Friday, June 24, 2011

Words With Fiends: Hobo

Editor's Note: This is a new blog experiment where various people have sent me random words, and I will try and write a halfway coherent blog about it each day this week. Today's word is: Hobo.

I've lately had an alarming interest in hobos. I'm not sure why. I've never had a desire to wear a soiled brimmed hat and an army jacket, bundling my prized possessions of watered-down mouthwash in a discarded Jack Daniels bottle in a picnic blanket, and hop on the least-secure flatbed railroad car bound for Kansas City. I've never felt the necessity of begging for odd jobs for scraps of leftover food or, worse, Jack-In-The-Box. I don't see the romantic appeal of smelling like dog vomit and dressing like an extra from The Walking Dead.

Still, there is something alluring about the life of the hobo. Perhaps it is the freedom from responsibility, when you don't owe rent to the park bench and the tin of pork and beans doesn't withhold 15% of itself when you pick it out of a dumpster. No one is interrupting your nap or your meal because no one needs you to mow the lawn or get that report in by Thursday, and you don't have a landline or Cricket phone at your disposal anyway.  Sure, the comforts in live are compromised for this freedom, but considering the fact that people willingly pay to sleep on rocks, wipe with maple leaves, and eat preservatives shaped like food and call it "camping" probably means most of us are closer to the "hobo" end of the spectrum than we'd like to admit.

Of course, my fascination may also stem from other places. I remember having one of those random educational books as a kid: you know, the sort that just took like thirty completely unrelated topics, make fun pictures and colorful puzzles from the information, bound it all together and market it up about 300%, and convinced parents it was an 'encyclopedia of knowledge." Actually, that was reasonably accurate; I remember learning an inordinate amount of random things from books like that. But I distinctly remember that one of those chapters was about the Secret Hobo Code.

The Secret Hobo Code were mysterious markings that hobos would leave in inconspicuous but universal places--say, fenceposts--to let other hobos know the score in the area. This could be something simple, like "food given here," or something much more sinister, like "owner of this house likes to boil up hobos and serve other hobos hobo soup." This most certainly wouldn't have made it into any current children's books, because the one I had painted the life of the hobo so colorfully that I am quite surprised there wasn't a rash of hobo activity in young children in the early 80's. I'm still not convinced there wasn't, because that would certainly explain a lot.

Hobos also fall into that odd category, much like thieves, where they have their own code of ethical behavior. I was shocked at one point in my life that hobos actually had conventions in our history. I always supposed that hobos were more or less otherwise known as the more specific sociological term of "drunks." While true to some extent, the advent of railroads let hobos become a profession of sorts: communication hadn't caught up with transportation, and the ease of travel from one place to another made getting drunk and bumming for food an attractive proposition when each community didn't know who you were.

Alas, the hobo is no more. Aggressive police work, along with the Progressive movement in the 20's as part of their campaign to stamp out anything even remotely fun in this world, put an end to the proper hobo. Sure, some stuck around, but as trains diminished in importance, Pinkertons started not caring about throwing said hobos from moving trains, and the world wars sort of sucked all the excess hoboism off the streets and into uniforms, the hobos got replaced by the mentally ill and the eternally drunk, neither of which were interesting in maintaining the ethical codes their forebears agreed upon. Ah, I suppose, it's just as well. If I feel like slacking off and throwing off the shackles of a responsible society, there are always internet forums.

Trending: Hogwarts Rising Edition

Ryan Dunn: -8 Hey, hoss, FYI: Getting your blood alcohol level too high and murdering a war hero by driving your Porsche fast enough until it bursts into flames doesn't exactly qualify as a "prank."

Huntsman Joins The Race: +1 And all the Chinese Mormons say heeeerooooo!

Grunt Ban At Wimbledon: -1 Now how am I supposed to tell if I'm watching tennis, weightlifting, or Cinemax at four in the morning? Oh, right, I'll be awake.  

Rick Perry Thinks About Running: +2 Because the last time a Texas governor ran it turned out so well.

Sayeth the Raven, Pottermore!: +4 As the last of the Harry Potter movie franchise is released in a few weeks, J. K. Rowling took some time off from heating her house with pound notes to create a website devoted to new Potter material. Things like why Ron Weasley didn't hit puberty until age 40, Dumbledore's favorite teal countertop patterns, and how unimpressed Hermione was when Harry showed her what kind of wood his wand was really made of.  

Miss Tennesse Is Not OK With Burning Quoran: Push Something tells me one less book in the world won't really affect too many Miss USA contestants.

Wal-Mart Discrimination Case Halted: -2 I get it, but really...if your main ambition in life is to be the manager of a Wal-Mart, it's possible you may need to reevaluate your priorities before you start appealing to the Supreme Court. 

Whitey Bulger: -8 The mafia powerhouse took over Osama bin Laden's spot as the #1 Most Wanted Fugitive once the terrorist took a dive. He was a little easier to catch, mostly because 1) he was over 80 years old, and 2) didn't have the entirety of the government of Pakistan covering for him.

Keith Olbermann Launches New TV Show: +1 His new show is trying to skew to a younger demographic, so now an entirely new generation of viewers can not watch his basic cable show.

PittGirl: +10 The duchess of Pittsburgh blogging over at That's Church, poor Virginia has seen the destruction of her restaurant and an enigmatic medical issue in the last few months, not counting the still-remaining existence of pigeons. Send some positive vibes over her direction, if possible, and give back even a fraction of what she's done for Pittsburgh.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Words With Fiends: Spicy Waffle

Editor's Note: This is a new blog experiment where various people have sent me random words, and I will try and write a halfway coherent blog about it each day this week. Today's word is: Spicy Waffle.

I generally enjoy spicy foods. This hasn't always been the case. Growing up I liked spicy foods but wouldn't crave them. Sometime after college, though, I acquired a taste for the kick and routinely downed jars of jalepenos blissfully unaware of the fate that would visit me about four to six hours later. Even now, I'll pretty much eat anything as long as there is jalepenos or the equivalent involved.

*Some exclusions apply

That said, any attempt to "infuse" an item with jalapenos generally meets with failure in my book. Unless you are a creative master such as my wife, don't try anything extraordinarily clever or you're just going to screw it up. instead of finely chopping up jalapenos into dust and mixing it with the ground beef-like textured meat product, just throw some damn slices on top of it. The more ingenious you think you're being, the worse your criminal fast-food recipe becomes.

 Why is this not a war crime? I call for regicide!

