Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Candy Review: Late Valentines Day Peeps

It's the end of February, and that can only mean one thing: discount Valentine's Day candy!

Or maybe Presidents' Day as well. But mostly sugar.

While there is always plenty of discount candy to be had, most of it was pretty standard stuff--overstock chocolate hearts and creepy paraffin licensed characters dressed in red. Thankfully my wife picked up some unique candy to try--sugar-free hearts and a raspberry heart-shaped Peep.



Regular readers of my blog are aware of my official position on Peeps. However, I have to hand it to the Peeps company: they know how to do holidays

Unlike the Peeps Christmas trees, the Raspberry heart shown above is slightly different. I'm not sure if it's a different recipe or if it's just due to a change in the flavor, but it wasn't as firm as the other similar Peeps. Still, as a reminder, these treats aren't like the regular Peeps marshmallows. It's also very flavorful. I'm not a huge fan of raspberry, so thankfully the flavor wasn't as strong and the chocolate complimented it. 

The sugar-free hearts were also very similar to the peppermint stars from the Christmas haul. Unfortunately, there really isn't a discernible taste. They aren't bad, but there isn't much going for it, either. And while both of these items are decent, they aren't that remarkably different than the Christmas Peeps. One wonders if the holiday cycle isn't going to run out of shapes but might run out of creative flavors. 

Still, next year, both of these are something different than the normal and are cheap enough to add some variety to your Valentines day treats. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When I Am King

this



















will no longer be a thing.

Ain't No Party Like A Scranton Party

It appears that James Spader is leaving The Office.This isn't too much of a surprise--his character was more or less written as a temporary and/or occasional role--but it's still telling that he is leaving.

Given that both Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling) could potentially leave the show (although since Dwight would be leaving for his own spin-off, he would probably stick around if need be), one wonders if everyone isn't bailing out of a sinking ship, as it were.

I started watching The Office back in the UK days, where David Brent's painfully awkward everything made the show equally unbearable and hilarious. (Though, to be fair, I much prefer the writing, as well as his not-quite-as-excrutiating character, in Extras.) There were plenty of doubts when they decided to make a U.S. version, doubts that were not quelled when an ill-paced word-for-word replication of the UK's first episode was created for the pilot. When it was (slightly) unexpectedly picked up for a second season, it ended up being quite the surprise--sharp writing and dead-on situations pulled out of every cubicle farm with just enough absurdity to keep things moving and deadpan quasi-seriousness to keep it grounded.

It's not quite the same any more. I don't laugh nearly as much as I used to; the writing seems to have made absurdity the go-to laugh, instead of building around it (a recent episode, where the case romps around Spader's ostentatious mansion, is a case in point--few laughs outside of the standard yet tired worker-shlubs getting to run around a rich guy's house). Office romances have gone from mildly realistic plot devices to a straight-up daisy chain of outlandish hookups. Story arcs are farmed out for two or three seasons instead of tight, well-written scripts; while there was plenty to hang on the Jim-and-Pam story line, both Andy's and Dwight's failed romantic pursuits have become predictable.

In some ways, The Office's successes became its failure. While the UK version was undeniably anchored on the obnoxious David Brent, the US version was very much so an ensemble effort--so much so that Steve Carell's departure was not an immediate end to the show, as the UK version undeniably would have been. We grew to know and like the characters, which when it's all said and done have accumulated over a dozen distinct personalities, twice more than the usual sitcom. Even marginal characters, such as Creed and Meredith, had enough depth to be the focus of more than one episode. But that strength also became its weakness, as new characters kept getting added with little to add themselves. Ryan, who started as an intern, ended up contributing to basically nothing since season two aside from some ineffective side plot. Sweet Erin, while providing plenty of fodder for romance, has turned out to be simply a foil to bounce off of instead of a character in her own right, which is a shame.

Now, don't get me wrong. I still love watching The Office. While it's clearly a shell of its former self, it still maintains the legacy of its history. I still care about these characters even if barely registers as a comedy anymore. And, to be fair, some episodes--especially featuring Dwight, who is one of the few characters that has grown into both a parody of himself as well as a legitimate character with which we empathize--still harken back to the glory days of comedy gold. Still, this was a program that managed to have its own convention a mere three or four years into its run. You wouldn't see that today.

Part of me wants to see the show end before it descends any further; part of me wants there to be yet one last season, but specifically set as its last so the writers put in the extra effort. Since the season is winding down, I suspect we shall find out shortly.

