Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In with the Old

As I've thought virtually every year-end in recent memory, I am intrigued by the notion of New Year's Day being a major holiday. I grasp that it has traditions, and it carries the association of optimism or rebirth, but January 1 is ultimately arbitrary. It's not like the Chinese new year, which aligns with the lunar new year; there's no astronomical event to coincide with the day in Western culture on which the year starts. And of course, it's due to Pope Gregory XIII that it's not in March any more.

Now, to be clear: By no means do I mind having the day off. All I'm saying is that when push comes to shove (as inevitably it will on New Year's Eve), what is being celebrated is that the digits on the calendar are changing. Woo-hoo! It has a 9 at the end rather than an 8! Let's have a parade! Give everyone the day off, because they haven't had one since last week!

Every other holiday is at least about something. It may not be much of something, but there's something—religious observations, historical events or figures, rodents who ostensibly predict the weather. New Year's Day is about only that—it's the first day of the year, which by relative standards is still considered by most to be "new" at that point. So it's certainly an accurately named occasion. But why is it a major holiday? Say all you will about the hope of renewal and it being a good excuse to resolve to better one's self, but let's face facts: it's because we get the day off.

Not only do we get that day off from work, but for many, we get off work early on the day before. It has become expected that office employees need extra time to prepare for getting blitzed out of their minds; leaving work at the usual time would be insufficient.

But while we're on the topic of New Year's Eve, along with Christmas Eve a week before, it's one of the two days a year when we don't have the day off but get off early. And as anyone who goes into work on December 31 can attest, we're probably not getting a lot accomplished before we get to head out from the office, so it's a rather pointless reason to even go in at all.

Therefore, we need to get another day off.

Analyzing this, the obvious conclusion is that we only get full days off if "eve" is not in the name. Thus, if we get the name "New Year's Eve" changed, perhaps we can get it declared a full-fledged holiday on its own, and hence a full day off work.

I suggest "Old Year's Day"—and I'll concede up front that it lacks panache, but what are we celebrating? It's the last day of the "old" year (by the same relative standard than makes the next day "new"). It's not having a catchy name that results in a holiday (as we've already determined, it's not like "New Year's Day" was all that inspired); it's the lack of "eve"—and that much is accomplished in the name.

So on this last day of 2008, allow me to wish all my readers (likely for the first time) a Happy Old Year's Day.


It has to start somewhere. This could work if we spread the word, people. If you know anyone with some pull in the matter (even the Pope if you have that in your contact—historically, that position has proven to have some influence in holidays pertaining to the calendar), please forward a link. Everyone will be grateful when we all have Old Year's Day off.

Of course, then everyone will start partying on Old Year's Eve, and employees will start expecting to get off early then as well, and then we'll need to concoct a non-eve name for it, but we'll cross that bridge when the ball drops on it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

It's not like rain on your wedding day

In an issue of Wired magazine from August that I was reading a couple weeks ago I spotted a sidebar on a guy who made Excel-style charts (pie and graph) of pop culture items on a site called My personal favorite featured in the piece was this one:

song chart memes

Events described in the Alanis Morisette song that are...
Ironic = 0%
Unfortunate circumstance = 100%

That came to mind a few days later when my fiancée and I were shopping in a chain store whose name features the object on which one sleeps, the object in which one performs personal cleaning, and an alliterative term suggesting it carries more than merchandise for just those two areas of the house.

Whether it should have come to mind is another story.

While searching for generic gifts in a given price range we paused in an area of the store where items geared toward relaxation were found: vibrating neck massagers, comfy slippers, incense holders, etc. Perhaps the most notable display was an endcap that played selections from compact discs available for sale its shelves, featuring titles like "Music for Quiet Times" and "Rainforest Sounds" and the like. The sign called it the "Rejuvenation Station".

Located directly above this portion of the store, up in the exposed ceiling, rattled an industrial-size air conditioning unit, the noise of which drowned out the ostensibly soothing sounds from the CD display, even when standing directly in front of it.

Noticing this disparity between the intention of the products in that part of the store and the utter annihilation of their effect by the large metal object above them, I pondered whether this arrangement was genuinely ironic. Likely Alanis would consider it so, but as already deftly identified in the aforementioned chart from the article, that didn't necessarily prove anything. "Irony" had been so misappropriated in our society that even having studied the concept in college I was no longer able to be absolutely certain any more. It wasn't anything simple like verbal irony (e.g., sarcasm), and there was no audience with knowledge a character lacked to qualify as dramatic irony, but whether it could be construed as irony of situation—I remained somewhat flummoxed. Obviously it was poor design on the part of the party (or parties) involved in arranging the store, but was it anything more than that?

