Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Christmas Observations

On December 25th, I made an interesting observation. It was about Christmas music. You know by now I'm sure how much I hate the annual aerial bombardment of Christmas music. From the first moment some daring indivdual decides to pipe in "Silver Bells" over the system in the mattress store sometime in mid-October, to a few days after new years when the last Starbucks clerk realizes he needs to change the store CD back to Louis Armstrong, it's all-Christmas, all the time.

And of course, it's all really lame remixes of classic carols. I've commented on this at length before. But my observation this week was noticing the dramatic change on Christmas Day itself. For months, all the music we are subjected to is this pop-tripe. Hip teenage country vocal starlets giving us down-tempo Silent Nights with too much vibrato. Then suddenly on Christmas Day, no more of that shit! For one glorious day it's all bell medleys, purely instrumental versions of carols, boys choirs, orchestral pieces with generous horn sections.... Now that's good Christmas!

Too bad it's only one day a year we actually get some decent Christmas music. Or maybe, good that it's only one day. We wouldn't want to get sick of it.

Another observation. The calendar-as-Christmas-gift is PLAYED. It's the official least imaginative, least original, least exciting gift in the gift universe. It makes socks look like a 1st edition autographed copy of a favorite book.

I mean, sure, it's a somewhat useful gift. Sort of. And there are ways of personalizing your calendar choice. Kind of. But even if the person gets you a Weimeraner calendar because they know you love Weimeraners, there's still that feeling that they used Microsoft Gift-Wizard to get you the present.

For me, a present warms the heart in a direct proportion to how much thought was put into it. It's not about money, and it's not about practicality. Isn't it about an expression of affection? The calendar is the anti-affectionate gift. It says "I was obligated to get something, but I either a) don't care one bit, or b) lack rudimentary present skills."

And this years award for most irritating Christmas commercial goes to....

Honda's "Happy Hondadays" - for actually blending the loathsome use of holiday in the singular (as in "Have a great holiday" or "This holiday...") with blatant greed ("Hondaday") and simultaneously exploiting their little play on words as a way of excusing their taboo use of a Christmas Carol through humor. Hmm, I bet no one understood that. I think when it comes to hating Christmas marketing, I'm in my own little universe that only I can understand. Basically what I'm saying is, most commercials are too timid to actually use Christmas Carols in the commercial. It's too preferential to Christmas as the expense of say, Kwanzaa. Honda found a way around that politically correct obligation - not by growing a backbone - but by gently mocking the holiday through the use of a pun. Instead of "Holy", now it's "Honda"! Isn't that funny! Using a Christmas carol is okay, since it's meant in jest!

These are the things I think about.

Finally, I have a Christmas gift for anyone who's reading this. Don't think I haven't forgotten about you. Your present is that I'm going to spare you the long, detail filled, terminally boring story of my hassle-filled airport experience coming home yesterday. See, most people would tell you every last excrutiating detail, as if they were the only people in history who ever had hassles at the airport, and as if it was an interesting story, even though it would not be one. Like these people, I too am seized with a desire to start talking about it. But I will refrain. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Man of the Year

Time Magazine's Person-of-the-year award just annoys the hell out of me. And for so many, many reasons. It's POTY season just about now, in fact I think the POTY is being announced in a day or two. But let us look back at the many failures of this botched enterprise, and see just what they're doing wrong.

Let me start by pointing out that the reason I'm able to get pissed about the many glaring failures in the history of Man of the Year is because Man of the Year is, genuinely, a really good idea. You don't see me getting worked up over the daytime Emmys or the People's Choice awards. What would be the point? Time's POTY, by contrast, is actually really cool. It's cool because it acknowledges the "Great Man" theory of history, which I strongly concur with - basically the idea that the tides of history can turn on the actions of individuals. That a charismatic, passionate individual of will and determination can really change the face of history. Maybe by being a head of state, or an artist, or a scientist, or a general, or even a poet - who knows. The individual can make a difference. I think that's just obviously true.

So bravo Time Magazine. I love the idea. But man, sometimes they just really make terrible choices!

First offense: whenever they choose a non-person. Like "The Personal Computer" or "The Endangered Earth"

Obviously I won't dispute that the personal computer has massive historical importace. And global warming too is an important issue. But, um, so is the rise of the internet... and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the disintigration of the USSR, and 9/11, and the end of South African apartheid, and genetically engineered food, and the transfer of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, and HUNDREDS OF OTHER THINGS. Time has over 50 other weeks during the year to do a big cover on global warming. This is the MAN of the year issue, not the PET CAUSE of the year issue.

There will always be big stories. But POTY should acknowledge a person.

Second Offense: choosing whole groups of people. Like "The American fighting man.", "Middle America", "The American Woman" and I even include "The Peacemakers" (concerning the Oslo Accords)

The American fighting Man was from the Korean War era I think. But just last year it was "The American Soldier". No no no no no. Nyet. I hate these the most, even more than the abstract choices like the personal computer, because they represent to me a denial of the Great Man Theory. A lot of people don't like the great man theory. They think there's a kind of arrogance or elitism in saying that this one person made more of a difference this year than everyone else. In their view, the common man and his culmulative actions are really in history's drivers seat.

Now I don't wholly disagree with that point. But I reject that naming one person the Person of the Year is an arrogant, elitist thing to do. It seems like everytime Time Magazine gives it up for "The American Soldier", they do it as kind of an apologetic concession to this alternate viewpoint. "Hey readers," Time seems to be saying, "Most years we give this thing to a CEO or a president, but our hearts just go out to the troops right now. They're the ones making it all happen. They're the people of the year!"

Well, except that it's just not true. In WWII, at various points, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill were all men of the year. Why wasn't it "The British Soldier"? When the CEO of General Motors won it, how come it didn't go to "The Assembly Line Worker?"

Do you see my point? If the purpose of the award is to say "Here's one person who changed history this year", then give it to one person. If the purpose of the award is really just "The Big Thing of the Year", then give it to "The Iraq War". Either way, giving it to "The American Soldier" is not correct, and obviously just a concession to the Great Man Theory rejectionists.

Unless, I don't know, did the American Soldier really reinvent the wheel on soldiering in 2003? Were they an entirely new kind of soldier? I don't really think so.

Third Offense: The provincialism. Examples: every newly elected or newly reelected US president - also "The American Soldier" and the "American" anything.

Granted, the US is the lone superpower and all that. The things we do as a nation and a culture are worthy of a little extra scrutiny. Our trends can become global trends. But that's no excuse for the way-over-the-top America-centric worldview of POTY. I mean, if you want to add the disclaimer that the POTY award is meant to be by Americans, for Americans, about Americans, then yes, many of the choices are fine. But I don't think that's what Time has in mind. Time wants it to be global. Every single US president since POTY got started (hmm, except Ford) has been included. Is there no difference in importance between Carter and FDR?

A politician who I will not name, said (during the debate from 1999 about who should be named Person of the Century) that it should be "The American Soldier". Wow, I just find that so arrogant it makes me want to cringe and apologize to anyone reading abroad. Now if you wanted to name "America" the country of the century, then you have a case. But the "American Soldier?" Are we talking about the same American soldier who turned a blind eye to global atrocities in two world wars and only belatedly joined the struggle each time?

Now, I love my country and I love our soldiers, but how is the American Soldier any braver, nobler, smarter, stronger and more courageous than any other soldier of any other nation fighting the good fight? How about the British soldier in WWII, fighting on against Hitler after every other ally had given up and surrendered, fighting on for a year with no help when England's defeat seemed inevitable. The Brits alone in 1941 against the entire nazi war machine. But no, let's give it to the "American Soldier". Great suggestion Hillary. (whoops!)

Fourth offense: the whole gender thing with the name of the award.

Look, they found a great way to do it in the 80s and 90s. If it was a man, then that year it was the Man of the Year. If it was a woman, then it was the Woman of the Year. That's great. That works. Now, whoever wins it, it's the person of the year. That sucks. It's doesn't sound good. It's annoying in that unique way that only a politically correct phrase can be.

And how about that 1975 winner "U.S. Women"? It's the hat trick of bad. It commits offense two, offense three, and also this one. Just as "The American Soldier" is really just a concession and an apology to the "Great Man Theory" rejectionists, isn't "US Women" really just a way for Time Magazine to declare that the Man of the Year award is not sexist? Does it serve any purpose besides the rah-rah cheerleading of the "American Soldier" variety?

Now who could possibly agree with everything I've just said? Probably no one. Oh, one more: naming Gorbachev man of the decade for the 80s. Great choice comrades. Really, there's maybe half an argument for "Reagan & Gorbachev" as a men of the decade duo, but just choosing Gorbachev? Time could have just sent Reagan a private letter saying Fuck You and spared their readership the burden of actually having to read all that drivel.

There. Now definitely no one can agree with all that.

But I will give Time props for the eventual man of the century choice: Eintstein. That was the right choice. Though an equally opinionated friend of mine was insistent that it should be Churchill and we almost came to blows.

Here, for reference, is the full list.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Magicians and Plants

A word now on magic acts.

Anyone else out there like a good magic show? No? Well too bad. That's our topic for today. I like a good magic show. I like the oohs and ahhs and the howd-they-do-that puzzling during the drive home. Vegas has a lot of magic shows and I've seen a bunch now.

But here's a big word of warning to the magic world at large. Having your "volunteer from the audience" be a plant is just not acceptable. I think we should ban the audience plant.

Take the Cirque du Soleil show "O" here in town. It's technically not a magic show, but there is a little bit of that. Specifically, 3 times during the show they came into the audience and drafted a volunteer. And to make a long story short, with each of the three audience volunteers, the "O" crew does an amazing trick, involving the life-or-death peril of the audience member. And each time, we ooh and ahh. And then each time, a-ha! The audience volunteer is revelaed to be part of the show, a skilled acrobatic performer.

Not once. Three times. That is so lame. The third time the seemingly uncooperative audience member had to hand his coat to his wife and get pulled onstage by a clown, I'm thinking "They're not going to do this AGAIN, right? He's not going to be a plant, right? They wouldn't go for this cheap, unearned nickel & dime surprise for a third time, right?"