Monday, February 27, 2012

#dontcalluswellcallyou

Earlier today, I read an article about the emergence of what amounts to a "Facebook Score" for employers. (Alas, I can't find the article now, which was on CNN.com; it appears to be scrubbed from the site. Of course, it could also be due to the fact that when you type in "Facebook" in their search bar it returns with exactly zero results, so there's that.) When employers look for potential hires, they run some sort of algorithm that takes all of your Facebook statuses and converts it into some sort of a personality score that measures you, which I'm sure they convert into some sort of corporate speak like "Workplace Compatibility Index" but basically means "Are we going to hire this guy and have him shit the bed?"

[Edit: OK, mere moments after posting this I found the article, which wasn't where it was six hours ago. Stupid Internet.]

The article went on to describe some painfully obvious stuff, like writing violent things about your co-workers will not score very many points on the WCI, while "I wish that my boss could be President so everyone could love him as much as I" will act as a multiplier. Also, things such as "Wut UR up 2 2nit babby" are generally frowned upon. Also: duckfaces are bad.

This trend signifies two things that should be alarming to many. First is less dramatic; Facebook has, indeed, become our default profile for our lives. In some ways this can be good, since it presents a snapshot of our personalities in a convenient manner. On the other hand, at this point we have to strip it of all personality and make it a marketing tool, which more or less defeats the purpose of it. Because different entities are using it for two vastly different reasons--users use it to be creative and express themselves, while employers are treating it like a lazy man's resume--there is an inherent conflict. Unfortunately, getting a job and paying bills is always going to trump how many beers you chugged waiting for Van Halen to come on stage.

The second is the manifest difficulty of human resources. In case you don't know, HR is basically one big data mining shop. They zip your resume for keywords, where a vast majority will go into a trash bin with no human eyes ever looking at it. Now, of course, they are crunching the words you've used to express how you live your live into a discrete number, applying it towards your changes of making them money. Some of this makes sense--especially in a down economy, when managers are getting literally hundreds of resumes, there has to be a practical way of winnowing down the pile. There just isn't enough manpower. And, to be fair, once the candidate pool is small enough, all those numbers and keywords disappear and the more concrete items come into play, as they should. So I am sympathetic to the plight, and I'm not sure if there is a better solution.

Still, there's something remarkably creepy about having your future dictated by (what should be) a social media outlet you shouldn't think too much about. Is talking about Dancing With The Stars now going to be a detriment to your hiring chances? Dropping a mild expletive when your team loses counts as a strike against you? Social media has done a lot of good things, but it's always good to remember that there are several sides to everything that you post.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Leaders We Deserved

Well, it's still Presidents' Day, so why not take a look at the folks who hold that position?

Ranking Presidents is always a bit of a peculiar pastime. Presidents are each rather singular in their personalities, and times change so quickly it’s difficult to judge one era from the next. Of course, we’re also always biased by our own historical worldviews and (for more recent presidents) our ideological positions.

Still, historians feel they have a decent grasp of context, which is probably the most important aspect of ranking our Presidents. Even such things we judge as universal traits, such as competence and character, are still a creation of their times. The mundane tasks of the modern President, for example, were extraordinarily important to the first few chief executives, since everything they did was unprecedented. So I tend to take presidential rankings with a grain of salt. They are interesting enough, but, to me, it’s nearly impossible to pit Lyndon Johnson up against, say, James K. Polk.

Last fall I read a book called The Leaders We Deserved: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game, by Alvin S. Felzenberg. Most presidential ranking systems were developed, or closely followed, Arthur Schlesinger’s original rankings, done in the late 40's. Felzenberg’s method isn’t too terribly different, but there’s enough uniqueness to his views to be notable.

The book separates the performance of a president into six parts. Three are personality-based: Character, Vision, and Competence. The other three are policy-based: Economic Policy, Preserving and Extending Liberty, and Defense, National Security, and Foreign Policy.

As for a review of the book, it’s fairly interesting. The original generation of Presidential rankers were a fairly liberal lot, which is not horribly unusual given the time. Popular history has had the pendulum swung towards a more moderate approach, as historians are more sympathetic to the context of the times the Presidents lived in. 

Felzenberg is by no means a conservative apologist, but it’s clear that he views each of the six facets in a decidedly conservative light. “Economic Policy” has more to do with laissez-faire and less about income inequality, for example. But by and large his standards aren’t too far outside of the mainstream, and does give a sizable amount of credit to those Presidents who advanced the cause of civil rights.

