Wednesday, April 26, 2006

More Questions

I don't want to stray too far from annoyances here, but I do like airing out these longstanding questions I have about life. Like how come in old movies, casinos have these blocky, rectangular chips? Is that how it really was? And if so, why?

I was watching Nova the other night. I love that show. Nova is like an old man you sit next to on a park bench. At first, you're like "Aw man, why is this old guy talking to me? Is he lonely?" But then, despite yourself, you start getting drawn in to his story. You never, before that moment, had even the slightest, smallest curiosity about the history of gasoline, you could never have even imagined giving a shit about it. But maybe it's his soothing voice, maybe it's the way the old man puts it all into context, maybe it's the clear, lucid presentation of his supporting evidence, but by the end you're on the edge of your seat - tugging on his collar - saying "So what happened to Rudolph Diesel??? Tell me!"

That's Nova for you. So I start watching it, and it's about a cave that some Syrian Jews used to hide in during the Roman persecution of Jews around 150AD. And how modern excavation of the cave has uncovered pagan bronze artifacts that may have been used in the famous "Second Temple". And of course, half an hour later, I'm hanging on every word. And it got me to thinking about a question I've had about the Romans for a long time.

The Romans ruled the entire civilized world, right? For what, around 600 years? Undisputed? The United States has been around for about 230 years, and only been a superpower for the last 60. Compared to the dominance of Rome we have a long way to go. And every Roman in the empire believed in the Roman pagan religion. Athena, Apollo and the rest. There were Jews and Christians on the fringes, but think of how many people worshipped the Roman Gods. Millions. For how many centuries? And now, who worships the Roman Gods? No one.

Which means, bear with me, that somewhere, sometime, there was "The Last Guy". I am so fascinated by the last guy. The last guy who worshipped the Roman Gods. Who was this guy? Was he frustrated and depressed all the time? Did he walk around saying "C'mon guys! Zeus! ZEUS! You know what I'm talking about!"

"Doug, your dad was into Zeus, right? Oh, he died? Well c'mon, you want to help me with this burnt offering? Aw, c'mon! Someone! It's for Zeus!"

So if Nova wanted to help me out, they could try to get some history on that guy for a future program. Which brings me to the next question, which concerns Roman numerals and the Superbowl.

Basically, I'm concerned about the superbowl's continued use of roman numerals. I mean, for a long time it's basically been an excuse to throw a lot of X's and V's around the word "Superbowl", and let's face it, X's and V's are big, macho, cool, manly letters. Who wouldn't want to be able to put XXIV after their name, or maybe XXXVI? It just makes you seem cool. But now, you've got X and V - which are cool, the "I" is pretty much neutral, and then you've got C, D, and L - which, I'm sorry, are just pretty gay. And the problem (highlighted this past year) is that we're about to enter an L-rich era of superbowls, and then ultimately, in the distant future, a lot of C's and L's. And I just don't think there's been a lot of foresight about what to do when we enter this 'gay age', which will last hundreds of years. I mean, "Superbowl CLI"? That's not cool at all. It's time to start the conversation.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Pop Quiz #2

Here are some questions no one has ever been able to answer to my satisfaction. Someone help me settle these issues once and for all. And who knows? Maybe there'll be a prize in it for you.

1. Is there a good method, when driving at night, to determine if the pair of headlights behind you is a cop?

2. Toilet paper. Underhand or overhand?

3. Why is Colonel pronounced kernel?

4. Why do vitamins and tylenol and other pill-type things "expire"? It's still the same pill, right? Does something bad happen if you take it?

5. Why does the second half of my tank of gas deplete much faster than the first half?

6. I don't understand "suspension" as a school disciplinary method. A kid does something egregiously wrong, and as punishment he gets to... not go to school. And since he's out for three days, or the week, he falls further behind on studies that I'm guessing he wasn't on top of in the first place. I can see that maybe the point is to inconvenience the parents, but I'm guessing, again, they weren't all that involved to start with and they aren't going to change now. Why not just put the kid in the hole for a few days, like in prison?

7. In the song "I Love L.A." does Randy Newman really think he's making a compelling case for L.A?

8. Why doesn't a glass of coffee taste good?

9. Remember how the Sarlacc monster from Return of the Jedi would "slowly digest you over a thousand years"? and how this would be a "new definition of pain and suffering"? You'd be dead after, at most, a day or two in this thing's stomach, so isn't it really an empty threat?

10. One of the most common Vietnamese last names is pronounced "Win". Yet in English, it's spelled "Nguyen". That just doesn't make any sense.

11. Why do criminals get sentenced to 150 years in prison, or "Two consecutive life sentences" or things like that? Isn't that really stupid?

12. What happened to the "cents" symbol? You know, the c with the line through it?

13. Why is there that tire tread pattern on sticks of gum?

14. Why am I so grossed out by the words "Apple Butter" and "Body Butter"?

15. Technically, when you fart, do you gain weight?

16. How do you cast "The Ugly Girl" in your movie? So many comedies have the main character open the door to find his date is hideously ugly, or fat, or repulsive in some way - and that's the joke. Ha ha, she's ugly! How do you audition for a role knowing that your entire purpose in the film is for your face to just be exhibited so people can laugh at its ugliness? How do you advertise for that role, and then who shows up?