And then a-ha! Presto! He was a cast member all along! Just like the other two times! Let's have a hand!

That's just one example of how cheap it is to use plants. Consider a Sigfried & Roy performance I once attended. (pre-mauling of course) Toward the end of the show, right before the big finale where they make an elephant disappear, my eagle eyes noticed men and women sneaking in to the audience from the back and qiuetly taking seats. About 15 people secretly entered from the back and took empty seats while the audience's attention was distracted on stage. I felt triumphant. When these people were eventually used for a trick, I alone would know the secret. But then the show ended - without Sigfried and Roy using the plants. Huh? Why were they there then? They were obviously part of the show.

But the secret was revealed when Siegfried and Roy came out for their bow. The 15 plants, scattered through the audience, initiated a standing ovation with practiced coordination.


But the more general problem with audience plants is that they have the capacity to ruin any trick. Take Penn & Teller's magic bullet trick. (The trick they've been closing their show with for years and years) The trick has worked so well for so many years because it really is unfathomable. Two volunteers from the audience write their initials on two bullets, which are loaded into guns - the volunteers inspect the guns and the bullets for authenticity - then the guns are fired across the stage into Penn & Teller's mouths - and then Penn & Teller spit out the bullets - at which point the two volunteers confirm that yes, those are the actual bullets they signed just moments ago. Ta-da.

Now if those audience members were plants, then there was no trick. "Yes, Penn, that was indeed the bullet that I just signed. How did you DO that? Whoops, sorry, have to run, Siegfried & Roy need me to generate a standing ovation."

There's just no way of knowing if those guys were plants. Anytime I see a trick using a volunteer, the easiest explanation for the trick is going to be "The volunteer was a plant. He's in cahoots with the magicians. The trick therefore is childishly simple."

So this is why I think plants should be banned. I don't really suspect that Penn & Teller were using plants for the bullet trick, but then again I don't know for sure. And if plants are used, then that's really, really cheap. Your magic act sucks if you use plants.

A general proclamation or sign would suffice. "This show does not use audience plants. All volunteers are 100% legit. We would not jerk you around in that sorry manner. Thank you."

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

More Magazine Suggestions

I felt good ranting about how asinine it was to put the wrong date on the cover of your magazine. Like calling the April newsstand issue "The May Issue". So here are some more problems.

Why must every magazine and newpaper article without exception stop halfway and redirect me to a new page? Why?


Wouldn't it be nice if they didn't do that? I can understand if A) you want to cram a lot of headlines on the first page of a newspaper, and therefore each front page article needs to be continued elsewhere, or B) you're having trouble fitting everything neatly so one or two articles need to be cut up and finished elsewhere. Those things I can understand. But EVERY article in the magazine?

And how about the table of contents. Why is it on page 6? Wouldn't this be satisisfying, just once - you open your magazine - BAM! Table of Contents!

Subscription cards.... in my subscription copy?

Hey editor in chief, isn't it enough that you're the editor in chief? Do you really deserve a whenever-you-feel-like-it column on the FIRST PAGE, wherein you never say anything more substantial than "2004 was a great year to be a wine enthusiast"?

The local news section of the paper? Boooooooorrrrrrrrrinnnnnnnng.

The 3 dense pages of stock quotes in tiny font? Let me be the first person in a G8 nation to point this out: These Pages Are No Longer Necessary. Any real person who still actually relies on the newspaper for his stock quotes is not someone you want to trust with your money. I'd sooner trust my money to a guy with one of those bubble domed telegraph-powered stock quote machines from the 40s with the little white tape that sputters out.

If you're going to direct me to a new page, NUMBER THE PAGES. I know you don't like to put page numbers on, say, an ad; but if your magazine is all ads, like Vogue, then how the hell am I supposed to find the new page? Not that I would, a-hem, read Vogue. Heh heh.

Now USA Today. I admit it, there's a guilty pleasure. It's just so well formatted. And it's so nice and predictable. It's like the McDonalds hamburger of newspapers. It's warm, spongy... well no. But it's concise, no big words, a big 'ol friendly weathermap. A little McNugget of news from each state. (Dayton Ohio is hosting the nerf oylmpics! Get outta town!) And sure, they'll give you an actual article or two about, say Colon Powell giving testimony to some committee. But it won't be a long article. They keep it nice and digestable. Like McDonalds, the nutritional value is negligable - in fact at the end of some USA Todays I actually feel like I know less - but the sense of satisfaction is unmistakable.

Oh, and just about every arts/TV section in USA Today has a guy with a cowboy hat on the first page. Howdy partner!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Ice Cream

This is especially petty, but can a man get a pint of ice cream that doesn't have chunks of crap floating around in it?

Not actual crap of course. I mean almonds, brownie chunks, sponge cake, reeses cups, cookie dough, brazilnuts, etc. etc. Can a man get a pint of ice cream that is free from all this shit? Besides chocolate and vanilla?

Here's another newsflash: Haagen Daaz is way better than Ben & Jerrys. That's right hippies. It's better ice cream. Take a pint of HD side by side with B&J, leave them out of the freezer for a few minutes, and then open them up and take a scoop from each. You can tell right there as you scoop that Haagan Daaz is the real deal. Ben & Jerrys is a lighter, fluffier ice cream, and I don't mean that in a good way. It's got a vaguely grainy feel to it, and it's a little gummy in the mouth. When you scoop it, it's almost like it's coming out in tufts.

Now Haagen Daaz. That baby scoops like liquid silk. And when you taste it... it's like Holy Shit. Haagen Daaz is that good. It's makes me feel like my tongue is taking up valuable real estate in my mouth, space that could be better utilitized by Haagen Daaz ice cream on a 24/7 basis.

Now I know that B&J is this great organization that treats it's employees really well, they're eco friendly, they saved the rainforests, they promote Phish and the Dead, they just want everyone to be happy, etc. And Haagen Daaz is this corporate bully that broke a bunch of laws. There was that whole "what is the doughboy afraid of?" scandal. And they aren't even really German. Or Dutch. Or whatever nationality the name is meant to suggest. They just invented it to give them some ice-cream cred. And that's exactly the sort of bullshit I take a strong stand against.

But my friends, the proof is in the ice cream, and HD puts out a better product.

And then we get to the chunks of crap. Now maybe you like chunks of crap in your ice cream. God bless. Mazel Tov. But me, I like that liquid silk sensation thing I was talking about earlier. And you know what brings the whole smooth and creamy reverie thing to a screeching halt? An almond does.

And the problem is that chunky ice cream, for a long time now, has completely dominated the market. It's taken over. Ben & Jerrys made their name by trying out weird and wacky new chunk flavors and eventually finding a few winners and now everybody is following suit. And it sucks. Sure, there's still chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and maybe coffee if we're lucky, but that is it for those of us who like a smooth ride. Your average ice cream selection at the Quikie Mart now is only going to have flavors with Bannana chunks, and oatmeal cookies, and marshmellow bits and pretzels....

Yes, pretzels.

And how about that flavor, Chubby Hubby? Every single purchase of ice cream for me is a little private guilt battle. If I win the battle, I buy the ice cream. If not, I don't. It's usually 50-50. But no waaaaaaaay am I going to buy a pint of ice cream that is basically called "Fat Man".

Now Haagan Daaz's Dulce de Leche. That's a flavor! Caramel ice cream with a caramel ripple. Or is it a ribbon? Either way it aint a chunk. When you dig that spoon into the virgin topsoil of a pint of dulce de leche and come back with a glistening ribbon of caramel, it must be just like when our ancestors drove that axepick into the mountain and exposed that rich vein of silver.

Yep, just like that.

And then it was Ben & Jerrys turn to be the Digimon-style imitators. They couldn't just sit by and watch Haagan Daaz corner the caramel market with their exciting new flavor. No, they had to act. And they acted the only way they knew how: by taking a decent flavor idea and injecting chunks of crap into it. So they gave us Triple Caramel Chunk, which was essentially Dulce de Leche with chunks of caramel filled chocolates floating in it. Bravo Ben & Jerrys. Another masterpiece.

Ben actually spoke at my college once. I went to hear him talk. This was 97 or 98. The lecture topic wasn't ice cream and the great chunk debate, it was US military buildup and how unnecessary it was. I remember he used long rolls of toilet paper to make a point about the US military budget. I also remember how he ridiculed the idea that a "rogue nation" like Afghanistan could possibly pose any kind of actual threat to the United States. Yeah that was some sharp analysis there Ben. Don't quit your day job.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Homework Psychosis

Have you ever been sitting around, Sunday afternoon, nothing to do? Maybe there's a light drizzle, maybe you've been working on a crossword, maybe somewhere in the background Wolf Blitzer is talking about seatbelts...

And you feel vaguely disconcerted. Like you shouldn't just be sitting around. Like you shouldn't be wasting time. Isn't there something you should be doing? Isn't the clock ticking on some important task and you're just letting precious time slip by? Are you wasting the day? Why are you just sitting around on your lazy ass?

This, I believe, is the damage that homework does to the brain. Grade school, high school, college, grad school. I think we've been conditioned to feel like we should never have a free moment.

Because homework is never done. You can't do ALL the reading. You can't do ALL the recommended exercises and problems. You can't possibly have gotten an adequate start on that term project. Homework is never really finished. You can take breaks, and parcel out the work in chunks, but every minute you're not doing anything is a minute when you could be doing homework.

This mindset becomes ingrained in your teenaged head and never leaves. Shouldn't you get some of that homework done? You haven't even cracked that one book. How can you sit there and watch TV when that rough draft is due Monday?

Homework invades your personal space. You aren't safe at home. You're not even safe in your bedroom. You could be working.

One thing I loved about my old job is that when 6 o'clock came around, the day's work was over. You were done. The rest of that evening? Not a care in the world. If you wanted to do nothing but watch ESPN classic and drink Coors until you dozed off in front of the TV, then you had a big 'ol green light.