As such, I was a bit surprised that his list is largely the same as others—which means that there is, in fact, a fairly rigid standard that all of history judges our past Presidents. Felzenberg does have a few anomalies, however; he ranks Zachary Taylor quite high, odd for a president normally ranked in the mid-to-lower tiers. Oddest of all is Ulysses S. Grant, seen by most historians as in the bottom five; Felzenberg places him at #7. His reasoning is basically sound—the scandals involving his administration were bad, but Grant never profited, and unlike most scandals did not seem to have a lasting impact on any aspect of our history. On the other end of the scale, Felzenberg lists poor James Madison waaaaay down at #29, faulting him for his economics and competence, assessing that a lot of damage was done by many of his decisions, and likewise compromised our international reputation. 

Aside from these three—and some new views on some old, standard President—there isn’t much new. Washington and Lincoln are still on top; Buchanan and Pierce trawl along the bottom. But I’m still not convinced that this means very much. Buchanan, for all his faults, was a victim of his timing; nearly any President , regardless of character, vision, or policy, was getting forced into a no-win situation. The mere election of his successor, Lincoln, was in and of itself a signal to the South as to what direction the nation was taking. Now, he certainly was a failure, since he did practically nothing to mitigate the worst of the war. But it’s no accident that of all the Presidents in the 20 years preceding the civil war (Van Buren, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan) all save Polk are ranked dismally. Did we really manage to elect six horrible Presidents in such a short time span? (And even Polk has the asterisk of the Mexican-American War, without which he would most likely be joining their ranks.) Or were they all victims of the impending civil war, hobbled by a young and inexperienced government? I’m still inclined to agree with historians—they all collectively failed to stop the civil war—but one wonders if judging them too harshly for circumstances out of their control is productive.

Adding to this is the development of the modern world. Post-war presidents find that their reputations get reassessed nearly every decade or so, for good or bad. Both Eisenhower and Truman famously got huge rises as the century rolled on, as the consequences of their decisions finally rippled through the world. Since the President has near total control over foreign policy--and must share duties with Congress and the courts for domestic issues--foreign policy plays a disproportionate role in their historical assessment. And since much of the historical fact will come out decades later--either due to necessary secrecy or because the effects take generations to reach fruition--many foreign affairs-minded Presidents will find their reputations slowly increase over time. 

In the end, I do recommend the book. It’s an interesting read, and the format (going through each of the six factors he uses to judge, highlighting a different set of case studies in each one) lends itself to easy comparisons, rather than what could have been a rather dry chronological survey. Still, while I recommend the book, I encourage readers to read a different Presidential ranking book simply as a good way to see how different people reach a different set of conclusions from essentially the same data.

2012 Presidents' Day Trivia!

It's Presidents' Day! That's right, a holiday to celebrate our chief executive by having government offices and banks close and everyone else goes back to work as normal. Usually this day is a nice, guilt-free way to have a sale on winter boots and car accessories without feeling like you're selling out veterans, the flag, or Martin Luther King, Jr. It's also a boring holiday because no one is outside grilling because it's too damn cold. About the only fun thing is you get to read a whole bunch of random Presidential trivia.

This man was never President, but he was on money, which is more important, and so you shouldn't feel guilty about using his death as a reason to snap up that sweet deal you found on a new mulcher.

Oh my goodness! Presidential trivia! Unfortunately, Presidential trivia tends to be pretty boring too, because it's all the same stupid facts about how many cats Dolly Madison had or the type of carving Franklin Piece had on the pistol he used to shoot his wife. So, as a public service, here's a list of little-known facts about some of our more famous Presidents:

Benjamin Franklin was, in fact, our first president. However, a week into office, he had managed to violate the daughters of two prominent governors and once ate three whole turkeys in one sitting in front of the Russian ambassador without offering him so much as a potato. George Washington, with the help of John Adams and John Jay, along with the tacit approval of the legislative hierarchy, secretly injected him with mercury, declared him unfit for the Presidency, and wiped the history books clean.

George Washington's nickname was, in reality, "Old Mule," and not cause he was stubborn. He also had perfectly acceptable ivory teeth, but he got in so many barfights (along with Alexander Hamilton and Lafayette) the cost of replacing them was too great to maintain. He commonly wore wooden teeth because of this, bringing out the good choppers for state dinners and funerals.

