical engineers, a testy reminder from the American government that we pay you to invent. Invent now!
But no, the government has decided to focus its energies on children, with come-ons like, "have you been thinking about the next big thing in skateboards?" Sure, every self-respecting child has been thinking about the next big thing in skateboards, but to what end? Few children have drill presses or lathes in their workshops, few children know how to draft blueprints, and I feel comfortable saying that there will never be a "next big thing" in skateboards. They work fine already.
I think the website knows in its heart that children can't invent. Suggestions range from not-really-inventions ("Invent" a new sport! "Invent" a way to tell that spring is coming!) to the hilariously difficult ("A car that doesn't use gas." Hey GM: Invent now!). There's not much middle ground.
Bearing that in mind, and the likelihood that any child who does InventNow will be swallowed alive by patent attorneys, perhaps it would be safer for the wee ones to focus on the "trademark" side of the US Patent and Trademark Office. Have you been thinking about the next big thing in catch phrases?
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The Fall Lineup
As formulaic as the original show is, I think it would respond well to this tweak in its underlying plot. Indeed, I can see it now. House cows the other doctors into accepting his ignorant diagnoses. House manipulates patients into unnecessary surgery. House performs countless small cruelties in service of his pet theories -- but they never amount to anything more than cruelty. And when the patients ultimately don't get better, an unrepentant House throws the blame on someone else. House makes smug wisecracks throughout, but here they just sound pathetic and hollow.
Eventually the viewers would begin to wonder why the hospital didn't just fire House, but thematically the answer is clear: They're all afraid of him. This could be made explicit (House has some power of blackmail, or perhaps they don't know what a junkie like him might do) or just be a timid unwillingness to contradict such a self-assured person.
This could play as a black comedy, and a lot of the humor would be derived by contrast with the "real" House, but I think a tragedy would be more powerful. Sure, it would be hard to write a serial tragedy, and viewers might rebel at the enormous injustice. But I think we've all seen enough genius doctors, enough medical miracles, and enough, well, justice on TV to last us into the next century.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
It Came To Me In A Dream
- Texas (2x)
- West Virginia (2x)
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Personality Test Q. #1
Friday, August 22, 2008
Obama's VP Pick
But with Masonic policies leading us to ruin, and a new, vibrant papacy in America's Heartland, it would be foolish to ignore the Pope. Obama is savvy. He knows what happened to Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. Mark my words, January won't find Obama kneeling in the snow outside Delia, KS, praying for the anathema on his administration to be lifted. Safer to bring His Holiness into your cabinet.
"What You Can Find At The Bottom Of A Bottle"
Future articles I hope to see from the New York Times:
- Does Anybody Actually Live In Yonkers?
- New Haven: End of MetroNorth -- End of the World
- New Jersey: No Thanks
- The View From My Office Window
- None Of My Friends Come From The Deep South
- The Bronx is Scary
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Cool in My Code
- NYC Paradetown USA
- Blueprint NYC
- Backdrop NYC
- Eat Out NY
- The Bridge (about hip-hop, but as Wikipedia defensively explains, "hip hop began in New York City")
Really, the programming of NYCTV resembles nothing so much as the Travel Channel. But instead of taking us to Europe to discuss the local pastimes and delicacies, NYCTV leaves us right here. It may not be as glamorous as watching a program about foreign lands, but with NYCTV, you are living the travelogue. Yes, life is one long staycation in New York City.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
My Fantasy -- On *NBC*
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
Wikipedia for Veep
But I think he's on to something. If there's one thing Wikipedia's founders and proponents stress, it's that it's good enough. Sure, there's sometimes vandalism or mistakes, but Wikipedia usually knows the score. Can John McCain say that? Can Barack Obama, for that matter? Wikipedia offers competence, gravity and mass appeal. If McCain is going to rely so heavily on it, he should do the honorable thing and make Wikipedia his running mate.
Not Ice, But "Ice"
The article is primarily a forum for meditation on the nature of ice. The zen-like president of the Ice Council offers these insights to the receptive reporter:
- "Ice is a food"
- "Ice is water's sister product"
- "Not all ice is the same"
Ms. Polk, we learn, was introduced to ice snobbery by her friends, comforting evidence that such a kooky and risible preoccupation can't just develop spontaneously. Still, she offers this moving coda, which speaks to anybody who thought the Style section could never happen to them:
“I never really thought ice mattered that much to me. At first, all I wanted to do was make my guests happy. But once you go there, you go there, I guess."