But some people get permamently frazzled by the homework psychosis and never learn to give it up. Some people just aren't comfortable doing nothing. Oh, they'll do nothing. But it won't be a comfortable nothing. It will be a vaguely stressful and agonizing nothing. They'll never feel like Ron Livingston from Office Space when he says "I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing. And it was everything I thought it could be."

I think it's wrong that school related work is allowed to invade every single moment of your day. Maybe The Brak Show had a good idea when Brak and Zorak went back in time to prevent the invention of homework. When they arrived back in the present, school work was only allowed to be done at school.

I recommend to everyone that they set aside a day to do absolutely nothing. Well, not literally nothing. But nothing of significance. Plan it in advance so you know you won't have any obligations, and then just let the sweet nothingness fly.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Modern Art

I hate modern art.

And you want to know why? It's because of what modern art has done to me. Here I am, just minding my own business, not offending anybody, whistling a pleasant tune - and then suddenly I am dragged against my will into this place called the MOMA, and forced to stand in various rooms for hours on end.

The MOMA is New York's museum of modern art. And I could live a thousand years and never set another foot in that temple of boredom.

Imagine for a moment, that modern art does nothing for you. It does not move or stir you. It awakens nothing within your spirit. It neither excites nor intrigues you, it doesn't impress you and it doesn't get you thinking. It is an utterly neutral object in your field of vision. A bit like a mailbox.

Keep in mind for this hypothetical that you've given modern art many, many chances. You've approached it with an open mind and have been quite willing to be moved and stirred, if only the modern art would live up to its end of the deal. But at the end of the day, you have to conclude that this whole modern art thing is just not doing it for you. From the minimalist to the abstract and everything in between, modern art is just not on your wavelength.

In fact, you're slightly suspicious that it might all be a bunch of bullshit.

Before this starts to sound like Bright Lights, Big City, let's drop the second person. Let me stress though that I have nothing, nothing at all against the devotees of modern art. If you think modern art is way cool, then God love you. Go to it, my man. Godspeed. You have my full support. But if you try to drag me to the museum with you and then intimate that if I don't want to go then there must be something wrong with ME, then my hatred for you will burn with the fire of a thousand suns. I have kooky art preferences of my own too. I'm a big fan of the post-tonal stylings of early 20th century German composer Paul Hindemith, but I have never once tried to stuff his music down anyone's throat. I know that Hindemith may not be everyone's cup of tea. If you think he sounds like butt, I'm not going to argue with you. In fact, you're not even wrong. To you he does, and that's legitimate.

But many, many times during my childhood and teenage years, I was pushed into compulsory visits to the MOMA. Set aside for a moment the fact that appreciation of modern art may require some nuance and experience that is beyond a junior high student. I actually had to bring a notebook with me and jot down how this particular Jackson Pollack piece made me feel. What did it do to me? What did it say?

Now, with the understanding that to me modern art is about as exciting as a mailbox, or a box of seran wrap, or a handicapped parking spot, try to imagine having to spend a mandatory afternoon in the MOMA. You stand in one room for a while, contemplating the seran wrap. Then you move a few yards to the left and observe a box of pencils. For ten mintes. Now do this until four hours have elapsed.

Everything would be cool between me and modern art if this could be an acceptable conversation:

Friend: Hey! There's a Lichtenstein exhibit opening at the MOMA this week. Let's check it out!
Me: No thanks. I don't really get modern art. As a result, trips to the MOMA for me are just staggeringly boring and unpleasant. But definitely, you should go. I'll just play some Gamecube until you get back.
Friend: Sounds good! I'll be back at 6.

Ah, that would be nice. But no, here's the real conversation.

Friend: Hey! There's a Lichtenstein exhibit opening at the MOMA this week. Let's check it out!
Me: Ehhhh... you know, the lines will probably be real long.
Friend: Not if we leave now. Hey, we could walk there!
Me: Oh, it'll be so crowded. And it's stuffy in there. And what's that "suggested donation" all about? If they don't let you in without making it, why is it "suggested"?
Friend: Jeez, where's your artistic curiosity RD? It's Lichtenstein! Don't tell me you're just an uncultured boob?
Me: ....(defeated simper) I'll get my coat.

Oooooh, Roy Lichtenstein! He's using the classic charcoal sketch technique, but to draw a dirty sock? And a car tire? Genius! The contrast! The irony! It's so self aware! Oh! Oh!.... I'll need some clean pants.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Arcade Prizes

Something else I've had it with these days are the cheap, sub-Mexican almost-toys that pass for "Prizes" at your local arcade. Are these not the lamest, crudest, fragile and most depressing little toys you've ever seen?

For a long time I never made it to the prize counter at an arcade simply because I sucked too much at the games. Oh, I was good at Golden Axe and 1945, and the arcade games - but those didn't spew out any tickets when you did well. If you wanted the little yellow tickets you had to master Skee Ball, or Hoops, or Whack a Mole. I was too much of a spaz to really succeed at these more precision oriented games.

I would usually end up with about 6 to 8 sympathy tickets. You know, when every skee ball went into the gutter and you'd get three tickets just for playing. And I'd take my 8 tickets to the counter, hoping at least to get maybe a single Jolly Rancher. But no, the cheapest prize was 10 tickets for a tootsie roll. And not a normal tootsie roll, but this weird extra extra small tootsie roll. Really a very small tootsie roll. Like Tylenol capsule size. And I couldn't even afford it.

Then one day, I was playing Pachinko. Or one of those games where you navigate a ball down a ramp and launch it and hope that it goes into one of the target holes. And I was expecting to fail utterly at this game and get my sympathy tickets. But the Gods were smiling on me that day, and I accidentally launched the Pachinko ball into the tiniest, most remote and valuable hole. And the siren went off and the machine started spewing massive amounts of yellow tickets. I was convulsing with joy.

This wasn't in my childhood or anything by the way. This was maybe last year. And I was scooping up the tickets, and there were so many I couldn't gather them faster than they were coming out. It was like Christmas. I even earned the jealous eye of the fat, tight-shirted, trailer park chicks who always seem to be walking around with their kids holding thousands of tickets.

In the end, it was only about 400 tickets, but it was more than I had ever had, or ever would have. I carried the bundle over to the counter, thinking about what kind of booty I would select. The Carribean Cruise? The Aspen ski chalet? The fantasy practice with the Chargers? Hmm, it's only 400 tickets. Best not to get my hopes up too high. Maybe I'll settle for a surfboard.

At the prize counter, some B.O. and a harsh reality check were waiting for me. The best prize available was a shitty, off-brand little personal boombox. And it was 35,000 tickets. No, scratch that, the off-brand Razor scooter was 40,000, and the skateboard was up there too. So what were my real options? The super soaker? Hoo-boy, no. The shitty, shitty remote control car? 11,000 tickets. The Nascar calendar? 7,500. The really cheap-looking inflatable ape? 8,000.

Okay, I took it down another notch. The deck of Uno cards. 3,000. The 500 piece tiger puzzle. 4,000. Finally I just got angry. Here I was, the greatest pachinko champion the arcade had ever seen, and my skill didn't even warrant a deck of cards? Or a pair of novelty sunglasses? I said to myself "If I can't at least afford that comically oversized lollipop then I will officially be pissed." Comically oversized lollipop - 2,500 tickets.

Eventually, feeling much humbled and slightly dirty, I traded in my 400 tickets for a normal sized lollipop and a keychain with a whistle on it. I had invested serious ego in these prizes, and they let me down big time. These yellow tickets said "winner", but the lollipop and whistle were not saying "winner". Not so much. No, they were saying "loser". Big time loser. I was thinking that maybe it would be like the old Wheel of Fortune where the winner got to pick prizes out of the showcase. "I'll take the Color TV for $300!" Okay then, Bill, that leaves you with $2,200. "The sofa! The sofa!"

Which brings us back to the crappy prizes. These prizes are pathetic. They belong to a special class of crappy toys that you just won't see anywhere else on the planet. Imagine an action figure, if you will. And imagine that it's stiff and doesn't move. And that the art on the box is really terrible, and that it's part of a series of action figures with a really bad generic title like "Tank Heroes!" that came from a cartoon that may never have actually been broadcast in the states, and the clothes don't match, and the back of the box is blank except for a "Do not insert in mouth" warning that is misspelled and then repeated in 10 other languages.

Toys that are so bad they make you consider suicide, or at least abandoning all commercialism and becoming a Buddhist monk. Toys that no reputable toy store would shelve, that were passed on to discount toy stores that turned them down, then sat in a surplus warehouse for a year or two, then were declined by the dollar stores, then were given back by goodwill after another year because they couldn't sell, then were rejected by Christmas charites because they didn't meet safety standards, and were finally abandoned, unopened, by homeless children in Tijuana. This is when they go to the arcades.

If I ever open an arcade, (and to be honest, it's not high up on the list) the prizes will be of the highest quality. And if you are a pachinko champion, you can expect to be honored and fetted by the establishment. You can expect to gaze out over a massive display of awesome prizes and simply point to the ones you want like the king you are.

And finally, can we please retire the machines where the quarters are all tottering seductively on the brink of the cliff, and it seems like if just one more quarter were pushed out it would send them all spilling over, making the player fabulously wealthy? I've just had too much disappointment at the hands of that machine, and it's come to me to represent deep, personal failure. And if the arcade took half of the bolting-that-machine-to-the-floor budget and spent it on prizes, maybe none of this ranting would be necessary.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Pier 1 Answers

Here were the answers from the Pier 1 Quiz.
S = Shakespeare
P= Pier 1


Now score yourself:

42-44 - "Scent"er of the universe
35-41 - Cogno"Scent"i
28-34 - Common "Scents"
20-27 - Fifty "Scent"
0-19 - Unscented

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Pier 1 Quiz

I went to Pier 1 and bought a few candles recently. Not my usual sort of activity. In fact, aside from a few Chrsitmas gifts over the years, I don't think I've ever actually bought candles before. Not for myself anyway. You candle-shopping veterans may scoff at my ignorance, but I simply was not preapred for all the frufru fanciness to describe the various scents of these candles. I thought each scent would be limited to one word, like "Cinnamon" or "Peach" or something like that. Nope, each Pier 1 candle apparantly is a heady blend of about 8-12 spices and scents, most of which I had never heard of. Candles with names like "Asian Spice", "Riverwood" and "Waterberry" each had a list of about 10 sub-ingredients, such as "White Quince", "Warmed Musk" and "Lively Green Basil". All combining masterfully, I suppose, to create a unique, one of a kind candle fragrance.