Thomas Jefferson carved a sledge hammer out of a solid slab of granite he found in the hills of Monticello. He would sneak out into the night during his presidency to break the knees of Christians, steal their bibles, and kidnap their daughters to be prostitutes.

Lest you think that Andrew Jackson was all piss and vinegar, you'd be absolutely right. Not only did he hate Indians, blacks, Jews, the British, and women, he wasn't particularly keen on Chinamen, the French, New Englanders, bankers, highwaymen, frontiersmen, Mexicans, whalers, Spaniards, dogs, livestock, tin, printers, Southerners, explorers, sailors, or the army. Mostly, he drank and shot things, and that's why he is one of our greatest presidents.

James K. Polk was no higher that three feet high, much lower than the national average of the time of four and a half feet. He compensated for this diminutive stature by conquering the largest state at the time, Texas, and sonofabitch if they haven't let us forget it.

Zachary Taylor died when he drank an entire can of Mr. Pibb immediately after eating a packet of cherry Pop Rocks.

James Buchanan was our only single president, and we all know what that means--he was secretly a Sikh prince with whom a marriage was never appropriately arranged.

Ulysses S. Grant, in his retirement years, was nearly broke. In a desperate move, he sold his likeness to be on the $50 bill for--quite ironically--$50. When $50 bills failed to sell (people preferred the stateliness of a $1 Washington, or the dashing good looks of the martyred Hamilton) he wrote his memoirs, which sold for...you guessed it: $50 apiece. Alas, he died of ink poisoning before he could enjoy his final years in peace and security.

Chester A. Arthur was never really President. He just kind of hung around the White House acting like he ran the place, much like Bruce Jenner does on Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Grover Cleveland not only founded the city of Cleveland, he was also the inventor of Grover from Sesame Street. He is also the only president to have sired a child in each decade of the 19th century. Our only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, he spent his four years off traveling the Indian territory "finding himself," which apparently meant getting henna tattoos on his face and biweekly visits from a guy the White House staff just called "the Chief."

James Garfield was assassinated by a Terminator. I mean, c'mon. The guy could simultaneously write Latin and Greek on paper. No one 1) can write with both hands 2) have both those writings in two different non-native languages and 3) do that at the same time. Definitely Terminator-target material.

Theodore Roosevelt may not have been our greatest president, but he was certainly the most active. He was a weak child, suffering from asthma, poor vision, and a lack of any secondary bones in his body, and so made up for it by pretending to be a cowboy for half a decade, followed by another few years of being a reckless commander. When the other ranchers and soldiers made fun of his weak attempts at overcompensation, rather than wallow in self-pity, he would run crying to his ranch and rub the ice-blue gem he found in the Crater of Concordia that granted him super powers, which he would later use to bust up the trusts. 

William Howard Taft was not a particularly overweight man; he was, however, a kleptomaniac, and for some reason loved stealing--in particular--entire ham hocks a dozen at a time.  He would feel bad about it later, but his wife made fantastic sandwiches.

Woodrow Wilson has, to date, been the only president who was born with a wooden stick up his ass. During his presidency, medical advances had made it possible to have it removed, and after much deliberation decided to go ahead with the procure. Once he did, however, he legalized hemp, gave women the vote, and started dating a teenage African girl named Daisy. Under the influence of ether, Colonel House had the stick re-inserted with the patient none the wiser, and that's how the income tax amendment got passed.

Franklin Roosevelt has fully functional legs. He was just a huge lazy asshole.

Lyndon Johnson once invited Walter Cronkite to his ranch in Texas. While there, he watched and laughed as he forced the news anchor to kill and dress, with only a field knife, an entire Vietnamese boar. He then told Cronkite to roast the meat in an open pit while he did donuts in his Cadillac with his bloodhound riding shotgun for twenty minutes or so. After the meal, Johnson insisted they compare their javelin-throwing skills, and, when Cronkite somehow won, was banned from the White House for the rest of his career.

Right out of the army, Richard Nixon started a business selling self-frosted orange drink, cajoling all of his friends and family for cash. When the business flopped and all the money lost, he tried for the remainder of his life to right this wrong. In fact, in his memoirs, Henry Kissinger said that he saw tears in the President's eyes as the moonlight reflected off of each tear as he dumped the lifeless bodies of his former investors in the Potomac.