Of course, buffalo sauce is a bit different. Generally speaking, you can slather this on anything and everything will be A-OK. This includes, but is not limited to, popcorn, vegetables, hot dogs, chicken wings, turkey sandwiches, Kit Kats, mashed potatoes, horsemeat, and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

To the other point, I am lukewarm on the concept of waffles and pancakes. For those who believe that waffles and pancakes are somehow fundamentally different, rest assured that you are a moron. Even if you don't somehow take something as nominally healthy as a waffle and completely destroy it by loading it up with ice cream, strawberries, and whipped cream, there's only so much batter one can take. Pancakes and waffles are good, but once I have them, I'm pretty much good for the year. See you next spring!

This all ties back to our word of the day: Spicy Waffle. I am unaware of any such monstrosity. However, I will state for the record I am willing to give it a try. Just ask me right afterwards what my honest opinion of it was, and not four to six hours later. me on this.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Words With Fiends: Juggernaut

Editor's Note: This is a new blog experiment where various people have sent me random words, and I will try and write a halfway coherent blog about it each day this week. Today's word is: Juggernaut.

Nothing is as impressive as a force that cannot be stopped. The juggernaut is a symbol of either merciless ambition or blinding stupidity, things I impress upon everyone I meet that those are not mutually exclusive.

The unstoppable force of the juggernaut can be found in many places:
  • The unstoppable desire for middle-aged men to send pictures of their manparts to apparently anyone with an email address or Twitter account
  • The ability of Macfans to spent wildly exaggerated amounts of money for anything Steve Jobs touches
  • The appearance of yet another creepy game about collecting random shit like rocks or power tools on Facebook to clog up your news feed
  • The capacity for noise that my bag of pita chips makes when I try to secretly open it during work, as opposed to the whimper it makes any other time
  • The tenacity of LeBron James to...uh, never mind.
  • My ability to turn pretty much any sentence my wife says into something perverted, much to her delight or embarrassment (I have yet to figure out which). 
  • The number of emails I get from Amazon each week telling me I might want to buy books similar to things I am not interested in but bought six years ago for other people as gifts.
  • The denial of people who have waited 15 years for Duke Nukem Forever to be released just to realize it kinda blows
  • The determination required for the 85 year old woman at the department store to leave her cart perpendicular to the aisle and talk to someone about what someone else wore to church six weeks ago for a half hour right in front of the product you needed to purchase an hour ago.
  • The amount of time people will devote to professional wrestling. I mean, really?
Beware those who challenge the authority of the juggernaut, for you will be laid to waste in a pool of your own self-doubt and inadequacy. The best way to cope is to make a juggernaut of your own that you can obnoxiously impose on others and make yourself feel better at night.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Words With Fiends: Solstice

Editor's Note: This is a new blog experiment where various people have sent me random words, and I will try and write a halfway coherent blog about it each day this week. Today's word is: Solstice.

Today is the summer solstice, which marks the longest day of the year. This is the one day of the year where the casual observer could see the sun move in one direction, stop, then start moving in a slightly different direction. Or, presumably, since your retinas would be small shriveled husks of carbon and false dreams.

Unless we are navigating Indiamen in the 17th century, the practical use of the solstice is fairly limited. Aside from the obvious corporate mechanizations of Big Sunblock and Big Watermelon, this particular summer day is slightly longer than the other four weeks on either side of it. For some, of course, the symbolic heralding of summer is important, even though everybody knows that summer started line a month and a half ago and we're all going to make a big deal about fall starting in late September, weeks after school has started and the grill has been wheeled into the garage.

Far be it for a normal natural occurrence to happen without the Wiccans pissing all over everyone's lives. The pagans and the neopagans and the Reformed Church of the Pagans all drag out their Halloween costumes and tambourines and make a Lego-set Stonehenge and use the rising of the sun as an excuse to toke up and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon ironically. I mean, to each their own and all that, but at least pick a day you can consistently trick your employer into letting you schedule a religiously mandated day off on a Friday. "Summer Solstice Observed" kind of defeats the purpose.

The summer solstice is also responsible for that petri dish of modern hipsters, Burning Man. While the actual event has long moved past its humble, vaguely druidic beginnings, one assumes that the arid Nevada atmosphere makes goth makeup harder to maintain and so the Lady Vampire Club transforms itself into a bunch of sweaty, dusty hippies who have a very tenuous grasp of private property rights and carbon footprints.

Of course, this day also marks the inspiration for one of the biggest hits of 2010, Train's "Solsticer."

So this day doesn't mean a whole lot to me, really, and I'm hard-pressed to find how anyone could get remarkably excited about it. It's the longest day of the year, which in my mind ranks up there with the fifth Saturday in one month or Thursday.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Words With Fiends: Sassafras

Editor's Note: This is a new blog experiment (blogsperiment?) where various people have sent me random words, and I will try and write a halfway coherent blog about it each day this week. Today's word is: Sassafras. 

I'll be honest: I'm not sure I know what sassafras is.

This, dumbass.

I mean, I have a vague recollection of what it was from like a billion biology class projects ago. Maybe in ninth grade I could have picked it out of a lineup and maybe even mentioned some obscure fact about it for extra credit, but I can barely remember what exit to take for work let alone the contents of my high school textbooks.

Sassafras is one of those words that I routinely confuse with other words. In this case, I confuse it with succotash and sarsaparilla. To be fair, sassafras and sarsaparilla are related in the greatest soft drink ever cooked up. I was also under the impression that succotash was, in fact, also a leafy green plant, linking the three into the world's worst Tribond answer, but it turns out that succotash is an incredibly unappetizing-looking blend of beans, corn, and shame. I am also under the impression that it suffers much more than one would normally think.

I'm sure there's some long-lost psychological* test with two hyphenated last names that would tell me why I confuse three vaguely-similar-sounding and similar-concept words together. Presumably this test would be a result other than "being slightly dim" which I could then whip out and use as sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card to weasel out of saying stupid shit. I have this disorder, you see, and it's most certainly not me paying just enough attention to slightly understand the words associated with concepts but not enough to actually comprehend and/or memorize said word.

like the time I told my wife that I had never tried haggis when I actually thought that haggis was hummus--and possibly the other way around--my only saving grace being that I had at the time never tried either and was quite happy with that particular aspect of my life. (I have since tried hummus and to me it tastes like pasted sheep lung.) 

Although I swear these aren't all food-related, the next thing I get very confused over is the difference between samosas, Samoas, Samoans, and mimosas. OK, I don't actually confuse coconut-caramel cookies with strong safeties in the NFL, but I'm pretty sure the least embarrassing thing I have ever done in an Indian restaurant is order a Samoa. (Pro tip: If you don't know all the words to "God Save The Queen," it is not advisable to get assistance from the waitstaff at your local Taste of Delhi.) I also had to look up what a mimosa is, given my only reference was that one episode of Six Feet Under.

This seems like the exact sort of thing you would what if you enjoy the taste of vomit and Florida at seven the following morning.