17. Is there any piece for piano that actually uses those bottom keys?

18. Do beggars sometimes accidentally beg other beggars? Then what happens? Does it get awkward?

19. How do they get the rubber bands on the lobster?

20. You know that scene in action movies where the good guy has his gun aimed at the bad guy, but the bad guy has a knife to the girl's throat - and the bad guy says something like "Drop it!" and the good guy slowly lowers his weapon and says something like "Okay... let's talk..." and then the bad guy drops his guard slightly and says "Aha! You fool! Now I'm going to kill both of you!" and then the good guy says "I don't think so." and does something clever and kills the bad guy? You know that scene, right? My question is, when the good guy has the bad guy at gunpoint and the bad guy is holding the knife at the girl's throat, why doesn't the good guy just shoot him in the face?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Franklin Covey

Let's begin today with another gem from a Starbucks cup. This nugget of wisdom comes from Vik Muniz, Brazilian photographer:

In an age when pictures have become more eloquent than words, schools are still programmed to reduce the child's immersive interaction with the visual world to the practical poverty of the alphabet. Visual literacy should become a pedagogical priority in order to prepare our children to function within the increasingly visual complexity of our environment.

Ohhhhh man. What's the hell is wrong with these Brazilians? First they give us Blanca from Street Fighter and his unnatural ability to electrically charge his entire body, and now we get Vik Muniz and his bald idiocy. Though I really want to deconstruct every single phrase of his cup quote, I think we've beaten that horse enough. I'll only point out that Vik chose to make his argument using (gasp) words! Shouldn't he have expressed his thought through a photo of a Sao Paulo slum, or something? You know, what with the practical poverty of the alphabet and all?

Okay. So, Franklin Covey sells "Time Management". ... And maybe, maybe I could just end this post right there. Everything I'm going to tell you in the next eight pages of text is pretty much all there in the first sentence.

My friends from my old job will know what I'm talking about - and yes, this still steams me and gets me agitated to this day - but one day at work I was told to attend this surprise all-day workshop being held by Franklin Covey, mandatory for all staff, to learn about time management and better productivity.

The four hour presentation that followed can only be described as useless, boring, frustrating, awkward, and whatever the adjective for bullshit is. Seriously, with the hindsight I now have (having gone through two years of MBA schooling where I have sat through enough management theory and productivity theory to almost be able to speak that zombie language myself) I can tell you with certainty that the Franklin Covey shtick is as pure as bullshit gets. It really is bullshit. If you can truly come away from a Franklin Covey workshop on time management with a bold new outlook on getting your life in order, then a) your life is in bad shape, and b) you are an easily dazzled fool.

Do you think maybe that in an age with Blackberrys and mobile officing and wireless networks and mobile conferences, etc. that the entire business concept of Franklin Covey - based around the idea of a bulky day-planner system of time management, complete with multi-colored pens to assign different levels of task importance - well, that it's about as current and relevant as a wood paneled station wagon?

Real management theory is about the balancing act of using incentives, positive reinforcement and mental stimulation to get the maximum productivity out of your workforce. It's about fostering a culture of teamwork, camaraderie and loyalty in the workplace and getting everyone invested.

Bullshit management theory is about buzzwords, catchphrases, quotes from great men, acronyms that spell out positive messages, and, frankly, the idea that a four hour workshop on time management can do a single, goddamn thing. Bullshit management theory is the idea that you can put up a poster that offers Buddha-lite advice like this:

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning, a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.

...and think that it's going to make anyone file or collate or data-sort or word-process just a little bit better. Ironic, don't you think, that we were pulled away with no warning from actual pressing tasks to hear a four hour lecture on time management? It's like the old joke about the nurse who wakes up the patient to tell him it's time for his nap. Bullshit management theory is about thinking you can hire some doofus with a powerpoint show to come in and talk to your staff, and suddenly everyone's going to give you more productivity.

Let me tell you something about the message I got from Franklin Covey in the workshop. Franklin Covey would have you believe that you need to plan out every minute of every day with gestapo efficiency - backing up their philosophy with non sequitur bromides like "Put the big rocks in first!" - all the while treating you like you must have the mental capacity, patience, and attention span of a screech monkey. It's one thing to be pulled out of work to hear a seminar with lousy advice, it's another thing to get lectured to like a schoolchild, and it's yet something else to find out that in the end it was all just a four hour sales pitch for a spiral binder.

Look, here's the real truth. You want more productivity out of the team? Block the internet. I know it would be cruel, and you'd hear no end of it - but there it is. If someone has the choice of a) doing some tedious task, and b) going to, (and they're not being supervised) they will go to espn. If the choice is between the tedious task and staring at the ceiling tiles, they'll do the tedious task. There's your four hour seminar, and it was free.

And if you want even more efficiency, get some of them four colored pens! You know, the pens where you push down on a particular side to get a different color? One pen - that does the work of four! Think of the desktop space you could save; space that was previously taken by so many, many pens! One pen! One beautiful, glorious pen! Yes!