Ronald Reagan was not made out of teflon, as is commonly believed, but industrial-grade nerf. He was manufactured by the Krofft brothers shortly after H.R. Pufnstuf went off the air. Reagan returned the favor by showing up on occasional cameo appearances on Spitting Image and D.C. Follies

Dick Cheney was the first person to serve as Vice President and President simultaneously. 

Not only was Barack Obama the first president to be black and the first president from Hawaii, he is also the first president to Wang Chung tonight.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Only You Can Prevent Forest Blindness


I've seen this ad pop up a few times in the last week or so:


And every time I see it, I don't see Smokey pointing at me, I see a bear with one small arm and one huge, muscled arm.

It gets lonely in the woods.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Beverage Review: Ginger Beer

As you may remember, I'm a fan of root-based beverages. While I'm not a fan of all of them, they often provide something different than the fairly standard cola and limon flavors that more or less dominate the market. Aside from sarsaparilla, there's birch beer and the standard root beer, all of which have a distinctive taste but are also very similar.

I've never gotten around to trying Ginger Beer, however, and finding a rather random selection of soft drinks at the local newly-opened Bottom Dollar Foods grocery store with quite a few bottles of it, I decided to give it a try.

I'm not sure what "Jamaican Style" means. I can only assume it involves weed, but it's probably something lame like bauxite.

For starters, this isn't ginger ale. Well, it kind of is. It's clearly not the lightly flavored stomach-cure fizz we're used to from Canadian importers and British chocolate manufacturies. But while you can taste the ginger in ginger ale, it's also very weak.

At least compared to ginger beer. If you've ever tasted a raw ginger root--which I haven't, based on the fact that raw ginger root in the produce isle at the grocery store generally looks like a big basket of mutant mold--you know that it can get pretty strong. And that's exactly what ginger beer is. It is a very, very, VERY strong ginger ale-ish drink.

The taste is very spicy. Not Red Hot spicy, but close: it could easily be mistaken for liquified cinnamon pills. Every time I took a drink--much to my wife's annoyance--it was followed by a brief but loud coughing fit that made it seem like I was in the dining room making a concentrated effort to start smoking. No matter how much I drank--or whether they were gentlemanly sips or college tailgate-level swigs--I couldn't get used to the remarkably powerful sting of raw ginger.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It still tastes, essentially, like concentrated ginger ale with some darkening agents, so the taste itself isn't bad. In fact, once your taste buds broke down the shock of the original intake, the aftertaste was quite pleasant. However, I can't lie; I was barely able to finish a bottle. My throat felt like it was going to eventually shut down and not let me take any more in. I did, but I can't say it was the best idea in the world.

For the record, my wife couldn't finish her bottle.

I know I made fun of it earlier, but I don't really know what "Jamaican Style" means on the label. It's possible standard ginger beer is a lot milder. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

So there you have it. I kind of recommend it, because it's the sort of thing that is different enough to try, and I'm sure someone likes it. And I won't say I'll never drink it again. But I'd be hard-pressed to find something I would ever want to eat it with--this would strictly be a standalone drink, so its use is probably limited. Still, it's not bad and worth a try.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Last Minute Valentine's Day Gifts

Hey, guys, are you looking for some last-minute Valentines day gifts? No problem! Here's a simple list of some quick and easy things you can do to make this Valentine's Day something very special for that girl you love:
  • A home-cooked meal always works, especially if you are trying to save money. Just a tip: Spaghetti-O's and Pop Tarts do not count. If you're not sure how to cook, don't throw away the package until you've started the microwave.
  • If you're looking for jewelry, get her that Fjotli's Silver Locket from the Uttering Hills Cave that she's always wanted.
  • If you're Chris Brown, just keep on tryin', brother.
  • When you pick out a card, make sure it's a Valentine's Day card, and not for some random Jewish holiday they just came out with.
  • Million dollar idea: put roses IN chocolate! Then charge three times as much! It's like a printing press of money!
  • That autographed hockey puck of Rocket Richard? Um, maybe that would make a better anniversary gift.
  • If you're going high-tech, get her the new iPhone. Or, alternately, book a plane trip to China and just start stabbing poor Chinese workers
  • Apparently, photographs of Channing Tatum are greatly appreciated. I...I don't get it.
  • Maybe you should like her Facebook status once in a while, is that too much to ask? Especially if it's song lyrics or something vague that can sort of be applied to any situation even though she has something specific in mind. Make sure that "something specific" isn't something bad you've done.
  • JUST SAY YOU LOVE HER AND YOU'LL NEVER LEAVE HER LIKE ALL THE OTHERS [Note: Applicable to Adele only]
  • Lingerie is a good idea. Also, you can try something subtler, like hitting her over the head with a frying pan with the word "SEX" spray-painted on it.
  • Two words: Mexican Wrestling.
  • Still stuck? Just get her some wiper blades or a crate of snow peas or something cheap and random and claim it's an ancient tradition of whatever heritage you come from. And if you don't have one, just claim "gypsies."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rolling in the Awards