Anyway, back to sassafras. I thought it was perhaps some sort of livestock feed or medieval food staple, but then it turns out I was confusing sassafras with yet another quasi-culinary concept, sorghum. And I always thought sorghum was one of those rarely-seen herbs used to make candy before the invention of cake, or taste, and I realized that I was confusing sorghum with horehound. Which, growing up, I always thought was "horsehound" candy, which in my defense sort of makes sense because horses have hides and also horses eat sorghum. I assume.

 Clearly, this is something you want your candy to taste like.

Anyway, so I looked up sassafras and it turns out it was used to treat syphilis. And then the government banned it because it caused cancer. Still, better than hummus haggis.

*The spell check listed this as "alcoholically," which is also surprisingly accurate. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Trending: Mormons, Canucks, and The Great Syrian Hoax Edition

Hugh Hefner: -2 His soon-to-be-bride left him mere days before their wedding. Gosh, it's like she doesn't appreciate the sanctity of marriage.

Vancouver Burning: -6 I never understood sports riots. Sometimes it happens when you win, sometimes when you lose. I understand there may be an alternate reasoning: in Third World countries, soccer matches blow of steam from a repressive government, while when WVU wins burning couches is a victory riot as well as remodeling. And now Vancouver. I haven't seen the photos, so I'm assuming a Canadian riot means they don't use turn signals and fail to say "thank you" when served at coffee shops.

The Tony Awards: +5 The biggest winner was The Book of Mormon, written by the South Park guys. The lead actors could not make it because they were all running for president. 

Facebook: -5 It lost more American users than it gained last month. Does no one worry about the consequences of this? Millions of people are going to virtually starve and pixelated farmlands lay fallow. Charities and advocacy groups are going to go broke due to lack of copy-and-paste sympathy. And no one will ever talk to the people they hated in high school ever again. 

GOP Hopefuls: +2 This is the magic of low expectations: They didn't handle snakes, they didn't advocate  shooting poor people for sport, and they didn't have a cage match with one another. Ergo, it was a success. With the possible exception of Mormon Guy #1 and Sarah Palin Lite, though, no one really looked like the dragonslayer. (Well, Newt did, but in the literal and not the figurative sense. He looked like he just gained 200 experience points and spent it all on his +4 Sword of Health Care Annihilation.)

The Green Lantern -3: Hopefully there's a lot of green on the movie screen, because it's doubtful there will be much at the box office.

Palin Emails: -1 The biggest shocker? She was sending emails claiming to be an Alaskan princess with trouble getting some funds out of her Juneau bank account. She will pay you dearly for the service, of course, and if you like she can pay you in generic prescription drugs and foreign lottery tickets.

A Gay Girl In Damascus Hoax: -4: Because on the internet, no one knows if you're a lesbian Syrian revolutionary blogger or some dude in his underwear: PRO TIP: They're all dudes in underwear.

Weiner Finally Resigns: -4 PRO TIP: They're all dudes in underwear.

My New Hair Dryer +1750 Watts: It has a retractable cord, several settings, the cold blast button, and as an added bonus isn't trying to electrocute me. Looks like a home run

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Crank Crank Classic: The Day My Hair Dryer Tried To Kill Me

Editor's Note: This morning, my hair dryer went kaput. It make a little cartoon sound and then it was gone. The last time this happened was a few years ago, back when I wrote regular columns on my old blog, American Lament. To commemorate the passing of its successor, here is a column I wrote about it on April 21st, 2008. As always, I encourage you to browse through my old blog, since while a lot of it is dated there's a lot of good material there. Enjoy!

I have had one of the first truly defining moments of my life.

My hair dryer tried to kill me.

Now, to set the stage of this incredibly traumatic experience, let me first state that it was a mere few days ago that I went and engaged in another incredibly traumatic experience, getting my hair cut. Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly non-metrosexual guy, inasmuch that I haven’t really taken care of myself in any sense of the word since about 1985, which, coincidentally, is the last time I updated my haircut. But I do have a lot of hair, and it does have a certain level of maintenance so I don’t walk around looking like a cross between Alfalfa and Sanjaya. So while I don’t fuss over my hair—I try to keep my yearly spending on hair products about equivalent to my nearly expenditures on calendars—I also don’t want to walk around looking perpetually like everyone in the world’s younger 9-year-old brother who is in that awkward stage after they give up wearing that wrestling T-shirt every single day but before learning how to use a comb.

As such, I prefer that my hair to be left a little longer than normal, since if it’s cut too short it tends to stick up, and I have to shove enough chemicals in my hair that Hans Blix wants to inspect it. (Wow, a Sanjaya joke and a Hans Blix joke all in one day. Time to update the Rolodex.) And yet every single hairdresser I’ve patronized since I learned to walk has taken me saying “Please don’t cut my hair too short” to “cut every single piece of hair on my head to the minimum length molecularly possible.” Seriously, I’m like a six year old in that chair, sulking while she tries to chat me up about the weather to distract me from the fact that she’s chopping off waaay too much hair. What’s left is an atrocity wrapped in a disaster, at least until two weeks are up and it either grows in or I kind of forget about it. Granted, it’s sort of my fault, since I’m not assertive enough to say anything and instead just throw a big wad of cash at her as I leave so she doesn’t see me tear up, partly because it’s not worth the hassle and partly because I don’t trust women who are holding sharp objects.

So I was already kind of torqued off when I woke up Saturday. I woke up late after staying up the previous night either partying hard with my ladeez or doing crossword puzzles (I don’t recall which) and was getting ready to greet the day at a somewhat reduced pace, in the sense that it took longer for me to get ready than it took Dostoevsky to write The Brothers Karamazov had he had to invent each Russian word as he wrote it.

So after my shower, I start to dry my hair. To sketch the profile, the hair dryer, which had recently attended to its eighth birthday, was mauve, which also means it was a gift, since I would never electively acquire such a color. But while drying my hair this day, it tended to switch between the high setting and the low setting primarily at will, something that should of set off alarm bells like it was an ELO concert but instead I assumed it was just one of those things electronic devices do because they hate me more than they hate their own life, as evidenced by my DVD player that is currently solely powered by its own sense of self-loathing.

Alas, with the motor grinding away and sounding more and more like a cat choking on the Empire State Building, I did something I knew the moment I did it that I should not have done it. I peered deep into the nozzle of the hair dryer while it was still running in the extraordinarily likely case that between the time I finished my shower and started drying my hair I had earned an engineering degree and would know be able to both diagnose and fix the problem.

Instead, I was greeted with the hair dryer catching on fire. OK, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but saying that “I caught a modest burst of flame as the dust and accumulated hair burned up in about two seconds” just makes me sound like a pussy. I did, however, quickly do what all of the emergency medical personnel tell us to do when we are holding malfunctioning electronics in a room full of water, which is to scream like a little girl and throw the thing on the floor. I also believe I complemented my heroic acts by loudly stating something along the lines of “Goshen gee willikers, my hair dryer has caught on fire! Heavens to Betsy!” Or something conveying those same sentiments; it’s all a hazy blur at this point.

