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!

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Placing Excessive Historical Importance on Events of the Recent Past

A long title for a simple complaint. This is something I've observed many times, in many guises, and just seethe at. Whether it's a movie theater pre-show quizzing me on "classic quotes" for movies no older than a year, top 10 or top 100 lists for music, books, movies, greatest moments in sports, etc. dominated by events of the last 5 years, or any other 'look back', we all have this irritating tendency to place undue value and significance on recent events.

For Christmas, I got that big New York Times book that has the big front pages from the last century. Titanic, Pearl Harbor, the moon landing, all as they originally appeared. But something strange was going on. The years 1997-2003, at the end of the book, were overrepresented to the point of lunacy. Tiger Woods winning the masters? The arraignment of Terry Nichols? The death of Dale Earnhart? Meanwhile, if you turn to the WWII pages, you get
maybe half the coverage.

Ask the average dude on the street to name his favorite 10 movies. How much you wanna bet he starts naming The Matrix, Spiderman, etc? I just opened Entertainment Weekly the other day, and they had an article on the top 20 or so moments of President-Celebrity encounters. JFK meeting Marilyn Monroe was #1, but #3 was inexplicably Bill Clinton playing sax on Arsenio.

Bill Clinton playing sax on Arsenio is not "the third most 'top moment' of President-Celebrity encounters" as dumb as that category is. That moment is not in there because of its historical importance, but because of its important membership in a category called The Recent Past.

One more off the cuff example. Back around 2000, A&E ran a much touted series called "The 100 most influential people of the millenium." This is THE MILLENIUM, folks. Not just "The 90's" or "The Twentieth Century". Things that happened in 1001 AD have to be considered. And somehow, Steven Spielberg is on the list. Now, nobody respects Spielberg or enjoys his movies more than me, but come on now. This is retarded. Spielberg can't influence the millenium. He was only an adult for the final 25 years of it.

The man made some damn good movies, and his Shoah Foundation does great work, but no matter how much respect we have for him, he just isn't influencing the millenium. Monteverdi, 16th century father of the modern opera, to pick one historical person at random, inlfuenced the millenium QUITE A BIT more than Spielberg, but was not on the list. (not that he should have been)

Why are we all so prone to overhype the significance of the recent past? I can think of a few possible causes. #1, we all have a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic regard for our childhood. We all would like to imagine it as some sort of idealized time. How else can you explain the sequential nostalgia boom of the last 20 years for the 60's, 70's, then 80's?

#2, we all desire, vainly, to have been around during historical events of great importance. Remember "Where were you when you found out Magic Johnson had AIDS?" Yeah right. That deserves comparison to the Kennedy assasination. Let's face it, the biggest historical event of our lives has likely already happened. It was the fall of the Soviet Union and European communism.

Even 9/11 is just a blip on history's radar. Maybe it will turn out of be an event that sparks decades of other events, like the assasination that led to World War 1 - but in terms of lives lost, there are events going on RIGHT NOW that exceed 9/11's death toll. Sudan. Congo. Chechnya.

#3, we're all short attention spanned idiots.

My modest proposal on this issue is that we place a 10 year buffer-zone in all future top 100 lists. When considering best movies, most influential books, greatest political speakers, greatest works of architecture, greatest World Series moments, etc. etc. we cannot consider anything from the last 10 years. We must force events and accomplishments of the recent past to pass the test of time before elevating them to classic status.

Man Ass

There is just nothing more disgusting than Man Ass. Whether it’s lean or chunky, saggy or pert, hairy or olympic-swimmer-smooth, it’s the foulest thing that you’ll ever have to deal with.

I wouldn’t bring this up at all, (since man ass is so disgusting it shouldn’t even be talked about) except that I’m constantly confronted with it in the gym locker room. I turn around that privacy corner and then wham! Someone is naked, bent over, opening their combination lock.

Or worse, I enter an empty locker room, but I can hear a man in the shower. The only thing I have to do is not choose the locker next to his, so that when he exits the shower, he doesn’t walk up to me, nude and dripping, and indicate that his locker is right below mine. But which one to choose? His locker could be any of them. And of course, no matter which one I pick, I will have chosen exactly, perfectly wrong. “Hey buddy, can I get in here?” (Cue the knight from Last Crusade: You chose…. poorly.)

Back in 2000, or maybe ’01, I composed a short letter that I intended to anonymously post in the men’s locker room at the gym. Basically, it confronted people who were excessively nude and demanded that they towel themselves. I remember that it concluded with “Man ass is disgusting, and yours is not the magical exception.” I was really hoping to find a copy of this letter and print it here, but I think it’s been lost for good.

I didn’t actually put it up in the locker room. But a friend at work went to the same gym I did, and he DID put it up, without telling me, in one of the bathroom stalls. Supposedly, when he went to check on it an hour later, it was gone.

Basically, there’s been a civilizational breakdown in the world of the locker room. This is a room, valuable gym real estate, that is dedicated to providing men with a place of privacy where they can change, shower, and use the toilet. Somewhere along the line, people starting interpreting the permission to disrobe as some kind of license to be naked all the time. What was intended as a transitory state has somehow become the destination state.