The Pier 1 candle marketers need to ease up off the gay.

As a service to all holdiay candle shoppers, I offer this quiz:

Pier 1 Candle Fragrance? Or Shakespearean Character?

Dr. Pinch
Tuscan Herb
Sir Falstaff
Fir Balsam
Old Gobbo
The Earl of Kent
Kava Kava
Crisp Greens
Ylang Ylang
Tonka Bean
Lord Falconridge

If you think you got that 100% right, you're wrong. Answers forthcoming.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Let me fill you in on a little situation, and then I'll need some suggestions.

Ever since I moved to Las Vegas and got my new local phone number, I've been getting around three calls a week for "Andy" and "Patricia". Clearly, Andy and Patricia were the previous owners of the phone number. No big deal. But no matter how many times I explain to these various individuals that "Andy and Patricia don't live here no more." or "There ain't no Andy here, man." or "Dude, you've got an old number." the volume of these calls does not go down. In fact, it's been increasing.

And these callers aren't like normal wrong-number callers, who usually will apologize and hang up promptly when they discover their number is wrong or obsolete. No, these guys are persistent. Where is Andy? "I really don't know Andy. This is just his old number." How can I reach Andy? "Well, like I just said, I don't know Andy." But Andy just called me from this number. "Um, don't know what to tell you there." Well who are you? "Who am I? Who the fuck are you?" (click)

Clearly, these are creditors. Damn persistent creditors. Really persistent. You see, they're convinced that I AM Andy. And that I'm lying to them. The more honest I am, the more they think I'm lying through my teeth.

And they're employing some impressive creditor tricks. They call at various times of day. Early mornings, late nights. It's not just one person, it's several. There are businessy sounding guys, seductive women, old pal type guys... I pick up the phone and say hello, and it's "Heeyyyy, Andy!" "Andy, man, what's up!" Or a female voice "Hiiiiii sweetheart, Patricia there?" But then after my attempts at honest resolution of the wrong number, the tone gets angry and serious. WHERE IS ANDY. HOW CAN I REACH ANDY. WHO ARE YOU?

So you know what? I'm done being polite and honest. I am now officially prepared to fuck with these people. The next time they call, I am going to be Andy. The only question is how should I play it? Here's a scenario I came up with last night at the gym.

Them: "Hey Andy, how's it going?"

Me: "Mike! Thank God. Look, tell your brother we'll be in Vancouver tonight."

Them: "Um, this is Andy, right?"

Me: "Jesus! Why don't you say it a little louder? Just be quiet for a second. We're leaving for the airport in about 30 minutes. We're on American, flight... (talking away from the phone) Hey Pat... what's our flight number? What? Yeah Mike, it's flight 11-0-something. Look, you guys need to meet us at the airport in Vancouver. I do NOT feel comfortable carrying around all this cash in a suitcase, you understand? That was not part of the arrangement."

Them: "Uh... Andy?"

Me: "You're never going to see my ass in this country again, that's for sure."

Them: "....(pause)... What was that flight number again?"

Ah, that would be satisfying. Of course, that's a little high concept. Here's something a bit more basic.

Them: "Hello Andy?"

Me: "Yeah this is Andy."

Them: "Yes hello Andy! This is Mort Shackhauer from Visa collection. Hold on for just a second please, I'm going to conference Las Vegas Metro PD on this call.... Officer?

Officer: "Yes Mort, go ahead."

Them: "Andy. Are you aware that you've been ordered by Clarke County District A Superior Court to pay VISA an initial installment of ten thousand dollars by September 1st of this year, and that you have not made that payment?"

Me: "Relax guys! Look, I'm going to be a little late with the money."

Them: "The payment is already 3 months past due."

Me: "I just made a down payment on an Escalade this week for twice that much. And I'm going to be paying that thing off for years. You're going to have to cut me some slack."

Officer: (garble garble)..can impound that vehicle...

Me: "And let me tell you, it looks like a fucking behemoth I know. But it handles like a dream."

Them: "You think this is funny? You think you're being smart?"

Me: "Isn't there some statute of limitations on this? You should see what I got away with with my Amex. You think a wine cellar fills itself?"

And so on and so on. But really, there are an endless number of approaches here. I'd love to get some suggestions. Anyone?

The Progress Bar

Ah, the march of technology. In our lifetimes, we've seen the personal computer go from the Commodore and the Altair all the way to the Vaio and the G-whatever. It's been a great ride.

I can remember hitting control-G on the Apple 2 to make it "beep". And what fun it was. I can remember executing a very simple two-picture animation on the Logowriter application on Commodore 64 to sorta make it look like two people humping. Oh the joy.

We've come a long way. We now live in the age of Cialix spam, pop up ads for spy cameras, pop up ads for software to block pop up ads, trolls, lurkers, newbies and flame-wars - all presided over by his dark lordship, the demon Clippy.

Well, that's just being negative. There's been plenty of positive delevopments too. But today I just have to complain about one piece of computing technology that was introduced maybe 20 years ago and just hasn't seen any improvement. It's still around, and it still sucks. I'm talking about the Progress Bar, or sometimes the "Time Remaining" display.

You know what I'm talking about. The indicator bar which tells you how much of your installation, download, or other time consuming operation is left. And my question is: how come, in all those 20 years, the progress bar or time-reamaining bar has never once been an actual reflection of reality?

You know it's true. You've long since learned to ignore it, or conditioned yourself to live with it, but now I invite you to give it some fresh consideration and share my righteous disgust.

I'll give you my bottom line right away, and that is this: if the progress bar doesn't work, if it's wonky, then I don't want to see it. Make it go away. It's worse than useless if it's giving me a faulty impression. Let me list the various problems.

1. We're all familiar with the visual, horizontal progress bar - the one that fills up from left to right. Why does it zip merrily along for the initial 75%, and then hit some kind of wall for the final quarter? Has no one in 20 years of Mac and Windows updates noticed this?

2. Why does the "Time Remaining" display not count seconds at the speed of, say, one second for every second? We've all seen this I trust: we start our download and the time remaining is 30 minutes. Then, time begins to elapse at about one minute every couple of seconds. This starts to slow, and eventually, we're only moving at around double time. Finally, for a single instant, the countdown elapses at an actually correct pace, and then time slows down, and slows down, and down... The final two minutes are like the final two minutes of an NFL game. You can pack a lot of timeouts, bathroom breaks and commercials into those two minutes. So basically, the whole thing is just one big parabola of incompetance.

3. Don't let me forget this one. The Time Remaining display that actually will start gaining time. You've seen it. You're down to 25 minutes, and then whoa... whoa... back up to 27! Then down to 26... then up to 28!

4. A progress bar that will appear to be legit. It moves along at basically a steady pace, a few hiccups, a few bursts of sudden speed, but nothing major. Finally, it fills up completely. Ah, you think. Job well done. But no, not quite. It doesn't go away. Now you're treated to a series of text messages: "creating directory".... "repaginating".... "verifying format"....."checking modular sync database recalc"... And before you know it, you've sat there another two minutes.

This would all be excusable as late as, maybe, 1995. But it's still just as bad as it ever was. Wouldn't it be cool, if, once in your lifetime, a progress bar appeared and moved at a deliciously smooth, regular pace? Then, the moment it was done, it was actually done? Why do we tolerate a 0.0% accuracy rate from our "time remaining" counters and progress bars?

Damn you Cohaagen! Give these people air!

Monday, November 08, 2004

80 Annoyances

61. The icy center of a microwaved burrito

62. A commercial describing a car as having “aggressive lines”

63. Alex Trebeck’s smug satisfaction after he makes a lame pun

64. When characters in sci-fi movies say “Whoa whoa! Say that in English!”

65. The “grooming” of Brian Williams

66. How U.S. News & World Report can somehow produce a “Special Commemorative Issue” every freaking week

67. Clippy

68. A locked piano

69. Local news

70. How the guy who got the game winning homer in extra innings will always be the “player of the game” despite absolutely anything that may have happened over the course of the first nine innings.

71. When you sit through a 5 minute talk radio commercial break and when the host comes back with all the usual music and fanfare, he just pitches some vitamins at you and then goes on break for another 5 minutes.

72. A school bus deploying the stop sign

73. Thinking it somehow makes you more of a man to call Heads on a coin flip

74. Handrails that move faster than the escalator

75. Interviewers interviewing interviewers

76. Cheap video game level design where the player is intended to die on his first attempt, so that he’ll memorize the trap and know how to avoid it the subsequent time.

77. When you had a complex question for your French teacher, and it was way beyond your ability to ask it in French, but she wouldn’t let you ask it in English. Not even after class.

78. Giving your pet a two-syllable name with the “eee” sound at the end.

79. People who just aren’t convinced by a locked bathroom door and insist on knocking to get a verbal confirmation

80. The policy at the New York Times Magazine where all cover photo subjects have to look glum, sour, pained, weary and vaguely angry, apparently regardless of all context

And this may not be here or there, but don't you think it would be nice if Chinese restaurants and other eateries that offer "family style" meals exclusively, if they'd offer some sort of solo-entree option? I mean, if I'm in the mood for cashew chicken, and I don't conveniently have people to join me, why should I be screwed? Yes, I can take the leftovers home, but what if I don't want to? What if I just want a portion of General Tso's chicken on a plate, with rice and a vegetable? Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Freakishly Tall NBA

Just a brief topic today.

My problem with professional Basketball. Don't you think there's an inherent problem with a sport that offers such an enormous built in advantage to being taller than your opponent? Other sports demand things like speed, strength, agility, dexterity, endurance... all things that can be earned through hard training and work. And yes, certain sports rewards things like sheer size and height - a boxer's reach or a jockey's tinyness for example.