My hair dryer, having finally taken its stand in protest of eight hears of hard labor of working for four minutes every day, let out a few last whimpers in the form of what in hindsight were probably highly dangerous sparks, then just stopped, dead. I lifted the limp carcass and carried it outside so the house wouldn’t smell like a Dutch masseuse, then promptly went to the drug store to buy a new one. I wasn’t going to let an attempted assassination stop me from exercising my American right as a citizen to go through life with dry hair.

Street Walkers, Veg-O-Matics, and Credit Default Swaps: Three Book Reviews

Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner: I enjoyed Freakonomics when it came out--like most people did--although I don't think it's the best "popular" economic text out there (The Armchair Economist probably gets that title). Thankfully, it spawned a great number of similar books. Superfreakonomics isn't must different than the original book; in fact, it's basically more of the same. Which is a good thing, since the articles and experiments are all wonderfully chosen and well-explained. I actually prefer this to the original. This book also reinforces my belief that if anyone of authority tells you anything, they are either dumb or a straight-up liar. (I prefer to think they are both.) Lest you think this is simply a rabble-rousing antiauthoritarian doctrine, all of the questions asked (Are toddler car seats worth it? Should we trust doctors to do the proper sanitary precautions hey clearly know? Are prostitutes rational in their career choice?) are well-researched and make you want to shake all of the safety Nazis and self-involved professionals until some sense creeps in. Lest you be dismayed, of course, there is very little real economics involved in the book: the few formulas are safely tucked in the back of the book, with only a few phrases and jargon peppered in the text to tip you off that you're still reading a book written by a dismal scientist.

What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. I've written about my mediocre enjoyment of his books before: I think he has some good ideas and presents them well, but when the book is done I feel like I'm just reading someone who has given fancy names to the blatantly obvious. This book is a collection of magazine articles from The New Yorker and, as such, don't have that padded-out with pseudosociology feel his standalone books have. Because they are shorter, they get to the point quicker and are much more effective; by far, this is his most interesting book. Some are standard profile pieces, such as the story of Ron Popeil of infomercial fame, which some are mini-books similar to his other works (such as the inability to spot patterns until after the fact or the safety risks one should accept in the world). Some still fall flat--the title article about Cesar Millan doesn't seem to go anywhere--and the end of the book is filled with his more theoretical ideas that just start to grow wearisome by the time you're done. But it poses so many interesting ideas and thoughts that I highly recommend it.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis. I love reading financial books, although I don't really know why. The actual mechanics of finance don't really interest me--I never picked up the acumen to be effective at it. I've read Lewis's previous huge book, Liar's Poker, and so I thought a similar treatment about the recent economic crisis is warranted. (Another book about the crisis, House of Cards, is probably more in depth, but it focuses pretty much exclusively on the fall of Bear Sterns.) The Big Short focuses mainly on several personalities that noticed that something very, very wrong was happening with the American economy long before anyone else did; these few brave souls did what they could to bet against the economy (known as "shorting" the market) because they knew it would eventually fall. At first they were treated as ill-prepared neophytes basically giving money away. Then they were seen as pests who were trying to pull a fast one. Then they became pariahs as people realized exactly how much money they were going to take from them. Lewis probably casts the heroes and villains a little too black and white: the clearly thinks the rating agencies (specifically Moody's but also S&P) are evil, while the far-sighted shorters are the unsung heroes. It's more complicated than that--how many of us would praise people who waited for our economic system to collapse to cash in?--and yet I get the point: the successful people were the suckers, and the people who bet against dishonesty won in the end. Lewis does a capable job of explaining the basics, although from other readings I know it's a lot more complicated than just ratings and credit swaps, and Lewis doesn't spend much time outside of the world he knows. Still, this is probably the easiest book to read if you want a nice, clean explanation of what happened.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Five Things To Stop Getting Outraged Over Concerning Our Elected Officials

Far be it for me--me!--to defend the lowly politician. Since the beginning of the republic, politicians have been relegated to the level of the used-car-salesman or street criminal they often were. (Well, used horse trader, back in the day, I guess.) People bitched back then about anything and everything, and in fact the original Bill of Rights has a delayed compensation amendment that ultimately didn't make the cut. (It ended up passing a couple of centuries later.) This is the burden of someone placed in the charge of the nation's purse.

And yet...there are a few old horses that get drug out and beat to death every few years. It makes voters feel elated, contrarians happy, and good-government types require a change in pants, but ultimately have absolutely no bearing on how effective (or ineffective, as it were) they are at the actual task of governing or legislating. I'm a nasty old economically-minded crank, so I'm of the opinion that the energy devoted to complaining about the list below should be focused on something more useful. Like, anything else.

1. Congressional Pay
There's nothing more sacred for Americans than complaining about how much our politicians get paid. They're just out to make themselves rich! They're spending taxpayer money on themselves! And yet the compensation that they are paid is actually pretty low given the profession.

The fact is that congressmen and women aren't really paid all that much for what a professional should be paid, and while they do get a lot of perks and travel allowances, they still have to eat, consume, and maintain residences in two places, one of which (Virginia/DC) is extraordinarily high-priced with an astronomical cost of living. (Think about what it costs to live in your house, and effectively double it, and still raise a family that you will rarely get to see.) While some people grin with glee over the picture in their minds of politicians being forced to live four in a room in a modest apartment arguing over who last used the hotplate and why didn't they clean it, this is hardly an optimal situation for those that are supposed to be running the country. If we truly want a full-time legislature--which we clearly do, based on the results of the votes we cast--then they should be paid as full-time legislators. *

Bottom line: congressional salary is a negligible part of our budget. You could triple salaries and your taxes wouldn't even change a tenth of a cent.

2. Low Rate of Turnover
Every election cycle, pundits complain that the level of incumbency is outrageous. The same politicians get re-elected year after year with no consequence. Voters in a district are never given a real choice. Gerrymandering is rampant and both parties are in bed with one another to protect their own. Invoke term limits! Clean the House and send them home!

But is this really what we want?

Think of it this way: many districts are drawn in a way to guarantee a victory for one party or the other. If many districts are packed like this, where, say, 90% of the voters are Democrats, then 90% of the voters in that district are happy. If we somehow forced all districts to create a 50/50 split, all we would end up with is half of the population angry half the time, with a revolving door of mediocre politicians trying their best to scrape by another election. Obviously it's not this simple: even safe districts have a board range of interests, and there's always going to be some competitive seats no manner how the lines are drawn. But congressional districts are "safe" because people want them safe, and that's not always a bad thing. And if you're still concerned about politicians never being held accountable in locked-up, safe districts--well, that's what primaries are for.