To heterosexual men who don’t consciously and purposefully minimize their naked-time in the locker room: I ask these questions. Do you like looking at other naked men? Obviously, no. You know man ass is a horrifying spectacle. Why do you parade yourself around the locker room naked? Why hang the towel casually over your shoulder during the walk from the shower to the locker? Why brush your teeth or dry your hair naked?

When you stand at your locker, naked, and open it – this is what should be going through your head: “underwear… underwear… underwear… underwear…” not “hmmm… watch? Where’s my watch? And my comb! Where’s that comb?”

When naked in the locker room, this thought should never leave your mind: “How can I not be naked in the very near future, preferably immediately?” Even while in the shower, you be can active in this regard: “This person is walking by, so I think I’ll turn sideways and present a profile, minimizing the nakedness.”

(Note to gyms: put curtains in there. Or at the very least, a mid level "man ass" shield)

I don’t care if you have the manliest, sexiest physique in the world, NO MAN wants to look at your nudeness, particularly your grotesque man ass. I know you like your own ass, hell, I like mine. But I’m a realist about the effect it must have on others.

By the way, ladies: do you gals actually like man ass, or do you simply tolerate it? When considering the pros and cons of not being a woman, this certainly has to be a pro: Not being genetically conditioned to enjoy the sight of foul, rank man ass.

Friday, September 03, 2004


Here’s my argument for today: Protests don’t work.

This annoys me because it’s as if I’m the only one who realizes it. Whether it’s a full on Million Man March, or 3 people carrying placards outside the dean’s office somewhere, protests don’t do a damn thing.

There was a time when street protests were a potent political expression. A time when they got things accomplished. Civil Rights for example. Demonstrable pressure on the US to exit Vietnam. They got the voting age lowered to 18. But this was all 30 and 40 years ago.

Back then, I think, street protests represented an honest kind of mainstream indignation. Things have gotten so bad, (goes the logic of protesting) we can’t just sit at our jobs anymore, we have to take to the streets en masse and shout it out.

Nowadays, (and I’m looking at the headlines about the protests outside the RNC) a protest is fully toothless. This was adequately demonstrated during the buildup to the Iraq war. By numbers alone, more people took to the streets worldwide to protest the invasion of Iraq than any other protest in a decade or longer. Did the protests do a damn thing? No.

Anyone who enjoys getting out there for the occasional political protest: tell me one thing, anything, that street-protesting has accomplished in 20 years. Name one politician who was moved at the sight of 50,000 people in the Washington Monument Mall and had a change of heart. On any issue. Name one corporation that changed one policy as the result of street protesters (not counting any economic protests like a union strike or a boycott – those of course work).

Let’s say you were an anti-Iraq-war protester. What if you and the millions of other protesters had, instead of protesting, used all that time and energy to say – organize a giant boycott against any companies hired to do Iraq reconstruction. And you had done this before the war. Now, if I’m running a company fighting for a reconstruction contract, and this boycott becomes reality, I have to seriously reconsider whether I want to get involved. At the very least the price of my services is going to go way up to offset the effects of the boycott.

Then the US government is looking at much higher prices for all aspects of Iraq reconstruction due to the boycott. Now they have to seriously reconsider if they can do it. And all because millions of people who didn’t want the Iraq war chose to exert ACTUAL pressure that couldn’t just be ignored.

Nah! Let’s just march down the street with signs that say Bush=Hitler! That’ll make ‘em think twice!

And man, do the students love to protest. Is there anything on earth less effective than a student protest? A spoon used upside-down? A long-sleeved shirt at the North Pole? And there are few things more moronic than a student protest too. I think the most stupid, pointless student protest that I ever saw was my senior year at college. Several students were staging a sit-in in the offices of the student newspaper. It seems the student paper had run a cover story on a party that had gotten out of hand. But their sin was that the photo they used, the photo to go along with the party story, primarily showed two women dancing. From the back. And they were black by the way,

It seems that this photo was wildly offensive for a multitude of reasons. Apparently, showing the backs of the women instead of their fronts draws attention to their asses. Therefore the newspaper is objectifying women. It’s encouraging its readership to look at women as sex objects. But also, the women were black. What is the newspaper trying to say about black women and their asses? What EXACTLY is the NEWSPAPER trying to SAY about the ASSES of black WOMEN? Oh, it’s sit-in time!

I guess this example doesn’t really support my thesis that protests don’t work, because in this particular case, the paper backed down immediately and printed a fawning, blubbering apology like the flaccid ninnies they were.

Protesting has become the last resort of people who oppose something but have no idea what to do about it. It’s become the exclusive domain of radicals, wackos and crazies – to the point where anyone who may have a shred of a real point to make is going to be lost in all the noise and will be assumed to be a kook.

If I held high political office, I would encourage my opposition to protest frequently. Think about it: every hour of time or dollar spent on a street protest is an hour or dollar that isn’t spent on activities that can actually hurt me politically.