Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"How are you today?"

Having only so many places around the office where I prefer to eat lunch it's not necessarily surprising that some of the employees at said establishments start to recognize me after repeated visits. And when the cashier has a clear look of recognizing me and offers a more sincere question about how I'm doing, I must admit it's somewhat flattering. But on the other hand, it's also slightly awkward, because it suggests a level of familiarity in our "relationship" that's not quite been achieved.

Not that I'd prefer some mindless recitation of a standard greeting that everyone gets, and not that it isn't generally pleasant, but the reality is that we're not friends or, really, even acquaintances.

Of course, when they already have my order ready by the time I get up to the cashier because the cooks in the back spotted me waiting in line, that's particularly awkward, as the other patrons who ordered before me look on semi-incredulously.

They should patronize the place more often… and always order the same thing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

You don't need to be crazy to work here, but it helps

Last week Comedy Central re-ran a recent episode of The Daily Show where the guest was English journalist Jon Ronson, author of a book called The Psychopath Test. In the interview it came out that although 1% of the population is estimated by psychologists to be psychopathic, 4% of corporate CEOs were thought to be psychopaths. So the odds that the person sitting in the cubicle next to you is one is only 1 in 100, but the odds that the guy running the whole company is a psychopath is 1 in 25.

This supports my theory that one does not have a certifiable mental disorder to climb the corporate ladder, but it doesn't hurt.

Moreover, to have the inclination to be in charge of others, to wield power, is almost certainly indicative of not being sane enough to deserve having power.

But the rest of us are just crazy enough to justify our leaders, from our supervisors to the President, being in those roles. Without some common level of mild insanity there'd be disorder of a magnitude that would drive us all nuts.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Middle stole my graduation

On this week's season finale of The Middle (a show that has stayed just barely above the threshold for what my wife and I will continue watching), one of the plotlines involved bumbling but overzealous daughter Sue (whose portrayal by Eden Sher is one of the show's highlights) who aspired to get the "perfect attendance" award at her junior high school graduation. A clerical error makes her have to prove she didn't miss the one day the administration thinks she was out (all the while having to explain who she is to teachers and administrators she has seen every day, underscoring her struggle for recognition).

After getting her proof, she sits with great anticipation of the honor at the graduation ceremony, and in an entirely predictable sitcom twist, they get her name wrong (and not merely mispronouncing it; they called her "Barb"). And for a moment there's that flash of disappointment across her face:
But after a moment she just shrugs, arms extended out from her sides, and laughs about it.
The family in the audience starts laughing, too, and in the voiceover by Patricia Heaton she notes it's these moments where things don't go as expected that make for the best memories (and then a montage of such scenes from the series ensued, in what seemed a possible cap for the series if it didn't get picked up for another season). [This whole sequence can be seen here, by the way.]

Sitting on my sofa I watched the graduation scene an felt a sense of déjà vu, as that's more or less what happened at my college graduation.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Technology changes nothing about human nature

The internet has a simple formula, that continues a pattern that has existed for millennia:  The popular and successful are mocked by the less-popular and less-successful.

Envy and humbling are how we tolerate each other.  Don't be shocked it is that way, and the way it will continue to be.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Throwing "Under the bus" under the bus

Reason to keep my brain occupied at all times #1130:

Who was ever literally thrown under a bus such that the expression not only started but caught on so well rhetorically as a metaphor?

And how tricky must it have been to time the throw such that the bus driver would not be able to stop or swerve? The trajectory of the throw would have to keep the body low so the bus' front bumper would not catch the person and make the thrown victim not so much under the bus but merely dragged in front of the bus.

Which certainly would be bad, but that's not the metaphor.

Rhetorical expressions are probably best not analyzed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Quantifying my data

In a recent On The Media their topic was "data" and when using that term in a sentence the host did employ grammatical consistency by saying "the data are…" rather than "the data is…" (as, of course, data is the plural of datum). However, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't struck by the thought, Oh yeah, that is plural. Even with the knowledge, in the depths of my brain, of what the word means, the casual usage (where the word is a singular, collective noun) has been so pervasive that even I need a reminder.


In the first segment the host interviewed the journalist who started the blog, The Quantified Self, which apparently is devoted to tracking personal statistics for the purpose of gaining better personal understanding. The point of collecting this data (bits of datum) is to establish a "feedback loop" where one can see in quantitative terms the results of one's choices.