3. Travel
Every so often there is some outrageous scandal about a politician's travel expenses. He took a plane somewhere! He spend two months total on the road last year! He went to France!

I never understood this. America is a big country. Our legislature works on deals and vote-trading. If some guy in New York wants to know what things are like in Nebraska, or vice versa, I think it's great. Once elected, a politician is still voting on bills that affect everyone, not just their own district. Traveling to and from his district, and to junkets and conventions and meetings--you know, the exact sort of information-gathering that politicians are supposed to be doing in the first place--is part of the job description. I'd prefer that more politicians would fly overseas to see conditions before they commit troops to battle or sign an era-changing trade deal. And, again, given the negligible cost of travel in the first place in the overall scheme of things, this seems a ridiculous thing to get outraged about. If everyone sat home and just took a Greyhound from their home district to DC twice a year, your tax bill would not budge one penny.

Speaking of...

4. Not Spending Enough Time In District And/Or DC
"Congressman Davis spent 200 days in D.C. last year. He doesn't care about his own disctrict!"
"Congressman Davis missed 200 days in D.C. last year. He doesn't care about doing his job!"
It doesn't matter. Whichever works best as a negative ad will get aired. No way to win this one.

5. Gaffes
OK, this one is slightly legitimate, because leave it to politicians to come up with the absurd and the offensive. I'm not talking about scandals here; no affairs with interns or Twitpics of your crotch. Those are legit scandals. I'm talking about the true-blue gaffe--the misstatement, the mangled phrase, the embarrassing oversight.

There is part of me that hates to see a politician who has spent decades being a good legislator only to be brought down by one sentence. This is particularly appalling if the offending phrase is ambiguous, out of context, or maliciously twisted, which is often the case. I would rather a politician feel free to speak their mind and spark debate even if this means they say something regrettable once in a while. Again, don't get me wrong--there are sentiments and incidents that do justify swift public adjudication, which may include resignation. But to immediately discard a history of good for a few words of bad judgement, to me, is foolish. We should hold our politicians to a higher standard than ourselves, but set that standard too high, and all you'll get are incompetent milquetoasts and straight-up liars, all of whom are scared to talk about anything.

To be fair, there are some who would prefer this scenario. And that's just a sad version of democracy.

The Pledge: I don't want to allow our politicians to run the country without being held accountable for their actions, so don't take any of my criticisms as absolute. At some point salary or travel or intemperate remarks will be a massive harm to the democratic process. But we are nowhere near that level now, and people should be outraged about entitlement reform and tax policy, not that Congressman Davis flew first class to Riyadh.

*I'll leave it to another argument for another day exactly what kind of politicians we want. If we want only rich people who can't be bribed, then salary doesn't matter one way or the other. If we want thinkers, professors, economists, scientists, or public policy advocates, we have to have a decent salary for them to be able to live on. If we want lawyers and professionals, we have to offer enough so that the lure of the private sector doesn't take away the best and brightest. Of course, we probably want a mixture of all of these types (I wouldn't want an all-lawyer congress any more than I would want, say, an all-farmer or all-teacher congress), so the best solution would be to offer a high enough salary to make private practice less attractive, enough so that members aren't tempted by corruption, and allow the rich to donate their salaries (if they so wish). The fiction that a low salary will only attract those who truly love the nation and are willing to sacrifice is unrealistic and, most likely, disastrous.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Five Tweets I Don't Really Ever Want To See

Twitter is a useful tool. I've made new friends on Twitter, and I have learned a lot and been helped by many of my followers whom I have never met. And yet, just like anything else, a slow, creeping movement to clog up my Twitter feed has started to drive me a little nuts. I have yet to stop following anyone, because thankfully none of my dear followers have pushed me that far. And yet I find myself mildly annoyed at the below five things, and I presume that many others will as well. What do y'all think? 

1. Exclamation Points!!!!!!
We all get exciting about things. Sometimes we shout, sometimes we sing, and sometimes some of us but definitely not me preej a little. But the best way to display your obvious excitement is not to go onto Twitter and fill up your precious 140-character limit with copious amounts of exclamation points. One will suffice, in all situations that can ever be dreamed up. If the sentiment is something that warrants additional excitement above and beyond the grammatical definition of an exclamation point, try using high-level marketing concepts such as "adjectives." You should treat exclamation points like the discontinued flavor of Pop Tarts that you really, really like: ration it for the few times in which it can be properly appreciated.

2. Copious Retweets
Retweeting small projects or accomplishments from your peers is fine. The witty one-liner or the important news bit that may slip through the normal cracks in the mainstream media world is OK as well. But don't retweet stuff that's going to show up on the evening news in like twenty minutes anyway unless it involves national monuments blowing up or the Mavs winning the championship. Don't retweet stuff from major companies, organizations, and advocacy groups: if I wanted to know what the NRA or PETA or Microsoft thought about something, I'd be following them, not you. You can certainly retweet, but just like anything else, if you do it too much they all become worthless.

3. Passing Off Obviously Unoriginal Material
Don't try to quote that person or own that one-liner if you didn't write it yourself. Yes, there's that 140-character limit to deal with, but that's not an excuse for plagiarism; if you can't make it fit, it's not worth doing. (And, yes, just re-tweet that shit if you think it's that funny.) I don't want to read my feed and think to myself, "Dude, that was a lot funnier when Will Rogers said it a century ago."*

4. Anything That Is Trying To Sell Me Something
Again, do this in moderation, and I'll be OK. Trying to unload a used air conditioner or have tickets to sell? Have some crafts you're proud of showing off and/or making some coin on? That's fine. Even bundling everything up into one nice, clean tweet once a day is acceptable. But if you own a "business" that is suspiciously shaped like a pyramid, I don't want your "updates" every two hours letting me know that the price of off-brand energy drinks or bulk vinyl siding has dropped in price 40%. If I wanted to see commercials, I would do everything else in this country ever.

5. Looooong Public Conversations
This drives me up the wall to no end. If the conversation is going to last much longer that two or three responses, take that shit to direct messages or just text the people if you can. Nothing is wrong with a little back-and-forth, and there's certainly light-hearted conversations that are better consumed publicly, but if it is a specific conversation that would look more approrpriate in an IM chat room, then, well, go to an IM chat room. Don't let all of us in on your dirty laundry or--more likely--banal and remarkably long-winded conversations about when you should all meet at Applebee's.

*Yes, I follow people who are likely to 1) quote Will Rogers, and 2) try and rip off Will Rogers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Five Stages of Twitter

So you've just heard about this Twitter thing. Yeah, you're late to the game, but welcome anyway! You are starting on an exciting trip with many chapters, all of which are 140 characters are less. So let's take a look to see the roadmap to your Twitterverse journey.