I don't post about music very often because I'm not a particularly huge fan of popular music. Nothing wrong with most of it; I'm just at that age where everything after a certain year doesn't appeal to me very much. Oh, sure, there are plenty of exceptions--I have a thing for acts like Regina Spektor and Mumford and Sons--but keeping up with current music trends really isn't worth it to me. It's mostly because I'm old, and do things like calling singers "acts." Of course, I'm talking strictly about "mainstream" music that gets played on the radio--finding some of those other gems (such as Jonathan Coulton) is certainly a good thing.

So last night's Grammys weren't of particular interest to me. I dislike awards shows in general, regardless; I might want to know who won, but sitting through all the other, more boring stuff just doesn't appeal to me. I will gladly watch the highlights the following day, perhaps reading the results on Twitter or as they get released in the news. But the Grammys? I didn't think anyone watched that anymore, but for some reason everyone did this year.

Granted, it's probably because Whitney Houston died only a few days ago, so I sort of understand that. But I feel about the music industry how I'm sure plenty of people feel about professional sports--why celebrate the negative lifestyle of drugs and violence? It's unfathomable to me that Chris Brown is even allowed to show his face at the Grammys, let alone perform a headline song. Mike Vick gets sent to jail, but Brown (for some reason) gets a pass. And Houston? It's sad that she died, but it was after a lifetime of relentless poor decisions. I'm willing to say that we all have an obligation to help the addicted, but in the end there's only one person to help her, and that's herself, and she made the conscious decision to not do so.

[As an aside, I wonder if TV stars get in the least trouble. The Charlie Sheens aside, television stars tend to keep their lives on track. My theory is that the time commitment prevents them from getting too far off the rails. In music and movies, there's plenty of down time to abuse yourself; heck, musicians can still perform while high and/or drunk without anyone really caring. TV stars have much more of a time commitment. Just a theory, I suppose.]

Anyway, the big news of the night was actually something positive, and that was the performance of Adele. The darling of critics for her short time in the spotlight so far, she recently had surgery on her throat which could have easily ended her career prematurely. Already slated to sweep the night, she belted out an impossibly awesome rendition of "Rolling in the Deep" on the show. I highly recommend searching for it and watching. (Alas, I can't embed any of the "official" videos. Here's a link to a New Zealand television station with a fairly high quality version of it.)



I'm a lukewarm fan of the Foo Fighters, but I haven't had time to track down their performance, which apparently was pretty good. (For the record, scientists have proven that playing "Best Of You" before you go in for a job interview guarantees that you will get the job.)

So, I'll probably never watch the Grammys, ever. I just don't care enough about the music industry to get excited about it. But through all the darkness that is the consequences of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, it's good to see that the talent is still there.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Superbawl


This year’s Superbowl was the highest-rated one yet: it was an arguably exciting game and a high-profile rematch of two of the best teams in the NFL. That, of course, didn’t stop detractors from levying the same old arguments about the Superbowl we seem to hear every year. And it's starting to get a little weary.

The Halftime Show Was Vulgar. Every year, in an attempt to be inclusive of the diverse group of viewers who watch the Superbowl (and in the process put on the biggest spectacle possible), the NFL gets some crowd-pleasing, cutting-edge acts to perform for the halftime show. Oh, no, wait: when I said “cutting edge,” I mean “geriatric.” In the last few years, we’ve had the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and The Who, all of which either already clearly are or are inching very closely towards Social Security age. That said, these older acts are the ones who manage to find themselves in trouble. It all started with Janet Jackson’s exposed boob during the much-maligned “wardrobe malfunction” a few years ago, which kicked off a firestorm of new and remarkably oppressive FCC regulations. Then Prince hid behind a blanket and did unspeakable things to his guitar, and this year Madonna (or, more accurately, M.I.A.) flipped off America for some indeterminate reason. One can simply point to the everlasting rebel culture of rock music, but one things it’s mostly the exact same thing anyone else would do: when given an audience equal to a third of the entire nation, it’s tempting to see what you can get away with.  