Friday, August 08, 2008
Will Kiss For Money
Nevertheless, I think if you swallowed your pride and set up a genuine kissing booth in Washington Square Park, charging two or three dollars a kiss, you'd make money hand over fist. With a wry modern gloss, in a city of hip but lonely young people, a kissing booth would fill a real need. Prostitutes aren't cool. A kissing booth would allow you to both take part in Americana and touch someone, while remaining ironic and detached. And of course, it's all legal.
But there are perverts out there, and America is losing its innocence. You'd better have a pimp.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Wikipedia makes a dab at listing Roman discoveries -- "While not strictly invented by the Romans, the double-ended dildo was popularized by Caligula" -- but most of the stuff on the list was never lost, and everything else is pathetic. The Romans may have invented the street map, but does that really push the boundaries of science outward? On the other hand, nobody can say that the abacus has been lost. And a 1st-level mage would turn up his nose at a quest to recover the secret of the grist mill.
The glaring exception is concrete, which the Romans stopped making in the 5th century, and was rediscovered at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution by John Smeaton. Concrete also underlies other Roman triumphs like the coffered dome and the road (Boy, being innovative was easy in those days. You only had to invent a road.) It's hard to believe the Romans could let such a fundamental concept just slip away from them, but rather than orcs or Balrogs, it was carelessness that buried the formula of cement.
Mr. Smeaton had no idea that he was the prototypical RPG'er, the model for countless novels and D&D scenarios. He probably sashayed into his laboratory and rediscovered cement, little dreaming that in another age, such an important secret would be guarded by a powerful wizard and a squad of Concrete Golems.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I Don't Think I Understand Economics
Is it me, or is this paragraph peculiar?
In other words,
Fears that an economic slowdown in the United States could spread to other parts of the world and lead to lower energy consumption pushed oil prices down sharply for the second day on Wednesday. The drop in price contributed to a jump on Wall Street with the major markets all rising more than 2.5 percent.
Fears that an economic slowdown in the United States could spread to other parts of the world... contributed to a jump on Wall Street...Is that how it works?
Monday, July 14, 2008
Under the Spotlight: Washing Machines
The main alternative is to go to the laundromat, which is cumbersome if you have to carry your whole collection around. Nevertheless, it has the under-appreciated advantage that because there are dozens of washers and dryers, you can wash all your clothes at once, in less than two hours. It costs money, but the cost is only significant to the poor. Someone rich enough to afford a washing machine could easily shoulder laundromat fees, and find the savings in time that much more valuable.
Indeed, I don't know why anyone would consider a washing machine a wise investment. The first rule of manufacturing is to keep your machines busy as much as possible, because you want the maximum return on your capital. A household washing machine is only in operation a tiny fraction of the time. How much more efficient to "rent" a laundromat for the few hours per month when you need its industrial capacity.
There are so many household industries that we don't literally invite into our households. What about car repair, aluminum recycling, butchery, or publishing? We all read books, but why own a printing press?
P.S. This doesn't really fit in with my other arguments, but washing machines will make your house smell like soap forever and ever.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Wedding Presents Are Liquid Assets
The Pope has a website. Now, to be fair, he's not the "real" pope. He's not even a medieval-style antipope, backed by the Holy Roman Emperor in a naked power grab. He's just one man, out there on the streets, who had a dream. Now I don't know whether the Pope in Rome is web-savvy -- I doubt it -- but I do know that Pope Michael I, né David Bawden, was elected with a quorum of six, and that he has a website, and that makes him Pope in my book.
Pope Michael came to this momentous decision when he realized that the Catholic Church, and all of its so-called Holy Fathers, were tainted with Modernism. Among the charges: Pope John Paul II gave Mass to half-naked Papuans. Clearly something had to change, and an antipope was born.
Concerns about Modernism aside, I'm delighted that we finally have a pontiff who understands Web 2.0. While John McCain still can't read his e-mail, Pope Michael is pioneering bold new tithing techniques. And in his segment, "Questions for The Pope," we are invited to e-mail Pope Michael "any honest questions." Please don't abuse this invitation, guys. I don't want to be known as someone who directed a lot of spurious e-mail to the Pope.
Because this is 2008, the centerpiece of this ecclesiastical website is a blog: The Pope Speaks. I was initially pleased to learn that he calls his posts "popsts", but I think that might just be a typo. No true Pope would be that fanciful. The actual blog, I'm sorry to say, is that Catholic argot which is as hard and pointless to wade through as any encyclical or chirograph. He may be a child of the Information Age but in a lot of ways, the new Pope is the same as the old Pope.