Chapter One: Bewilderment
Twitter can be a little confusing at first. If you're not used to status updates or the Twitter culture--not to mention a lack of followers and the mass of people, famous and otherwise, who can be followed--it can be very intimidating. Don't worry; as you add third-tier friends and follow random people who happen to mention American Idol, you'll get the hang of things.

Sample Tweets:
I don't know what I am doing! LOL
Am I doing this right? LOL
What is a hash tag? I'm hungry for breakfast now #hashtag

Chapter Two: Apprehensive Mastery
Twitter's not that complicated. The learning curve is pretty shallow. So it won't take long before you're able to tweet like a champ. You'll be able to pick and choose who you follow a little better, and you'll sort of get the hang of how to cram four sentences worth of wit into what amounts to an elaborate login name. You may actually begin to get some decent networking done before you realize most of them are spambots.

Sample Tweets:
I need to get to Vegas! Things are stressful and hectic and it seems like I never get to c my frnds nemr sic d #j
@travelagent2000 You must really follow my tweets closely to follow me mere seconds after I mentioned I wanted to go to Vegas! Thanks, friend!
I get it, but how is this different than Facebook status updates? #notdataminingyourlife #asmuchanyway

Chapter Three: Misuse of Otherwise Useful Features
Now that you've gained the confidence of sending and managing your tweets, it's now time to start using them improperly. Have long, elaborate conversation for everyone else to see, so that the messages can clog up everyone's feeds with much more ease than normal. Make sure it goes on about like a dozen responses so everyone knows exactly where you will be at next Friday or precisely what your well-reasoned position on illegal immigration is. And if someone tweets something you find amusing or vaguely interesting or, hell, just tweeted anything, make sure you retweet that, then proceed to retweet any slight rewording of the same concept repeatedly, and then retweet everyone's responses to those as well. Also, please misspell hashtags, or else you won't fit in, and make some socially awkward and ultimately failed attempts at "tweet-ups." Don't even ask. 

Sample Tweets:
RT @unimaginativehollywoodPRagent Missy Misserson "caught" "dining" at a "restaurant"!
I can't wait for my acceptance letter to Harvard! #ihartcollage
@oldcollegefriend2004 I will be out of my apartment from five to eight next Thursday, which would be an excellent time for someone to rob it 

Chapter Four: Fatigue
Twitter can be overwhelming. The nature of its existence depends on it: the forced character limit emphasizes quantity over quality, and at this point you find that most of your followers basically want to either sell you stuff or have you send pictures of you naked.

Sample Tweets
Does anyone know with the Hometown Grill closes tonight? I want to know if I can make it in time. This is not an open invitation.
I don't feel like tweeting anything, but I feel obligated to do so, so here is a YouTube video of my favorite band and/or a dog riding a skateboard.
@coworker, there is a reason e-mail still exists.

Chapter Five: Indifference
At some point, Twitter will become a chore. You'll have to wade through a thousand random tweets from celebrities from sitcoms that you no longer watch and once-clever college kids who graduated and got jobs and now bitch about how no one changes the coffee pots in the break room. It's like you're at an old folks home, only every complaint and judgmental comment is blasted directly to your smartphone. 

Sample Tweets:
I wish I had time to delete the people I don't want to follow anymore, but there are SO MANY.
I am going to complain about everyone complaining about the weather, as if somehow that makes me different. #inception

I am only logging on to make sure my account isn't deleted. #mypsace

Friday, June 10, 2011

Trending: The British Are Ringing! Edition

Paul Revere: Push You are no longer a warmed-over fairy tale told to children who would rather hear about horserides and secret decoder lantern messages than state sovereignty, the political transformation of puritanism,  and royal-colonial friction. You are now yet another asterisk in the already increasingly footnote-laden career of Sarah Palin.

E3: -2 Unless they are releasing a new game that isn't, you know, the exact same FPS they've been releasing for the past decade, I'm not interested.

Newt Gingrich: -10 I was always confused as to why you ran in the first place. You have deep, thoughtful ideas, which is an immediate disqualification for the office of the presidency. You are kind of a prick, which of course always helps. But to piss off your entire staff--you know, the exact sort of people who have supported you and stuck with you for over two decades or so--is widely seen as somewhat of a minor gaffe. I'm sure you can tough it out and come through with minimal damage, but then again, so do bedliners.

German Produce -6 Hey, kids: Don't want to eat your veggies? Just tell your parents the Germans are trying to kill you. Get out of jail free, baby!

Tracey Morgan: -1 Tracey Morgan says something offensive and unpredictable? Heavens to betsy, you don't say! Next you'll be telling me that Alec Baldwin is a self-absorbed misogynist.

Facial Recognition: +2 People are going batshit crazy because Facebook is integrating a facial recognition system into user's profiles  Another security layer chipped away by the evil hand of Mark Zuckerberg! Why is everyone so surprised? It's call Facebook. It's right there! In the title! Why are we all so alarmed?

Weinergate: -4 I find it odd that during the congressional orientation of all new members they don't spend a day going over "Please Don't Take Pictures of Your Junk. And If For Some Completely Insane Reason You Still Do It, Don't Send It To Anyone." That's what got Martin van Buren in trouble, you know. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. 

National Donut Day +8 i.e., every day.

Human Centipede 2: -4 The movie has been banned in the UK. Is there any way to have a movie retroactively banned? As in can be unseen by those who have seen it? About the only thing the original movie was good for was to create a more accurate meaning of the name "Facebook" than The Social Network did.

Mad Libs: Leonard B. Stern, the creator of Mad Libs, died this week. It was a very __adjective__ service where many __plural noun__ were __verb__.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Who's Laughing Now?

A message from a friend today led me on a rabbit trail of watching a wide and embarrassing array of YouTube videos this evening, to the point that I spent a good half hour watching some classic George Carlin clips.

I've always been a lukewarm Carlin fan. I find him to be one of the more insightful comedians, but I also think in many ways he's hypocritical. But even that is tempered by the fact that sometimes he's winking at the audience like we're all in on the act, but the next set he will be deadpan serious about his hypocrisy. And while I get and respect his fascination with wordplay, sometimes what is funny for thirty seconds stops being funny three minutes later.

Most of the "groundbreaking" comedians I find to be simply self-serving hacks. I've always found Lenny Bruce to be a disappointment, more interesting in art and shock than actually being funny. I feel the same way about Bill Hicks, one of the least funny comedians to succeed with the extra added bonus of being particularly sloppy with his beliefs. A comedian to espouses a philosophy can often be very powerful, but the ones most known for it I find to be remarkably overrated.