After completing our shopping there and hitting a few more stores in the mall we went to a restaurant for lunch. While in there my fiancée looked up "irony" on her Blackberry device, but even after reviewing a proper definition I couldn't shake the notion that there could be the possibility of it going either way.

What was most confounding was that I could even be confounded. This was the inevitable consequence of a society where words get twisted to suggest whatever the speaker or writer (or singer) intends, whether those words actually mean what is intended or not: It's not merely that those who never knew in the first place go around misusing the terms, but those who at least more or less had some grasp on the meaning start to lose that.

Minutes later—and I am not making this up—over the speakers in the ceiling of the restaurant started playing the aforementioned Alanis Morissette track.

That much I know is coincidence; with that there is no trace of irony.

There must be a chart proving it somewhere…


I'm pretty sure the thing in the store with the relaxation products under the noisy unit is not irony either.


Also not irony: During that same shopping trip, we popped in to the Apple store for some iTunes gift cards for stocking stuffers. As anyone who has been in that store knows, there are no cash registers. Associates carry wireless devices that allow them to ring up purchases from anywhere in the store. It's very high tech, as one would expect from that company.

When we went to pay for our purchase with a credit card, the associate's wireless device wouldn't read it. So she had to break out that sliding device and three-part carbon paper sales slips that stopped being prevalent at least 15 years ago.

Not ironic. Funny, but not ironic.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Changing the game

At the annual department holiday luncheon, one activity conducted (besides gorging ourselves) is a game called "Something You Probably Don't Know About Me" (which I've written about before).

To recap: On a slip of paper each person writes down a fact about him- or herself that is unlikely to be commonly known about that person by the other people in the department. Then someone reads aloud the anonymous facts, and after each one people yell out guesses about whom they think was the writer of that particular fact. If someone guesses correctly he or she gets a prize, but if after three guesses the person has not been identified then that person gets the prize.

After years of playing this game, I've determined a pattern: someone is going to guess me for just about anything, as people clearly think I'm capable of just about anything. I'm still not sure whether to be flattered by that or offended, but it is pretty much a given; it is something I can anticipate.

And thus it makes it tricky to successfully fool co-workers and collect a prize (although I did so last year through a bit of chicanery--as noted in this post).

So this year, with minutes left before the luncheon, I pondered what to put on the paper. Then I looked closely at the pre-printed sentence on the slip of paper--"The One Thing You Probably Don't Know About Me…"--and of course I thought, There's only one thing? Well, that's not the case.

So it struck me: Don't try to fool 'em. Just go with the deconstruction of the language selected for the slip of paper.

Below is the content of what I submitted and was read:

The one thing
you probably don't know about me...

Come now, people--there's more than one thing you probably don't know about me. Let's not even pretend there's only one thing. Were it, in fact, the case that you already probably knew everything about me save one bit of personal trivia then it would be possible to list that here, but the slip specifies "The one thing..." and not merely "One of the many things..." so therefore the task is rendered moot.

Now, if everyone would please stop yelling out my name (because undoubtedly we've all already figured out whose slip this is by the time whoever--and it would be "whoever" and not "whomever" in this context--is reading this), we can get on with the festivities.

Also, it would be appreciated if you'd stop booing and throwing food, as these pants are not machine-washable. An imprudent sartorial decision for the day, I realize now. I will know better next year on the off-chance that I am still invited to the party.

Of course that was identified as mine before the person reading even finished the second paragraph (so after my name was called out I had to yell "Let her finish!") When she finally got to the end, everyone laughed. (And unlike with all the other slips of paper after they'd been read, mine was snatched up by the head of the department to keep.)

Although I'd fooled no one, I got the prize.

And more important, no food was thrown. It's entirely possible that people in the department learned something about me (even if that was only that their preconceived notions were roughly accurate).

It's not always a matter of following the rules; sometimes it's a matter of throwing them out.


No, it's not high comedy, but hey, what do you expect for what is acceptable for a general workplace audience?

I was just happy it didn't backfire.

However, in the interest of full disclosure: the pants were, in fact, machine-washable. But the joke worked better lying. The things we do for our art. Or whatever that was.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

And now it's winter

Officially. (The solstice has hit.)

p.s. I'm asleep. (Ah, the glory of scheduling posts ahead of time.)

It's autumn (barely)

Quick! Enjoy it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Beginning to look a lot like...

Enjoy these last hours of autumn with some photos of a decorated tree over at the photo site.


Winter hits Sunday at 4:04 in the morning (at least here in the Pacific time zone).

(I'll be asleep.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Best that you can do

This morning I was doing dishes, with no TV or radio on in the background. I was left to my own brain for entertainment, and what popped into my consciousness?