I am slightly torn with this. My libertarian side says “so what?” A brief second of a middle finger isn’t signaling the collapse of civilization, especially when the stage is also filled with scantily clad gyrating dead Egyptians in the middle of a pointless contest where grown men senselessly beat the shit out of one another. On the other hand…can’t we get through a mere four-hour stretch of time once a year without some jackass being deliberately provocative? 

The Commercials Are Sexist. Every year, our professional superiors—I mean, learned feminists—make a point to delineate exactly how sexist the commercials are. Beer ads making jokes about bikini-clad women; car companies thumping on the stereotypical nagging woman or the hen-pecked husband; GoDaddy’s annual tribute to the least clever way to tease out pretend porn on the Internet while trying to shill internet domain names. When the predicted outcry occurs every year, I can only roll my eyes in the maximum amount of condescension I can muster in the hopes that I can fulfill feminists’ hypocritical assumption of how all men react to anything women say. These critics apparently 1) never watch television any other time of year, 2) never have seen a cover of a women’s magazine, and 3) seemingly have no problem with the smart female/dumb male dynamic present in something like every single sitcom created in the least two decades. I can’t really foster too much sympathy for people walking around, palms raised up, shrugging their shoulders and asking “What? Sex still sells? This is 2012!” Also breaking: dogs like bones and gas prices are too high.

I Didn’t Watch Any Of The Game So That Makes Me Superior To You.  I get it that not everyone likes football. I used to be an anti-football-ite myself. But every year, there is that One Guy who not only doesn’t watch the Big Game, but they actively tell everyone they know, as if this is a monumental aspect of their personality. (Sadly, it may be.) Part of this is historical: For almost a decade, the Superbowl matchups were pretty dismal, with one conference sending a wonderful team and the other sending whoever was able to stumble around long enough so they could get destroyed at the end of January. That still happens sometimes, but we’ve also had nearly a decade of good, solid and exciting football games, even for people who don’t watch football. If the last time you tried watching the Superbowl was when the 49ers beat the piss out of the Chargers, it’s time to take another look. 

Still, even if you’re not the sporting type…who cares? It’s a de facto national holiday in the United States. Even if you don’t care about football and you’re not interested in the advertisements, you can at least hang out with friends and eat bad food. Sure, taking advantage of sparsely populated theme parks or museums makes sense, but if all you’re going to do is sit at home and do anything except what a third of your fellow citizens are doing, you’ve lost.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ding!

The latest column from The Straight Dope exemplifies more or less how I feel about the environmentalist movement: We should all be looking for ways to improve the environment, but those little, easy things you do really don't make much of a difference. The stuff that matters is going to be the hard stuff that no one wants to do.

In this case, the column is about whether the switch from incandescent light bulbs to CFLs is good for the environment. While the dangers of CFLs were certainly overplayed, the fact is that in the end it makes very little difference.

There are plenty of reasons for this, and they are all more or less rooted in common sense. The main thing many people forget about is opportunity cost: by making a consciously "green" decision, you're only doing something that is better than the next worst thing. Another issue is the substitution effect. When gas mileage goes up, we don't burn less gas, we drive more; this cancels out the effect to the environment. Something similar may happen here (as pointed out in the above column): with worries reduced due to better efficiency, we'll just use light more often and be less careful about letting the porchlight on.

It's psychological, too; for example, I am a recycling skeptic. I think the costs are higher than the benefits (or at the very least neutral), but more importantly people who recycle think they are "doing their part," so don't engage in those things that could legitimately help the environment (and, of course, are more inconvenient than chucking a pop bottle in a green bin).

On top of all this, of course, is the ugly layer of government action: I don't think that it's right that the government bans incandescent light bulbs. Sure, they are inefficient, but to extrapolate the case that energy consumption is enough of a free-rider problem and therefore saving mere fractions of energy in the overall scheme of things is worth forcing consumers to a different kind of lighting is just wrong.

Since nearly all behavior-centric "solutions" to saving the environment will fall victim to this, my theory has always been that only a large-scale massive change in how we consume energy will help us. (Energy isn't the only environmental concern, but it's by far the worst offender.) I'm not saying all green initiatives will fail. Many newer building codes make economic sense, for example, since regardless of whether you want to save the earth, you still want to save cash on energy costs. And yet if they made economic sense, people would do it anyway--so why should the government step in?* Likewise, certain painfully wasteful activities have micro effects: X amount of chemicals won't hurt us, realistically speaking, but when they are concentrated in a specific location it's certain to damage the water supply. So this isn't a call to banish all environmental regulations: it's a call to 1) make sure a realistic cost/benefit analysis has been done, and 2) concentrate on the stuff that matters.