Of course, that's not to say that I'm not a hypocrite as well. I hear Carlin's bit about the scams that advertisers try to push on us and how we're all just gullible sheep for buying said products. Despite the free-market paradise I've constructed in my head, I actually more or less agree ...but I also realize that no one is forcing us to do any of that. When people are free to make their own horrible decisions, I have a very difficult time building up a sufficient amount of rage and anger about it. People should live with their own mistakes, and what we should be more concerned with is that people should own up to their own deficiencies. When our culture turns the sanction of shame and penalty into badges of honor, that should be called out and quarantined...but until the government forces us to to any of this, my gut instinct is that it will all work itself out.

That's probably a bad idea, in the end, because sooner or later what is the voluntary pressures of our culture will end up codified in the books, and then it will be too late. Part of me thinks this is already happening: people (and, perhaps, Detroit-based auto manufacturers) are no longer permitted to fail, when in fact failure is just as important as success in this life. Embracing failure seems like a contradictory sentiment, but I find it to be truer now than ever. But try peddling bumper stickers and very special episodes of Glee with "Embrace Failure!" and see how far that gets you.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Theory of Conspiracies

I am an unabashed fan of conspiracy theories. That doesn't mean I believe them--I believe alarmingly few, actually--but I am fascinated by them nonetheless. They help explain the unexplained. confirm our worst fears, and--probably most important--make us think we know something the rest of the population doesn't.

If you're into that sort of thing, the baseline is Coast to Coast AM. While they don't deal exclusively with conspiracy theories (they have a lot of alien stuff they run into the ground and childish paranormal stuff that doesn't interest me in the least) most likely if it's a valid or well-known conspiracy, they've addressed it in some manner.

Still, not every conspiracy theory is valid. E-mail chains to the contrary, most conspiracies don't have legs. The initial maelstrom of confusion during an event forces people to come up with alternate ideas to fill in the gap, but as the truth becomes known the conspiracy slips away into nothing.

Musing about this earlier today, I formed a theory of conspiracy theories. I'm sure this is nothing new, but even amongst the crackpots there's a certain level of credulity that's required. Placing faith in an obvious lie does you no good if you're peddling twenty other "truths" that can be legitimately discussed. So what makes a good conspiracy theory?

1. It fills an insatiable need for an answer that doesn't exist. No one propagates theories about stuff no one really cares about. You may have people who believe their pet theory may seem obscure but ripples throughout the world in important waves, but by and large most people won't waste the time. But don't let that fool you--what may seem small (water fluoridation) may end up having large impacts (those damn Reds are poisoning us!)

2. There has to be a reason for a conspiracy. There has to be a question as to why the information that is verifiable doesn't answer all the questions, or does not provide sufficient motive for the actors. Kennedy being assassinated is a tragedy, but inconclusive evidence of the actual shooting, along with the Kennedy family's unusually dense network of conspiracy-laden agents (read: New England elites, European connections, and a growing communist menace) and Oswald's ill-timed demise, raised too many questions that empirical evidence could never prove.

3. There has to be a plausible (if unlikely) non-conspiratorial explanation. In order for a conspiracy to resonate with people, it has to have a certain level of doubt. If the theory is so outlandish that there can't be an alternate explanation--even one with a remote chance--no one will believe it. A truly effective conspiracy theory has to have an element of denial along with plenty of justifications as to how unlikely the "official" story is. These aren't necessarily contradictory, but actually can enhance each other easily.

Take my personal pet conspiracy theory of the moment--Polybius. Polybius was supposedly an arcade game planted in a few places in the Pacific Northwest in the early 80's that was highly addictive and mimicked sensory psychoactive responses. Players would get sick after playing but couldn't stop. Men in black would come around and collect data; presumably, these were government agents field testing some new method of psychological warfare.

The early days of video games aren't documented all that well, since many assumed they would be a fad, and the industry was new enough that there wasn't a trade publication on the commercial side. So it is plausible that an arcade game was set up and removed quickly with little notice. It's possible that the government experimented with this brand new medium that was already misunderstood by parents, officials, and even the bar owners hosting the games--it's proven governments have done things like this in the past. But it's equally plausible that no such game existed, or that it was a prototype or a failed company and men in suits were there to audit renters to make sure they weren't cheating them out of quarters.

Conspiracy theories, to me, are fun, any many contain alarmingly effective grains of truth in them. But they can also be used as excuses for bad behavior. Still, despite the popularity of things such as The Da Vinci Code, I think this is a rich, untapped cultural mine that has yet to be explored.

At least, that's what they want you to believe. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Alternate Reality

Reading through a few articles and books lately, I'm made to remember those occupations that, growing up, could have become a large part of what I did with my life. I often wonder if I had become an expert in these things and engaged in a different profession what it would be like. Now, there is a reason I never took these paths, since each has a fatal flaw, and I don't regret wasting my time on something I wasn't going to enjoy or be good at. But I'm still fascianted by many of these fields.

Math: I always thought I was reasonably good at math--I didn't have the discipline to hit my grades out of the ballpark in high school, but I did well enough--and the cold, clean logic of mathematics always fascinated me. It's not like economics or sociology or medicine, where there are never any 100% right or wrong answers or decisions to make. In math, there is. And, of course, all of the related fields, such as physics and engineering, could have opened many doors. However, I hit a decidedly hard stop in comprehension at one point. Once we got into Calculus II, I realized I had never really grasped Calculus I. All of the graphs and limits never made sense to me. I didn't get the point, and still don't. But in Calc I, I could fudge and guess my way through it. I knew the core and could build off of it, but anything beyond that was fuzzy. And you can't go much farther than that in math if you don't have the ability to comprehend.

Pitchman: I'll never try to tell anyone I'm a salesman; I'm just not that good. But I've always felt that I have the ability to determine what positives people care about and what negatives mean the least to them, and quickly craft a pitch to maximize the selling point. I seem to be able to do this with non-commercial situations in small groups, so I don't know if I would be good at asking for money for large crowds, but for some reason I always feel comfortable with it. My main problem, though, is that I had nothing to sell--and selling someone else's product always carried a risk that you were basically passing on a lie from someone who is going to make a lot more money than yourself. I've also never wanted to be a salesman, which would be a more structured environment, because I don't like the pressures of deadlines and quotas when it comes to remuneration. There have been a few occupations several degrees removed--say, advertising or social media--that could have been more positive, but those are fields that are inherently difficult to break into and/or make any actual money at.