I have done this to a very modest extent with the way I denote certain activities on a calendar; the mornings when I work out I write "exercise" in the square for that day, for example. I can glance at the calendar and see how often I did so.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bring on the next Rapture

Remember this, crackpots: If you have an absurd apocalyptic prediction and can afford some billboards, you too can garner massive attention for yourself. And you won't care that most of it will be mockery, because, as noted, you're crackpots.

I look forward to the seeing who will emerge as the next one of you who captures our lust for irony while tapping into our unconscious fears that Armageddon could be real. Clearly the media and the internet will not be able to get enough of you.

We live in a time of fascinating symbiosis between the crackpots and the media (including the blogosphere/Twittersphere, etc.), where both seem to only reinforce the other even more. If one were to go away it would spell a serious blow and possibly be a figurative end of the world for the other.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A few brief thoughts on this Judgment Day stuff

Tomorrow, Saturday, May 21, has been claimed to be the date of the Biblical Day of Judgment by one Harold Camping, president of a shortwave radio station. Refuting Camping's claims is far too easy, and many have already done a better job of that than I could even hope to do--such as my friend Ray on this post on his X-Blog--so I won't bother with that.

I will say this: Conceding for the sake of argument that Camping did get the date correct, what's to stop God from changing His mind? Conceivably the Almighty could undo it, even if it were literally etched in stone.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bridesmaids is a victory for... fans of comedy

Bridesmaids scored an opening-weekend box office take that exceeded expectations, and even though it only captured the number 2 slot (behind Thor) that position was considered quite the victory for those involved and, if much of the response to the film is to be believed, for women in general.

However, on the Gabfest the question was posed: "Is a movie where women shit themselves is a victory for feminism?"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Movie phone

When visiting the local Cineplex to see a movie, prior to the feature presentation there's generally a message asking the patrons to please refrain from talking during the show. That the public needed to be instructed it was inconsiderate to talk during the movie was somewhat disheartening to those of us who knew that already, but the fact the theater made the effort was appreciated. Didn't always work, but it did seem to help.

In recent years the message has included an admonishment against texting, presumably because the idiots who would be inclined to talk but weren't doing so transferred that same lack of paying attention to the screen to the admittedly quiet activity of sending text messages on their phones, but they failed to grasp their phones were a bright spot of light in an otherwise dark room and thus it was still distracting to others, and thus they needed to be told it was.

And that has helped make the theater-going experience better. Any time I see a movie without people talking or using their phones while the movie plays I am sincerely happy. However, if I may, I'd like to ask for just a tiny bit more from the other theater goers: Please do not turn on your phone until the lights actually come up, or until you've left the theater.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Raindrops keep falling on your car

In honor of some late spring rain here in the Southland...

When someone washes his car and then it rains he dejectedly feels as though the weather was conspiring against him, as though clouds have some sentience and they get their jollies over thwarting a clean car.

However, even granting that clouds really are out to get us in this modest way, the logic breaks down. Out of the millions of cars just here in Southern California alone it stands to reason that at least one car is washed every day of the year (and realistically it's at least thousands per day), but it does not rain every day. Even discounting the days when there's no clouds (apparently these sentient clouds cannot will themselves into appearing in the sky), there's plenty of cloudy days when it does not rain on freshly washed cars.

Of course, it might be that the clouds are smarter than us.

Perhaps it's that the clouds don't want us to think we can manipulate the situation. If it rained every time a car was washed (or maybe every time a certain number in a given area were clean) we could coordinate our washing efforts and ensure there's never a drought.

Nature's not going to let us have it that easy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


People who harbor the attitude summed up by the statement "If you don't perceive the world exactly the way I do then you suck" really should steer clear of most of the internet.

And yet that's who is most attracted to it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Movies on cable: Why we love the limits of what's not on-demand

On last week's Pop Culture Happy Hour they discussed movies that, if one comes across them while flipping around channels, one will stop and watch, irrespective of how many times one has seen them or even of their artistic merit. That's a phenomenon that may not be something the generation being born now may grow up to experience, as the notion of broadcasting without everything being available on-demand may be seriously outdated, and although this is undoubtedly romanticizing the notion of being subjected to limited choices I do kind of feel bad for those future people who may never get the joy of that sort of unexpected discovery.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

To each her own. Yeah, right.