*I'll grant that there may be an issue of scale here. If a new environmentally-friendly device is developed but the costs are way too high to be economical, it's possible that via subsidy/tax credit/brute force, the government can get people to buy enough that the economies of scale kick in and it does, legitimately, make economic sense. I am torn as to whether this is a legitimate function of the government even though the end result is that of combating an externality; my libertarian heart says no, but my realistic side knows that a gentle ushering of "adopting" such things via tax credits to help cure pollution wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

The Book of Eli

So today is Superbowl XLVI, where your New York Giants are playing against the New England Patriots, and I could care less.

OK, that's not fair. I want to see the Giants win, not because I have any great affinity for the Giants, but because I am from Pittsburgh and therefore automatically hate the Patriots. (Misplaced small-market bravado aside, I'm still cranked off about the whole Bill Belichick 'cheating' thing a few seasons ago. I know it probably wasn't anything beyond a stupid mistake, but the way it was handled makes me think that something else was going on--such as it being so big as to embarrass the whole league so they had to dispatch the situation as soon as possible. But I digress.)

Still, this year, I'm just not into it. Each year there is usually some sort of story to make it interesting--say, New Orleans finally making it to the Superbowl after decades of futility, or Peyton Manning finally winning a ring, or perennial small-market wunderkind Packers taking it all the way. There's almost always some sort of underdog to root for, or at least a set of interesting characters/rivalry/etc.

This year, there doesn't appear to be any of that. Here are two teams that recently won Superbowls, so there really isn't an underdog. We've seen all the same people here before. The news has been so boring the only thing that has been of note is a mildly threatening injury of Rob Gronkowski and the fact that the Superbowl is being played in Indianapolis for the first time. Big deal.

Even the commercials have been a disappointment. I'm sure this has more to do with my own expectations and less to do with the commercials themselves, but every year I expect the ads to be awesome and every year I'm disappointed. There are a few standouts here and there, but at this point--what with the internet and all--you don't really need to watch the Superbowl to see the advertisements.

So, yes, I will watch the game this evening, and I will be rooting for the Giants, but...eh. If you are the type of person to take odds, they're pretty good that I will have fallen asleep by ten.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Punxy Phil's Perilous Predictions

Today, Punxsutawney Phil will, as he has every year, reveal to the world whether we will have another six months of winter. It's an odd tradition, to be sure, but it's also a little-known fact that the groundhog makes a series of predictions, not just about the weather . Here's a sneak preview of what is going to happen in the net six weeks:


  • Phil's Facebook Timeline will remind everyone about how wrong he's been every year for the past decade.
  • Whatever the outcome, global warming advocates will claim that it's proof of global warming, while global warming skeptics will claim that it's proof that global warming is a hoax.
  • 120 minutes or so of pretentious bullshit will win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  • Sidney Crosby will get a different diagnosis for every single portion of his body, all of which conflict and all of which will cause Penguins fans to declare it proof that he will be back any day now/will never play hockey again [alternating]. 
  • There will be about a thousand new "Shit _____ Says" videos uploaded to YouTube.
  • The Duggars will have about six more kids.
  • For some reason, the NBA will continue to play games according to their schedule.
  • Thousands of taxpayers will spend hours poring over arcane paperwork and unintelligible forms for the sole purpose of getting the government to send them a check after spending the previous year sending the government checks, and then act like it's a personal act of sacrifice upon the IRS that they did so.
  • Thousands of taxpayers then spend that entire check on a dozen roses.
  • Christina Aguilera manages to get through a performance where she 1) remembers all the words, 2) doesn't have something disgusting dripping down her leg, 3) doesn't look like she is trying to pass a stone while singing (you're soulful, we get it), and 4) does not get arrested for public intoxication afterwards.
  • Glee will have a theme night. Like they do every night.
  • Kim Kardashian will find, marry, and divorce someone.  
  • Newt Gingrich will find, divorce, and marry someone.
  • Somewhere, Pat Sajak will get very, very drunk.
  • No matter who wins the Superbowl, the dedicated fan base of the winning team will act like a bunch of insufferable pricks. As will the losers.