Day Trader: OK, I'm cheating on this one, because who wouldn't want to be a day trader? You literally sit around all day and make money. Well, I knew that people who did that probably weren't really all that successful--if you know enough information about the current trends and analysis of the stock market to make a living, you're in a field making a lot more money than you would be simply trading securities. Still, I tried my hand with it about eight years ago with the assumption that I could at least hold my own. It was, to be blunt, an unmitigated disaster, and one of the reasons I caution people about doing the same thing. Either you know what you are doing and don't need to be mucking about independently, or you think you know what you're doing and so far have been either 1) lucky or 2) poor.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Trending: Shaq Fu vs. Chinese Hackers Edition

Mitt Romney: +2 Finally runs for president. Romney brings a lot of things to the GOP field for 2012, mostly because he has a proven track record of 1) being Mormon 2) enacting Obama's health care program before Obama even got elected and 3) losing. Also: he's the frontrunner. This, um, will be a long year for the Republicans.

NHL Playoffs +4 Woooot! Will Canada finally take back the Cup and parade it around Stanley Park? Will Boston stop its drought of losing? Two good, tight teams. It's too bad ESPN doesn't make any money off of hockey so they would, you know, actually cover it. Because, you know, it's a sport. 

NBA Playoffs -4 Didn't we do this already a few years ago? Who is playing, again? The St. Augustine Ego and the Birmingham Steamwhistles? Wake me up when Dwayne Wade checks someone to the court floor and there is BLOOD.

Shaquille O'Neal +5 Shaq finally calls it quits. Alternate occupation options: 1) rap star; 2) movie star; 3) reality TV star; 4) martial arts expert; or 5) just sitting around BEING AWESOME.

Lindsey Lohan: -2 Her monitoring bracelet malfunctioned. Dammit, when Lohan has a wardrobe malfunction, why can't it be the more awesome kind?

The Tree of Life: -3 A pretentious, self-involved movie shown at Cannes won the Palme d'Or? And yet it's a move that has no plot and still managed to garner a lot of boos and hostility from the critics? Somehow I think Nicholas Cage is involved.

Third-Grade-Level Irony: +8 So a representative named Weiner (snicker) gets caught tweeting a photo of his wiener (snort). That's so funn--wait a sec. This is an elected official? In charge of running the country? Shit.

Gmail: -5 So much for Google's reputation of being a reasonably safe suite of applications. Getting hacked by the Chinese--and having the accounts of many senior American officials to boot--isn't doing much to reassure people of the safety of the internet. Along with recent breaches of the Playstation Network and other web sites, it will take a while for people to regain the LONG LIVE THE GLORIOUS PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA

The Hangover: +6 Kudos to Todd Phillips. Not often you get to release the same movie twice and still have it make so. much. money.

Groupon: +4 Obligatory joke: if enough people buy the IPO, do we all get it at 50% off?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blinded By The Light

My wife had an eye appointment today, which in and of itself isn't remarkable except for the fact that it has provided me with endless entertainment this afternoon.

For the purposes of her exam, she had her pupils dilated,and so has more or less been unable to function as a productive member of society since she returned. They even gave her some temporary disposable eye shades that suspiciously made her look like Frida Kahlo. This was, to be diplomatic, not a good look.

After using her temporary blindness to scam me into doing a bunch of stuff, she took Chloe outside. I went upstairs, and came down to a very happy Dexter, who was freely running around our living room. I picked him up and we bonded as we waited for Chloe and my wife to return before putting them away in their crates.

A little later, we decided to leave the house and were getting everything ready before we exited. My wife turned the TV off. Well, that should be properly typed as "turned the TV off," in scare quotes, because the one thing she did not actually accomplish was turning the TV off. She had pressed some other button that changed the input feed. The fact that she walked away without noticing made it all the funnier.

And then she "put the dog away" in his crate Dexter decided to have none of this, and waltzed right back out.

"Um, when you took Chloe out earlier, did you put Dexter in his crate?"

"Yes," was the quizzical reply.

Of course, she not once but twice failed to actually be able to close the door to his crate. Dexter was certainly not going to pipe up with any objections.

Part of me is afraid to go to bed tonight. Not for my own safety, but that I may miss something embarrassingly funny.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Welcome To Winnipeg. What's Your Name?

It was reported last week that the NHL franchise in Atlanta--um, the Thrashers, according to most sources on condition of anonymity--will be moving to Winnipeg. Winnipeg was the home of a heralded former team, the Jets, so there is a devoted fan base and probably houses more than two thousand people, which is more than you can say for the Quebec City Nordiques. Or hockey fans in Atlanta, of which there are none.*

Chances are that the team will revert to the old Winnipeg Jets moniker, though that is hardly set in stone. Atlanta's former team, the Flames, vacated decades ago and went to Calgary, which is infamous for not being burned down by General Sherman and yet chose to retain the nickname.  Whether the new owners will revert to the Jets, retain the Thrashers, or come up with something new remains to be seen. (The thrasher, for those who were wondering, is the state bird of Georgia, and not a reference to Dominique Strauss-Kahn's rather singular method of foreplay.)

So if for some reason the owners decide to rename the team, I thought it would be instructive to see what the most common themes were in professional sports franchises.

I've collected all 122 team names from the major sports in America** and sorted them by category. Some team names were duplicated and counted twice (Kings, Giants, Cardinals, etc.) and some were quite difficult to classify, so a bit of research, creativity, and judgement was made.*** Here are the results:

The most common theme, by far, are Violently Aggressive Animals, with a total of 17. Next up are Occupations, with 13, and Birds, with 12. Historical Figures come next with 11, Nature and Disasters with 8, and a tie with Vaguely Derogatory Nicknames and Geographical Locations with 7 each.

So what should Winnipeg go with? To go with the trend, they should pick a violent animal. Unfortunately, the animal that's killed the most people is the mosquito, and that's a highly disappointing thing to fear on the ice. (Also, the "Skeeters." Ick.) Is Eric Boulton going to go out there and say "Dude, I'm gonna come at you like a mosquito! I will suck out your blood and get malaria all up in your ass!"**** Other deadly and more menacing animals that show up on the World's Deadliest lists--such as dogs and hippos--are also unsuitable for mascot material. So it seems that all the good ones are taken.

Maybe we'll go in the other direction. The categories with fewest on this list, such as Plants or Metals or Weapons, have promise. Perhaps the Winnipeg Stalks of Wheat? The Uraniums? The Howitzers? This actually might be easier if I knew anything about the culture of Manitoba.***** Or how about one that hasn't been touched? Like The Single-Payer Systems? The Blackberries?****** How about the Winnipeg Vampires? Or is that still to close to the Skeeters?

Perhaps it will be the Jets after all. J-E-T-S Jets!

*And yet they will watch people drive in circles for hours every afternoon for like eight months. They lost the war for a reason, I think.
**I did not include Major League Soccer, because it would be too hard to classify such team names as the Columbus Staving Off Bankruptcies and the Spokane Barely Able To Fill A High School Gymnasiums.
***i.e., I made shit up.
****Actually, this is a remarkably plausible statement.
*****Sadly, this would probably not change my answers.
******Ha ha, Jim Balsillie. You done got screwed.