But no sport goes to the length that basketball does in this regard. The basketball height advantage isn't something you can gloss over. It isn't just a slight edge. It's 100% crucial and completely determinative. In order to play professional basketball, you must, MUST be freakishly tall. You need to be a 7'1" circus freak. I, personally am 6'4". I am the tallest person I know. I see people taller than me maybe 5 or 6 times a year, and when I do I think "Fuck, look at that guy." So I'm tall. And I, a taller person than 99.99% of the human population, couldn't even show up for basketball tryouts because I'm too short. My point is that there is something seriously wrong with that.

Now yes yes, I know, you hard core basketball fans can now start naming a list of 6'1" speedy guys who are crucial to their teams. I don't care. They are the exception that proves the rule.

My problem with the freakishly tall NBA is this. 1) We're not getting the best game of basketball we could be getting, (more on that in a bit) and 2) It goes against the American ideal that sports is supposed to be a meritocracy. That with a lot of hard work and effort and dedication, you too could be a superstar. Not in basketball you can't.

We have weight classes for wrestling and boxing, don't we? And isn't it true that middle weight boxing is generally more interesting and strategic than heavyweight boxing? That it's better boxing? Heavyweights punch with such strength that if they can land just a few direct hits, it's lights out. Also, then burn fuel super quick so they're exhausted by the second round. Boring.

Basketball needs height divisions. I bet if you organized a "no bigger than 6-foot" league and a "no bigger than 6-5" leagure, you'd see some damn good basketball. Maybe not as many theatrical dunks, but damn good basketball.

Am I supposed to be impressed when Yao Ming swats away a shot or a rebound without even jumping, due simply to his mutant, freakish height? That's not great athleticism, that's a sideshow act.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

I am Ignorant

I've taken a strong stand against bullshit on these pages, so it only seems fair that I own up to my own periodic bullshit. Because I do bullshit sometimes. Sometimes often. Often quite frequently.

Here are twenty things I feel very comfortable faking knowledge of, yet in truth have no idea about.

The definition of meretricious. Also febrile.

The expression Sine Qua Non

The 2nd Vatican Council

What the French and Indian war was all about.

Ditto the Treaty of Utrect, The Edict of Nantes and the Diet of Worms.

The rules of backgammon

The basic mechanical principles behind plumbing

I don’t think I could place Martin Luther in the correct century.

The geographic distinctions between Incas, Aztecs and Mayans

Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, All in the Family, What’s Happening, Saved by the Bell, the show with Urkel, the one with Jim J. Bullock, and the one with the magical talking cat.

The plot of King Lear, Citizen Kane, North by Northwest, Brazil, Taxi Driver, Don Quixote, Bonnie and Clyde, and many more I'm sure.


The Hapsburg Empire

The various tie-knotting styles like the double-windsor

An alarming amount of the buttons, knobs, settings and displays inside my car.

The difference between a bicameral and unicameral legislature

I can’t name a single thing that happened in the 400 years between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the middle ages.

The whole deal with the Sandinistas. Also Patty Hearst. (possibly related?)

The name of any New York mayor pre-Koch (with the exception of La Guardia) Also any British Prime Minister between Churchill and Thatcher

Menu terms, including but not limited to “garlic aioli”, “coulis”, a “ragout”, anything involving shoots, a “brioche” and fennel.

The ease with which I was able to come up with those should give you an indication of the hundreds or maybe thousands of additional items that could also be on the list. Recently though, I learned the meaning of "Habeus Corpus" and also what write-offs are. ("Produce the body" and a company abandoning old debt that it concludes it can never recover) But I would have felt quite at ease feigning a working knowledge of either one. You never know with me. I just may be bullshitting.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Fiendish Spam

This letter showed up in my email inbox today. I'm baffled. It's either an honestly mismailed personal letter, or the most fiendish piece of spam I've ever seen. If it really is Spam, then I guess it's trying to subliminally get me to vote for John Kerry. I'll print it here. Wow. Well done spammers. Well done.

Hey Brett,

How's school? Did you hear Dustin got his head shaved? Probably looks like a Gi La (Gi La douche) that is. Kerry relayed the word that you have been quite the partier at College this year. I on the other hand have been laying low as usual. Our season is going shitty, 1-6. I've been playing well though for what I have to work with. Did you see the new Aneuretical website? They got a new CD out, it sounds the same as the last one though. Kerry has been talking to some girls lately there is one that likes Josiah, but i see the sparks when Mr. Colorful (personality) talks to her. She is pretty cute so I encourage Kerry to "tap that,"as we say in hogh school. not really that is something that D$ probably says. I say hi to Jeff in front of his sophomore friends to make him look cool. He stopped calling me "Schwietz!" so that is good. I like the song "Indication" by The Zombies. they palyed 1st Ave a little bit ago. Maybe they saw all of the things we wrote in the 7th Street basement. "Wasteless Tillard" and "the Exchange...Will never play here." Man me and Kerry the John Kerry duo wrote a lot of disgaceful stuff in there. I can't even remember half of the rediculous things we put. that was sweet. i got a new keyboard that you'd like because my old one still isn't fixed, I got a loaner fro GC that I will just end up keeping because it is more like the Yamaha and less like the EMU, with a hint of awesomeness. Roland XP-10

Anyways I gotta go computers are taking over the world.

Mr. Street Hockey himself

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Bum a Smoke

"Bum a smoke?" asked the guy on the street yesterday.

I don't smoke, never have. But I wish I did. I would have said "Nope." then pulled out a full pack and casually lit up.

The "bum a smoke" system works, in theory. Smokers helping out other smokers in need. Sounds good. But don't you think if you could cosmically total up all the ledgers of smoke bummers and bummees, you'd find that there's a whole class of smokers just ruthlessly exploiting the "bum a smoke" courtesy?

And this is just my observation as a non smoker. Do you really think that broke ass kid from the street yesterday with his shaved head and too-low jeans is giving away cigarettes with the same enthusiasm that he's bumming them? I've known plenty of cheap bastards, possibly including myself, and I know a scam when I see one.

Here's my position. If I was a smoker, I'd constantly stock myself with an abundance of packs. This way I'd never need to bum a smoke. And I'd have a strict no charity policy. Well maybe if it was a poor orphan boy who just wanted one cigarette to stay warm, I'd make an exception, but that's it. Maybe I'd sell individual cigarettes to other smokers at a profit-maximizing markup, but no bumming from my stash. The way I see it (and I address this to the bummers) you know you are addicted to cigarettes. You know, approximately, how many you'll need per day. You can plan ahead. You can save money buying cartons, or even cases of cartons, rather than packs. You can, if you want, order name-brand cigarettes for huge discounts from overseas, via the internet. You could stock up for 6 months at a time, even a year. Think, just for a moment, how many dollars you'd save per year doing this.

Smokers have told me they shy from this for two reasons. One, on some weird psychological level, every smoker would like to pretend that this new pack is going to be the last pack. Therefore, to buy in bulk in advance destroys that fantasy. Two, smokers deliberately don't carry a lot of cigarettes around at any one time, using the constant shortage of cigarettes as a simple way to limit their smoking.

Both of those reasons I don't accept. I embrace my addictions. Coffee. Gambling. Junk food. I don't apologize. I don't pretend. I don't walk into a card room saying okay, this will be the last time.

But the guys who bum smokes all the time aren't necessarily caught in a vise of psychological turmoil and denial, they're just cheap bastards who've realized they can endlessly abuse this courtesy and get away scot free. I think it's pathetic. Just look at this verb: bum. To bum. It's an acknowledgement that the person in question is literally begging for a cigarette. That they are a bum. Can I have a cigarette? I am a worthless bum.

I say respect yourself, and own up to your addiction. When was the last time you ever ran out of, say, toilet paper? You don't run out of toilet paper, because you NEED toilet paper. When the supply gets low, you buy more. How often do you run out of gas? Never. The same should apply with cigarettes.

Now I'm tempted to start smoking just so I can carry around extra packs and not give them to people. Thank God I never started. What a truly stupid decision it is, to put that first cigarette in your mouth. But that's another rant.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


Well, this is it. This is the big one. This is the one I've been saving. The ultimate petty annoyance that towers over the rest. I wanted to wait until the middle of October to bring it up, since we are now officially on the cusp of The Holiday Season.

We are literally a week, maybe two away from our first santa commercial of the year, followed closely by the unveiling of this year's new batch of crappy soft jazz Christmas music which will be piped over mall PA systems nationwide. Starbucks imitators all over the country will soon be bringing out their deep, aromatic holiday blends - and last years leftover Christmas stock is being dusted off in backrooms as we speak, prepped for October clearance.

Hell, I just got my "December" issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly today. Today, just to remind you, is OCTOBER 14th.

But this is all kindling, a preparty, mere foreplay compared to Q4's biggest petty annoyance of them all: the refusal of media, businesses and advertising to say the word Christmas.

No one will say the word Christmas. Even as they exploit Christmas, even as they depend of Christmas for their very livelihood, they simply cannot utter the word. First, the euphemism of choice was "Season's Greetings", then "Happy Holidays". Now, the word Holiday (frequently capitalized) is used as a direct substitute for the word Christmas.

Saying "Happy Holidays" I suppose is marginally acceptable if you're addressing a large audience and you want to cover all bases. But saying it out of fear of offending someone with the word Christmas - that makes me mad. Saying it while simultaneously cashing in on Christmas-specific marketing and Christmas-specific custom - that makes me mad.

Friends, Christmas is the real deal. It's a kickass holiday. And I say that as a proud atheist / former Jew. Christmas rocks. And no offense to my many Jewish relatives and friends, but Hanukah is a blatant ripoff. It's history's original Digimon. Do you know why Hanukah falls on different days in December every year? It's because the original Jews, way back when, weren't using the superior Christian calendar. They were still on a lunar calendar. Do you know what kind of mathematical handstands and cartwheels they had to do to ensure that Hanukah always fell in close proximity to Christmas? It's obvious, just by looking at how Hanukah is scheduled, that its entire purpose is to counter the successful conversion tool that was Christmas. Hanukah is one big fakeapalooza. The miracle of the lights. Please. Quick, people, we need a good miracle! Is there anything good in Leviticus? How about Numbers?