One last thought regarding the "to each their own" topic discussed in the previous post:

The use of "his" in the original phrase ("To each his own"), and the convention of the masculine pronouns representing males or persons of unknown sex, may be sexist, but if you analyze the full implication of that situation, it's not in the way you might think.

Why don't we change the standard so that the feminine pronouns adopt the role of covering that scenario—so the saying becomes "To each her own" –as a way of balancing the scales (in a manner of speaking)? Because no one believes men in general could handle that. Whether men could or not is immaterial; the perception that they could not handle it without offense would be too strong to allow it to be considered.

When viewed in this light, the low opinion of males (with the implicit insecurity of their masculinity) is where the real sexist divide lies.

Monday, May 09, 2011


Because the internet likes nothing more than linguistic pseudo-analysis, here we go again...

To quibble about how the pronoun "they" has come to stand for an individual of indeterminate sex becomes less worthy of bothering. Although clearly the term started as representing a group of more than one, the tradition of applying the masculine pronoun "he" in the context of representing a person who may actually be female carries the association of sexism in contemporary rhetoric. The lack of a singular pronoun in English that indicates a person (as opposed to an object) where the gender is unknown, combined with the awkwardness of "he/she" in certain contexts, has caused "they" to be adopted (or perhaps co-opted) to fill that void in common parlance. That is what has happened; there's no arguing that point.

Whether it's good or not is another story, but when it comes to casual vernacular my position is noted at the beginning of the post: it's not worth being too much of a stickler. I'm not suggesting in conversation I've never employed "they" in such a context, although in writing I try to use "he/she" (because I suppose it acknowledges the singular nature of those pronouns while eschewing a quasi-sexist tradition that I genuinely have no problem with seeing fade away).

But let's be clear about something: While "they" was adapted to fulfill a need, it must make the sentence easier. Also, that does not make it acceptable for it to be worked into common expressions that emerged from the era when "he" was used in that context. Take, for example, changing "To each his own" to "To each their own."

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Pondering the bin Laden photo

Regarding the question of releasing the post-death photo of Osama bin Laden, apparently with half of his face blown off:

I grasp the philosophical issue of whether the government should decide whether the public deserves to see it; whether it's sanitizing warfare to not release it; whether it might further enrage extremists and bring even more severe plots of retribution. I don't dismiss how the release of the photo changes the political ramifications of the event, and how both the President and the GOP both have something to gain by not releasing or releasing it.

I understand the catharsis of vengeance in appeasing some kind of Neanderthal bloodlust.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The division of unity

The death of Osama bin Laden showed that there's nothing apolitical left in American society. While there was a reaction of jubilation stemming from perhaps justifiable quasi-jingoism—manifesting in private thoughts of "we got him" to masses celebrating in the streets of New York and chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!..." at baseball games—the initial unified joy at the news our most hated enemy was brought to justice gave way to the need to apportion the credit.

Those on the Right dismissed Obama's role and cited how he was merely continuing what Bush had started, and was merely the one who happened to be behind the desk in the Oval Office at the time the mission came up. Those on the Left probably felt good that because it happened under Obama's watch (so to speak) and could appreciate it more without having to reconcile it with their distaste of the previous administration; there may have been some subconscious relief the commander-in-chief at the time made an announcement with decorum in the East Wing rather than with a huge banner on an aircraft carrier.

Monday, May 02, 2011

O_ama Headline

Unless one has been living in a cave (get it?) one heard the news last night (or this morning) about the covert mission that killed Osama bin Laden. What's more interesting is how the newspaper editors chose to handle that for the morning editions. One I saw said "Osama bin Laden dead, Obama reports"—perhaps hedging on the side of We're not 100% sure but the President said it on TV so we'll attribute it to him at this point; another declared "United States kills bin Laden"—going for the national vengeance angle, where it was not an elite group of commandos but the whole country.

Was it not destined that after the election of 2008 we would reach this day when "Osama" and "Obama" would end up in the same headline? Editors must have been salivating at the chance for the last two years.

Had the mission not taken place before next November they'd have had to make sure the President got reelected if for no other reason than to have another four years for bin Laden to die while Obama was still in office.


But perhaps the timing of this was more due to the fact that everyone—likely including Prince William and his new bride—was glad to have the Royal Wedding coverage interrupted.


Oh, come now—this is the sort of inappropriate slant on such events you should already expect from me. You have no room to be disappointed.