"Arthur's Theme"

Yes, Christopher Cross' soft rock song from the movie Arthur. Well, not the whole song. Just the chorus: "If you get caught between the moon and New York City..." and so on.

Here's the thing: It's not as though I heard it recently and it got stuck in my head; I hadn't heard that song in longer than I could remember (years, possibly decades). I never owned the song, either on vinyl, cassette, 8-track, CD, mp3, or piano roll. I don't even recall seeing the movie Arthur in its entirety.

So, at some point in my youth I heard that song on the radio. That much I'm certain was the case; it was pretty popular and got airplay in its time. And it's not a bad song, by any means, but at no point would I consider myself to have been a fan of it.

And something else worth noting: I have over 26,000 songs in my music library, almost all of which I've heard more recently than when last I heard "Arthur's Theme" and most of which would rank higher in what I like than that song.

But when the moment arrived that any of those songs could have been referenced by my gray matter, instead came... a chorus ending with the line "Best that you can do is fall in love." And it kept repeating over and over, because my mind never paid enough attention to the rest of the song to know any of the verses.

What this says about the state of my sanity is best not discussed further. However, it does seem to indicate that the advent of and ubiquity of the portable mp3 player, while allowing me to have almost constant access to the songs I like, has less influence over my idle brain than did pop radio from decades past.

I'm not sure whether that is due to a profound difference in the format in which the music is presented or due to the greater influence of experiences from youth over experiences of the years after youth.

But assuming it's the latter, this means that a young person growing up today (in the era of the iPod) who decades from now is unfortunate enough to have a moment of quiet for his brain to fill will be more likely to get a song that he used to have on his iPod than a song he recalls from the radio.

And if he happened to have "Arthur's Theme" on that iPod from his youth, then that will undoubtedly cause a rip in the time-space continuum that will destroy the known universe. So, with apologies to Mr. Cross, we need to eliminate all mp3 copies of that song and keep children from being exposed to it, just to be on the safe side.

It goes without saying that I would have been well-served by a lobotomy, but the time for that to intercept my moment of getting lost between the moon and New York City has passed. But I will pledge to humanity and any other beings in the universe that I will always keep some source of background noise on at all times, so there'll be no future opportunities for obscure pop songs to invade my idleness and start this wormhole of potential devastation. I know it's crazy, but it's true.

Or everybody could chip in for the lobotomy.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Here we go again

Well, it's December, and that means only one thing: Either you are filled with "holiday spirit" or you are deemed to be the most despicable person ever.

However, for those of you who can't quite bring yourself to maintain a delusional euphoria for an entire month and can't overlook the recession and the bailouts and layoffs, and who find the unrelenting over-commercialization of Xmas too overwhelming to muster any reason for joy, just remember this:

In January it will stop.

In a few short weeks the calendar will change and we can all resume openly acknowledging how screwed we are. The Pollyannas will have gotten their "peace on earth, goodwill toward men" fix, and all the energy-hogging decorations will come down, and admitting to being in a less-than-good mood will be perfectly acceptable again.

And for those who are filled with Christmas cheer: It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Face off

As I noted in this post, back in May I did give in to the unrelenting hounding acquiesce to kind requests from friends and joined Facebook.

And over these past months since that time, what that has meant is about once a week I actually bother to log in and glance at the status updates from those of my Facebook buddies who actually bothered to log in and enter something in the "What are you doing right now?" field. I have not participated in many games or other means of time-squandering forms of entertainment offered by the social networking site--not because I considered myself "above" those activities but merely because that wasn't how chose to spend my online time.

Recently I accepted a Thanksgiving greeting from a friend. Clicking on link it brought up another page that had links to other applications vying for my mouse to click upon.

I fully admit that I'm not sure how these links get placed on these pages, but I have to imagine that were they not effective, those who choose to put these links up wouldn't bother.

And on this page with my pleasant Thanksgiving greeting from my friend, one of the larger fonts on the page was on a link that read thusly:
Someone thinks your dumb

Here's a screen shot:

And I thought, Clearly that someone thinks I don't the difference between a contraction and its homonym, a possessive pronoun.

Then it hit me: Although this seemed like another example of blithe disregard for language on the internet, it could just as easily be a shrewd ploy to lull me into thinking, If they're making such egregious errors on the link, imagine how simple the quiz must be.

I was too clever to fall for it, but I applaud the effort.

Or, at least, I choose to applaud the possibility that it was a deliberate reverse-psychological effort to goad me into compliance, mostly because the delusion that we're in a post-post-contemporary grammatical era makes me feel better than concluding it was merely another example of the aforementioned blithe disregard for language.

I mean, the line below that does correctly use "their" (rather than "there" or "they're"), so it's not as though there was no cause for optimism.

Things are only getting worse if you interpret them the obvious way.