And let's not get started on Kwanzaa. Really, let's not.

So Christmas is the real thing. (barring some evidence that some Christmas rituals are based on even older forms of Pagan tree worship) And everyone in our media and in the world of commerce is too chicken shit to even say the word. It puts food on their plate, it creates their end of year bonus, and they're too scared to say it.

Back when I was a believing Jew, I had NO PROBLEM with Christmas. You could shout it from the rooftops, you could put nativity scenes in post offices, I would not have cared at all. I understood perfectly well in those days that I lived in a predominantly Christian culture, and I had no desire to interfere in anyone else's faith. Watching Christians celebrate Christmas was, if nothing else, one way to learn about another religion, another culture. Do you think I would ever set up shop in India and start complaining about public displays of the Hindu faith? That would be absurd.

The worst, I think, was that Petsmart commercial from last year. It featured a dog dancing gaily around a Christmas tree on Christmas morning, with presents strewn everywhere, and a beaming mom and dad looking down at the dog's happiness.

"Look how excited he is honey!" says mom. "It's his first holiday!"

You CHICKEN SHITS! I will never, ever buy anything from petsmart for as long as I live. How about the coke commercial with Santa drinking from a tall bottle of coke (where can you get those by the way? The glass bottles of coke? I've only ever seen Santa drinking from them. Can ordinary people get them too?) Anyway, Santa takes a cool, refreshing sip (you know how hot it gets at the North Pole) and says "Happy Holidays."

Happy Holidays? From Santa? Isn't he supposed to be Christian? Endowed by God with supernatural powers? And if that's true, doesn't he have firsthand knowledge that Hannukah and Kwanzaa are a bunch of bullshit? Why would he make concessions to them? God forbid Santa should offend anyone who doesn't believe in Santa's existence.

Again, let me state my credentials here. I am not a Christian, never was one. I most surely do not believe in God. I think all religions are terribly, terribly wrong. And yet when people are too scared to even say the word Christmas, when the very word becomes a taboo, it makes me want to kick some ass. Of course, if some people really would be offended by hearing the word Christmas in a commercial, I would want to kick their asses too. In fact, they'd go first. But in my opinion the bigger crime is to pander to that deluded hypersensitivity.

Say Christmas!!!

Now, I'm going to be keeping a careful watch this Holiday Season. I'm going to keep my ears open. Those businesses with enough balls to actually say Christmas will get my business, no matter how awkward it may be for me personally. If it's a local commercial for a timber company, then I guess I'll buy some cordwood. If it's a commercial for a festive bottle of Cold Duck, then I'll drink some Cold Duck.

And any business that uses "Holiday Season" when they mean Christmas gets a year boycott from me. And any commercial that uses "Holiday" in the singular, as a direct substitute for the word Christmas (a la Petsmart) gets a lifetime boycott. Anybody want to join me?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Theft and Extortion

Have you ever seen someone steal newspapers out of a newspaper machine? Meaning - they pay for one paper and take several? Or all of them?

This is just so depressing. So tragic. So annoying. The newspaper machine may just be society's last honor-system-based business transaction. You put in some change, you take a paper. Do you really want to see the day when newspaper merchants are forced to come up with some thief-proof machine that dispenses indivdual newspapers?

All over our society, we adopt a paranoid, defensive stance - evidence of the lowest common denominator. Inside the locker room of my members-only gym (home of the man ass) I'm expected to put a lock on my locker. (And for good reason - my dad recently had the credit cards stolen out of his wallet in his gym) This implies, doesn't it, that we're dealing with thieves who have gym memberships. That the guy next to you could be a thief. That you, conceivably, could be a thief. When I take a towel at the gym, I have to leave my membership card with the towel guy. So I can't steal the towel. Every day we go through this transaction - I hand him the card, he hands me the towel. The unspoken message: "Aha, towel thief! I have your card. Let's see you try to steal this one!"

I don't blame the gym for doing this. They've probably had towels stolen in the past. But the thief did more than just steal a towel, he eroded the trust level to the point where me and the towel guy have to go through this daily ritual. That's the legacy of the theft.

The other day I was playing poker at Binions, center of the poker universe. A fine card room. I had noticed my chair was a little wobbly, but it didn't bother me so I ignored it. About an hour into my session, I stood up to stretch. When I sat back down, the chair collapsed under me like it was oragami. I tumbled over backwards, sending two drinks flying as I flailed my arms, and ended up laying comically splayed on the floor. Not my finest moment.

Within seconds, three poker room personnel were at my side, helping me up and asking me if I was okay. I was fine. A little embarassed, maybe. But unhurt. Someone snapped his fingers and a new chair was brought over. A guard came jogging to the scene, followed by the security manager. Did I want to go to the emergency room? No. Was I sure? Yes. Would I mind signing a statement declaring what happened? Sure, I guess. An engineer arrived, and he and the manager started examining the busted chair to see why it had broke. The manager called surveillance to flag the tape. The guard presented me with a form to sign. My driver's license was taken away to be photocopied.

As I started writing the statement, other players came up to me to offer some quick advice. I heard things like "Son, if I were you I wouldn't sign shit." "If you want to talk a lawyer, you might be looking at anything from 5 to 50 grand." "You heard about that one woman at the Orleans? She slipped in the bathroom, now she's got a room for life."

I brushed these guys off, finished writing the form (which had questions along the line of who did I blame for the accident, how much personal property was damaged, etc) and eventually life went back to normal.

The whole incident was kinda funny, but also kind of sad. The casino was clearly terrified of little accidents like this. They had a whole procedure ready for someone falling out of his chair. The other players were like jackals - licking their chops, wishing it them that had the good luck to be in the busted chair. Some bystanders were wondering aloud if I should at least be offered a dinner. I had to explain patiently to many of them that I wasn't interested in seeking legal redress. Because, simply, I wasn't hurt. To sue them would be nothing but extortion. To ask for favors would just be greedy.

I don't know. Wouldn't it be nice if people weren't presumed to be thieves? Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't just presume I'd be eager to extort money from a business simply because I fell out of a chair? Let's leave those newspaper machines alone people. Those little boxy machines are the only things left in society that don't assume you're a greedy, thieving worm. Have some respect.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Dangerous Shit

One little extra note about the library porn patrol. There are also plenty of people gambling online and playing video games too. While I'm not so instantly disgusted at that as I am at the porn, it still (in my opinion) should not be allowed because it's disrespectful to the institution. I don't know, maybe it's just me.

Anyways, today I need to tell you all about some dangerous shit. That is, people who go out and engage in these patently dangerous activities, without any regard for their own life and limb.

As a preface, I should state that my number one goal in life is to not die. Pretty much the same as my goal in, say, Tetris. Equally futile too, I know, but still - it's a good mantra to have when you leave the house in the morning. You inhale that first breath of outdoor air, you exhale, you smile, and you say to yourself "My goal today is to not die!" If you keep this goal in mind, then chances are you'll make smart choices. When you approach a curb, you don't step into traffic. When you go to the bathroom, you wash your hands. When you're at a society ball and a waiter offers you an hors d'eurve plate of cocktail wieners, you don't take the weird looking one. This, I believe, is part of the "don't die" instinct we all possess.

So occasionally I am confounded by blatantly dangerous behavior. Case in point:


You will never catch my ass on a helicopter, I'll tell you that. How many times have you opened the paper to see "Fannie Mae executive among dead in downed copter." "Deloitte-Touche COO killed in helicopter accident" "Entire board of Disney wiped out in fiery copter death trap."

Basically, if you're an executive, stay the hell away from helicopters. But it's not just our captains of industry. How about during the Afghan and Iraq wars... "US forces advance on Kabul, 9 Marines dead in copter crash." "Basra taken without a shot, 17 special forces dead in crashed Apache" Was I the only one who noticed that pretty much all our casualties for a while there were coming from copter crashes? And these weren't copters in action, they were just transporting troops.

One of the most respected, brutal, hard-hitting movies made recently about our modern military - Black Hawk Down, is all about, well, Black Hawks that went down. Apparently I'm the only one drawing the lesson here: do not get on a helicopter.

Now, I went looking for some actual statistics to back me up on this, but I came up empty. The army keeps this stuff pretty close to its vest, and civilian helicopter enthusiasts aren't exactly eager to report on fatalities. They don't exactly splash it across the front page of their websites.

Climbing Mountains

You've read this story 50 times I'm sure. An Everest climbing expedition comes back, triumphant, announcing they reached the summit on schedule; and they only lost 2 Shirpas, 1 donkey, and 8 cumulative team toes and only 6 fingers! Yes! Oh, and one guy is going to have to lose his nose. Well, he was a mouth breather anyway! Am I right!

They're big heroes because they conquered Everest, but hmm. I'm sitting here in my living room thinking "I don't have blackened, frozen dead toes still clinging to feet I can't feel." According to my calculations, they're the heroes for climbing Everest but I'M THE ONE WHO HAS ALL HIS FUCKING TOES. You know, on second though, I'm thinking that I'm the hero. I'm the guy who decided to watch TV instead of tackling Mt. Everest. That was a smart choice.

I started thinking about this because I was watching Dateline (believe me, nothing else was on) and Tom Brokaw was interviewing a one armed man who survived an unbelievable ordeal trapped in a canyon in Utah.

He had gone "canyoning" (there's your first mistake) and had accidentally dislodged a big boulder. The boulder pinned him down to the ground, crushing his right arm. No one knew where he was, and for days he lay there in pain, unable to move the boulder. He had no food or water. He was going to die. Facing death, he did what he had to do. Using his Swiss Army knife, he amputated his own arm. Unable to sever his own bones with just a Swiss Army blade, he was forced to twist his partially amputated arm over the boulder again and again until the bones snapped. Trailing his bleeding stump, he hiked for miles until he found some other hikers and collapsed in front of them.

Now I'm sure your seasoned climbers and hikers and canyoners would mount an impassioned defense of their hobby. It's about nature. It's about communing with the wilderness. It's about finding one's self. It's about pushing yourself to your limits to see what you're made of. It's about teamwork and friendship and absolute trust.

Nope. It's about CUTTING OFF YOUR OWN ARM. I regard climbing a difficult mountain as being an activity where, best case scenario, it's just a huge pain in the ass. And there's nothing waiting for you at the top except a pain in the ass trip down.

The other day at the gym, I saw a middle aged man who was working out at the nautilus, and one of his legs was just a titanium rod. It had a prosthetic foot on the end with a sneaker on it, and the guy could walk around pretty easily. But he only had one leg. Now I don't know how he lost the leg, I didn't ask. But I'm guessing that whatever it was, he decided to leave the house that day and do some crazy shit, while I carefully limited myself to a "home" or "Starbucks" or "Dennys" environment. You can't be too careful.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The First Amendment

Normally, I'm a major First Amendment cheerleader. You want to burn a flag? Fine. You want to hold a KKK rally? What time. You want a show a blasphemous picture of the virgin Mary? Bring on the feces.

Big, big first amendment supporter. Love it. One of your best amendments.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday was when I was sitting at a computer workstation in the university library, doing my stats homework, when a middle-aged, bald dude, clearly not affiliated with the university in any way but just a member of the general unwashed public - sits down next to me and proceeds to download and watch internet porn.

I did a big-ol double take. Huh? Is this guy really watching pornographic videos in full view of dozens of people in a university library? Why?

Now let there be no confusion: this was not some student doing "porn research" for a class on human sexuality, this was a random dude off the street watching porn in the library and practically drooling on the keyboard.

I wasn't offended, per se. I was just seriously creeped and grossed out. Not by the video, I want to stress (for the purposes of my eventual argument), but by this guy. This guy was enjoying what really should have been a private moment not two feet from my person. He was getting sexually aroused by porn in my personal space.

So I went down to security and meekly asked if what this guy was doing was OK. I kind of knew the answer would be yes, since I had read something previously about porn being okayed in libraries. So yes, this guy wasn't breaking any rules. I just had to deal with it. Well, I dealt with it by moving to the other side of the room.

Folks, something is seriously wrong here. I'm not Mr. Morality Police, I'm not Mr. Prude, but I am Mr. Guy who doesn't need to see a video of someone being fellated two feet away while trying to do homework in a university library. That is just wrong!

I am no first amendment legal expert, but for God's sakes, doesn't the same logic that prevents me from walking down the street naked or having sex in public apply to this situation? If I can't actually BE publically fellated in the library, why can someone display a video of the exact same thing?

Now, I am not proposing to start slapping censorship all over society, or even the library. If someone wants to use a public library to watch porn, I don't object in the abstract. But what about my right as someone who is rightly disgusted at watching another man's shameful act of public arousal to not have to watch it?

Though I didn't confront the guy, I seriously did want to loudly shame him. I wanted to strike up a conversation in a loud street voice (that would be booming in the quiet library) and ask him if he had any shame at all. I would want to draw everyone's attention to his behavior.

Here's my modest proposal. If people want to watch porn in the library, citing their first amendment rights, fine. Watch porn. But the library should designate a secluded spot for the viewing of explicit materials. There should be a row of workstations in the corner, fully sequestered, that could be used for this purpose. If that limited supply of workstations for some reason doesn't satisfy the demand, then okay, add more. But limit the viewing of explicit material to these stations, out of the view of passersby.

That certainly should satisfy the first amendment sticklers (of which I am one) while also accomodating the needs of people who don't need to see other men stoke their own masturbatory arousal (of which I am also one). See, we're both happy.

If anyone disagrees with me, by all means, make the pervert's case. I'd love to hear what it is. But also be sure to tell me why I can't be naked in the library, and how that's consistent with your position.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Miss America

Every year when this rolls around, I think “Wow, this thing really does still exist.” I mean, let’s face it, this peculiar pageant has ceased having any meaning. Or rather, the qualities used to judge women in the Miss America Pageant have ceased to bear any relationship to qualities we would actually use to judge a human being in a meaningful way.

I know that’s not an original observation, and I know that some people enjoy the Miss America Pageant deliberately as parody, but I am just so stunned that anyone can still take it seriously.

I mean, what effect is this pageant having on impressionable young girls who look to Miss America as a real ideal? What qualities does Miss America teach are important to have? Poise, attractiveness in evening wear and swimsuit, a winning smile, a “talent” (either singing an aria or doing that dance routine with the flying streamers) and having a “cause” (something truly vanilla like literacy, conservation or abstinence).

That’s it. That’s what we prize most in a young woman. And of course, automatic disqualifications include having had children, an abortion, a divorce, (how about a boyfriend? Are boyfriends okay?)

And of course, Miss America is just the most visible side of the ugly and scary beauty pageant culture. I’m not just talking about psycho moms and Jon Benet here, I’m talking about indoctrinating young girls into this perverse mindset where attractiveness is a zero-sum game with winners and losers and that presenting an attractive outer shell is the only goal worth achieving.

Somewhere, in some MIT lab, a 22 year old female biologist is pioneering some new research that may actually save some lives. She’s been tutoring disadvantaged kids in her neighborhood for ten years, she writes poetry for a local journal, she’s honest, kind, and has an army of friends to attest to her character. There’s your Miss America, people. She doesn’t tape her breasts and put Vaseline on her teeth. She may not look particularly stunning in a ball gown, she can’t sing Ave Maria, and she won’t deliver a prepared monologue in a Louisiana twang about how sex should be saved for marriage.

The Miss America Pageant needs to either close up shop, or do a complete overhaul where they replace the current system with one that can identify people you’d actually admire. People should qualify by being nominated anonymously by their friends. Currently, qualifying for Miss America probably means you’ve survived and vanquished all your beauty foes at the local and state level. You’re already a cut-throat, pageant-savvy veteran with years of competition experience. When Regis asks these girls what their talent is, shouldn’t the correct answer be “Well, my entire life revolves around the pageant circuit. I guess my talent is winning beauty contests.”

Thursday, September 23, 2004


Teen Wolf Too
The Search for Curly's Gold
The Whole Ten Yards
Look Who's Talking Too!
The Friday After Next
Analyze That
Three Men and a Little Lady
Batman and Robin
The Color of Money
I Still Know What you Did Last Summer
102 Dalmations
Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles
3 Ninjas Kick Back
Another Stakeout
Beethoven's 2nd
Return to Oz
The Two Jakes
Honey I blew up the Kid!
Beverly Hills Cop 3
Caddyshack 2
Grease 2
The Santa Clause 2
Rocky 5

Now what do you people think of putting the subtitle before or after the name of the movie? Here are a few examples of each style.

Jaws 4: The Revenge
Friday the 13th 4: The Final Chapter
The Land Before Time VII: The Stone of Cold Fire

Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2
Braddock: Missing in Action 3
Aces: Iron Eagle 3

Here's a little game. Name the bad sequel from its subtitle! (I'll order them in increasing difficulty)

Cruise Control
Back in the Habit
Monsters Unleashed
Lost in New York
Season of the Witch
Back to the Minors
Golden Receiver
The Quest for Peace
The Year we Make Contact
The Quickening
Citizens on Patrol
Beyond Cyberspace
The Heretic
Make Room for Daddy
On the Move
The Road Back
Blood Wings

And finally, a special shout out to the Pokemon movie franchise, whose titling method is so completely inconsistent, it deserves some kind of award.

Pokemon: The First Movie
Pokemon: The Movie 2000
Pokemon 3 the Movie: Spell of the Unknown
Pokemon 4Ever
Pokemon Heroes

Note the mid-franchise abandoning of the colon. That's amazing! Most franchises start out colonless and then add colons. Equally impressive are four consecutive, completely different uses of numbers - spelled out, denoting a year, indicating a sequel, and as a pun.

My favorite is Pokemon 3 the Movie: Spell of the Unknown. Meaning, I think, that there are dozens and dozens of "Pokemon 3" products that I might confuse this title with. This is Pokemon 3 the movie. And then even within the niche of Pokemon 3 the Movie, there are plenty of stories. This one is the Spell of the Unknown.

Pikachu! I choose you!

Friday, September 17, 2004

Poker Annoyances

I play a lot of casino poker, so it was only a matter of time before I got around to listing my top pet peeves at the poker table. Hopefully, if you also play poker, you'll sympathize. If not, feel free to skip.

1. The New Setup

It was a close call, but I think this is the biggest annoyance for me at the poker table. Gamblers tend, on average, to be superstitious people. I mean, you have to be superstitious and a believer in luck and mojo, etc. to be willing to play slots or roulette or whatever. In poker, generally, I welcome the superstitious people. The folks who believe in "lucky seats", the people who think a particular hand is their "lucky hand" and they always play it. I like these gamblers. Their superstitions are amusing, and often they'll be weak poker players.

But I cannot tolerate the new setup. Any player, for any reason, can request a "Setup". This means play has to stop, the floorman has to come over with two new decks of cards, and a three minute procedure ensues where the cards are replaced, inspected and shuffled.

Players generally request a setup to get rid of unlucky cards and maybe introduce some lucky ones. Like I said, I welcome superstitious gamblers, but I cannot stand the fact that one moron can, at his merest whim, stop the game for several minutes - all to cater to his superstition.

The casino loses money. Every "setup" is maybe two hands that they aren't raking. I'm annoyed because I came to play poker, not to sit around and watch a deck inspection.

If I was in charge, deck changes could only be requested by a player if the player could demonstrate some actual problem with the deck - warped cards, or a smudge or some other defect. Otherwise, tough shit!

2. The Question "Can I raise?"

This is a question that a poker player is basically entitled to ask approximately once per human lifetime. Once the answer is given, there is pretty much no need to ever ask it again. I think the question "Can I raise?" is about the same as asking "Does a queen beat a jack?" or "Do I have to wear pants?" or "What year is it?"

While it's possible that someone might be confused about whether the action is already capped and therefore might ask if he can raise again, the vast majority of these guys who ask this question do so before there are any raises at all.

Here's the real story. The question "Can I raise" is, 99.98% of the time, not meant sincerely. It is part of a tired, cliched act to present an appearance of ignorance. It fools no one, it amuses no one. It forces the dealer to play along, and he's not amused either.