Nonetheless, I won't be playing these Facebook games; I'm too busy with this nonsense.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


[Note to the reader: The following post eschews the typical tongue-in-cheek tone often seen in these posts. I thought you should be alerted up front.]

On Friday evening we heard reports on the news about an incident on Long Island where a Walmart employee was trampled to death by shoppers who had pushed down the doors in the very early morning hours. It was entirely possible that the ones in the front were pushed by the crushing weight of those behind them without intending to bust in and run over another human being. It's obvious that the store had inadequate security. However, in the end, someone was dead, and it could be traced directly to the abject perversion of the "holiday spirit" that all the sales on the so-called Black Friday have transformed it into.

At the time and still now when I think about this my jaw clenches involuntarily. My teeth grind against each other. It takes a conscious effort to make it stop.

I don't know the man who died. I live thousands of miles away. I wasn't anywhere near to a shopping center that day. You couldn't pay me to go to the mall or a shopping center on that day of the year. I should be able to maintain a level of emotional distance in this scenario. However, clearly it gets to me.

Obviously my kneejerk reaction is that all involved should just be taken out and shot. No trial, no excuses—just line 'em up and don't stop until we run out of bullets. Make them dig their own graves first, of course.

But that's not right.

It's entirely possible that the people who caused this man to die are racked with guilt now. I would be lying if I said it wouldn't be at least somewhat satisfying to know that much was the case. But I don't know them. I'll never know any of them. And obviously it's best that it stays that way.

But I'm not here to vilify them. It's a tragedy, but they cannot undo what was done. They will have to live with what they were involved in for the rest of their lives, and possibly farther than that (depending on one's beliefs about the afterlife).

I'm just admitting that unlike so many other tragedies that I hear about on the news (many of which are arguably even worse—although to rank tragedies is undoubtedly amongst the most abjectly macabre things one can do, so I insist on pointing out I don't mean to imply anything that seems to undermine the severity of all tragedies) this one didn't merely elicit a response of "oh-how-terrible" but of visceral anger—much more visceral than would rationally be justified.

(To the extent that anger can be "rationally justified," yes; the terms may be somewhat incompatible under semantic analysis.)

I suppose when I started this I figured at some point along the process of writing about it something would come to mind to make some sense of it, but there's no making sense of it. Not now, not ever.

I guess my reaction may reveal something about my feelings about the "holiday season"—which would be that at this point in my life, with no children, it's something that I could take or leave. I don't mind the family get-togethers; those are the part I enjoy.

But the gift-giving clearly seems to have transcended acknowledging those one cares about when it involves congregating outside a retail store in the pre-dawn hours (possibly waiting there for days) not to procure food or medical supplies but to get a bargain on a flat-screen TV or a cashmere sweater, and then having the crowd mentality turn into a mob that is so sub-consciously convinced that the success of their holiday is based on getting in the store so soon that it involves trampling another person, that I cannot help but consider the epitome of what is wrong with this time of year.

It's overly melodramatic to say the "black" in Black Friday is in the human soul. I don't think it's fair to lay the blame on the soul. The soul isn't the part of the body that makes these decisions, not the part that inspires retailers to open at ridiculously earlier and earlier hours with limited numbers of "specially priced" items to entice people to sleep outside their doors, that's not the part of the body that suppresses the memory of how awful everyone was to each other at the mall last year and goes out and shops at those ungodly hours anyway. No, that's the grey matter between the ears, controlling the arms that shove others out of the way, that considers it a victory to have snagged some material item (that will be outdated in a couple years) away from some other fool up at that hour.

(Yes, I've adopted a judgmental tone. It was inevitable, given the vitriol I noted earlier, with the whole line-'em-up-and-shoot-'em line.)

Anyway, I have to imagine that if Christ was watching the news last week, He had to be screaming, "THAT'S NOT WHAT IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT!" (Not that I presume to know what the one whose birth is ostensibly celebrated in this season would do, but I hope you know what I mean by that.)

Of course, that lament of over-commercialization of Xmas goes back to well before I was even born. That's nothing new.

So, to conclude, I've concluded nothing. Perhaps it's merely that I hit the point where I couldn't be jaded any more, and it turned to anger.

Of course, I was able to suppress that anger without, oh, you know, trampling anyone, so I don't feel too bad. I'm not saying it makes me better than everyone—just that it makes me better than the people who couldn't use their brains better to prevent the death of a man who did nothing worse than be at work. And all it would have taken is not buy into the illusion that Christmas is supposed to be an orgy of spending.

Yeah. I need to stop now.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Cue the wah-wah peddle

I just saw part of an episode of The Universe on The History Channel where the term "the snuggle tunnel" was included.

Just when you think you've seen it all...