3. Acting out of turn

Who the fuck are you? Wait your goddamned turn.

4. Dealers who aggresively hustle for tips

Most dealers are very nice and professional, and don't hustle for tips at all. There are some dealers who have a way of hustling for tips that is friendly, full of good humor and class. This is rare. But there are some dealers, a few, who hustle aggressively and with an attitude. One dealer I had once remarked, with obvious irritation "You know, I'm trying to make a living here." after a player who won a small-medium pot didn't tip. Whoa whoa. Send this guy home for the day and tell him to come back with a better attitude. Ditto the dealers who obviously expected a larger tip after a gigantic pot but only got a small one. They let out a long sigh of irritation, because they only got one buck. Anyone who sighs with irritation after I give them a dollar isn't getting another dollar.

For the record, this is my poker tipping policy. I believe it's fair. I count my profit, and tip the dealer the 11th dollar, the 51st dollar, the 101st dollar, and every 50th dollar thereafter. That's the eleventh dollar of profit, by the way. Not the eleventh dollar in the pot. For something really crazy, like flopped quads or a straight flush, I might add something extra.

5. People (involved in the hand or not) who commentate out loud and speculate on holdings while the hand is in progress.

I like a table full of friendly, talkative players who want to have a good time. But when players talk about active hands, they often influence the decisions of the people in the pot. I can't count how many times bad players have been alerted to straights and flushes because of table chatter.

6. Players who refuse to chop.

Sure, it might be in your financial best interests to raise in the small blind with your ace-king when it's just you and the big blind, but come on. The two dollars you forfeit by chopping are more than made up for by a friendly, sporting table image. It's important not to look like a money grubbing jerk at the table, even if you happen to be a money grubbing jerk.

7. Players who slow down the game.

Sometimes this is unintentional, if a player is drunk or his attention is elsewhere. Sometimes it is fully intentional, part of an act of ignorance and slow-wittedness. Either way, it pisses me off. In these cases, the dealers need to take charge and force the game to keep moving.

8. Players bitching excessively about their bad beat or cracked aces.

I feel for these guys, I really do. Someone who had a great hand, played it beautifully, and then was stymied on the end by some idiot inexplicably playing a 10-3, calling every raise with his pair of 3's and catching his 10 on the river. I've been there bro, I know it hurts. But don't take it out on the table. Be a man. Suck it up.

9. Players who say "raise" when they mean "bet" and say "reraise" when they mean "raise".

Oooh, I hate this. "I raise." No, ass, you bet. When a person chronically misuses the word "raise" or "reraise", sometimes I just get so pissed off. Occasionally I'll respond by getting in a heads-up pot with this individual, and I'll start off a round of betting by saying "I reraise." Stupid, I know, but it makes me feel better.

10. People who take their anger out on the dealer.

There's no excuse for this. None at all. If I was a floorman, I would throw people out for directing verbal abuse at the dealer.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Class Participation

This is the first time I've been a full time student in over 6 years. It's been pretty much a blast so far. It really is preferable to full time work. In school, a paper that's 10% wrong gets a designation of "A-" That's great! Pat yourself on the back for an A minus. At a real job, if you prepare a document for a client or perform some kind of service that's 10% wrong, you can kiss your ass goodbye. I love these relaxed standards of whats expected of me.

But the topic today is CLASS PARTICIPATION. Specifically, my own, personally crafted users guide to good class participation. These are all observations and thoughts I had as an undergrad, but now, 6 years later, they all suddenly come into focus. I have been annoyed over and over again these last two weeks by shoddy, piss poor class participation. When the hand goes up, and the professor points to you, you have an opportunity to say something useful, but you can also easily end up looking like an asshole or a jerk. This one woman in all my classes monopolizes the class discussions and is kind of a walking example of what not to do. So here is a list, in order, of the kind of comments you should be participating to the class.

1) (Best) The Question of Clarification

This is the best kind of class participation you can provide. Example: "Professor, I'm a little confused how you found the maximum profit. In the last example we had to take the marginal cost curve and set it to zero and solve for x - but this time we just looked for the intersection of marginal cost and revenue. Why couldn't we do that last time?"

It's not the substance of the question that's important here. It's that this question plays very well with both of your audiences: the professor AND the class. The professor is pleased that you're following his lesson so closely. He's happy to clarify the point. The class is impressed because a) the way you asked it showed humility - exposing your lack of understanding (this makes them feel better) and b) it also exposes a deeper underlying intelligence - you were on top of the lesson to the degree that you could ask this nuanced question. They may not have been there.

For classes that require participation for the grade, the Question of Clarification is absolutely your best bet. Everyone's happy. (Note: don't overuse it. Never more than once per class. You risk a) not looking that smart after all, b) appearing to dominate the class discussion)

2. The Truly Insightful Observation

Example: "In the homework, that list of zip codes was labelled as nominal data. (since zip codes have no inherent hierarchy) Doesn't that violate the rule that any data represented as numbers must be interval data?"

Make these very sparingly, and make sure they are truly insightful. If you overuse this one, no matter how insightful the comment, you will look like a showoff big time. A real asshole. Also, if the comment is not truly insightful, you risk looking like a pretentious idiot. Once every week or so, tops.

3. Offering one Answer when the Prof asks for a group of answers

This is when the Prof asks the class to come up with several examples of something, or several possible answers to a question, and students are encouraged to call them out.

I don't encourage you to participate in this. First of all, anything you say is going to end up lost in the list. Anonymity for you. No credit. Secondly, chances are the question has several obvious answers. Let the dumb students tackle those. Maybe there are also some truly insightful answers too. Don't bother - you'll look like a showoff.

4. The ridiculouly easy answer

This is a trap. When the prof asks a question that is just overwhelmingly obvious to the point of rhetorical, yet he wants an answer anyway, don't take the bait. Oh don't get me wrong, he's not trying to trap you, he just wants to introduce a little class participation to keep his lesson moving. He will not be impressed with the person who provides the easy answer. In fact, when the easy question gets asked and the hands shoot up, take note of these people. This is your class dead weight. Avoid them when choosing a study group.

5. (Worst) The Showoff Question

This is a "question" that, when analyzed, is really a statement. That statement is "Hey prof, I've done all the reading." Or possibly "By the way, I've read ahead." It has no other point. It typically takes the form of a challenge to something the prof has just said, not indicating a fresh thought, but indicating knowledge of a concept later in the chapter/lesson plan. Maybe the prof is explaining a rule. He's going over it in detail because it's a useful, fundamental rule that needs to be learned well. However, the rule has an exception and the showoff's hand goes up! up! up! "But Professor! Isn't there an exception when inflation can actually go DOWN when there's a trade surplus???"

We weren't talking about trade. Trade was neither here nor there. The professor is exasperated, not impressed, because he wasn't going to get to this for another half hour, and the students are annoyed, because suddenly they have to deal with the distraction of someone needing to announce that they've done the reading.

Class is not the place to show off. Show off in your papers and exams.

6. Monopolizing the Discussion

Just do not command the discussion. Do not turn the class into a dialogue between you and the prof. No one will like you.

And that's important. Being liked is important. School (at the graduate level certainly) is partially about meeting the right people and forming the right networks. Your participation in class must be tailored to both the class at large as well as the prof. Do not upstage the prof or your classmates.

Now my system applies primarily to classes of a quantitative kind. If your class is all about poetry criticism or interpretive dance, or some other kind of format, my advice may not apply.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Band Names

Last week I was at the DMV getting my new plates. Since it's only $36 annually to have a personalized license plate in Nevada I thought hey! Why not. The customized plate I've always wanted is HRUDUDU, which was the word for car in the rabbit language in the children's novel "Watership Down". This led to confusion with the DMV girl and her supervisor, because they have to screen all license plate names to make sure nothing offensive gets through, and they weren't convinced that HRUDUDU was harmless. After all, said the DMV girl, it sounds a lot like "doo doo".

I didn't end up getting the plate, because after all the fuss, it turns out someone already has it. (the bastard) But that night at home, I did a google search for HRUDUDU to see if I could have proven my case (that the name wasn't offensive) on the internet.

I could have guessed what would happen. Some fucking band has co-opted the name HRUDUDU, just as every other sweet, whimsical name from my childhood has been similarly stolen, all so some lame-ass group of kids can cash in on the perceived currency of this sweet memory and thus marginally enhance the overall image of their weak, weak musical enterprise.

I've had it with these pretentious, look-how-obscure-we-are, nostalgia-thieving band names, and I seethe at the audacity of these bands who think a cool name can somehow salvage weak music, or make up for the prestige and imagination that the songs themselves lack.

This isn't the first time a google search has steered me away from what I was looking for, and landed me among dozens of band-related pages. And I always end up having the same thoughts:

1) Whenever friends of yours or classmates or people who know have started a band, have you ever had the sneaking suspicion that these guys were really just getting off on the idea of "being in a band" rather than being driven by a desire to make music? Maybe it was the sheer time spent deciding on a name, or coming up with an "image", or excessive fantasizing about what they'd do when they hit it big. Am I the only one who was suspicious?

2) Don't you think it is sheer arrogance to assign yourself a pretentious or bold or ironic or commanding band name before you've proven yourself musically? Shouldn't you have to demonstrate your ability as a band-entity before you can call yourself "Hrududu factory"?
I mean come on. Husker Du? Veruca Salt?

Maybe my perspective on this is unique since I don't listen to any bands whatsoever. But if I were to somehow form a band, it would not be named by some sort of desperate irony-grab into my past to find some cred among the pop-culture litter of that era. It wouldn't be called Papa Smurf or Bugs Meany.

AHA! I just did a search for those two. Bugs Meany is a band! You can read about them here:
Papa Smurf is not a band, thank God. However, it does seem to be a drink made from Grenadine and Blue Curacao. (add some whipped cream to give it a "beard")

No, if I had a band, the emphasis would be solely on the music. If there were three of us, and we lived in San Ysidro, I'd be fine with: The San Ysidro Trio. Boring? Yes! That's the beauty. An utter lack of pretention. We bring you music! Not ego!