Friday, December 29, 2006

Cool Websites - Celebrity Rumours

Richard Gere with a gerbil up his ass? J. Edgar in a lace teddy? Walt Disney’s cryogenic remains beneath Disneyland? If you want to know the truth behind these rumours, chances are you won’t find it at The 40 Best Celebrity Rumors. Most of the entries seem to end with “Who knows?”

But you will find a lot of old myths that you’d forgotten plus a few new ones. This would be perfect toilet reading. Now, just waiting for the day when a computer terminal and internet connection is a standard feature of the commode.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Culture - A Crappy Catalan Christmas

Okay, it’s been three days now and I thought I’d get over this. But I can’t get it out of my head: The image of my two-year old son beating on a log until it shits out gifts.

It’s a tradition here in Catalunya, a region which seems to have an unhealthy obsession with crap, especially when it comes to Christmas and religion. As if it weren’t enough to hear daily throughout the year, ¡Me cago en dios!, an epithet which translates directly as “I shit on God.” No Nativity scene is complete here without the Caganer, a figurine who squats behind the manger, Joseph and Mary, the animals and Three Wise Guys while his bare ass hovers proudly over a tiny, brown swirly of crap.

I’ve lived here long enough that most things seem normal to me, but this is the first year that I’ve had direct experience with the Caga Tió, or The Shit Dude. Essentially it’s a log with a face and hat on one end, propped up by two sticks which –with a little imagination—could be construed as legs. A blanket is thrown over his back-side and food is set out for him on the days leading up to Christmas. This, in order to plenish his bowels. Then, on Christmas day, the whole family gathers around and they beat on him with wooden spoons, mallets, and whatever violent sundry can be found around the house.

Meanwhile, they sing a song:

Shit, dude! Shit lots of candy!

Shit some wine and cookies!

Whether you shit or not,

I’m going to hit you with my stick!

After each refrain, they march in a parade around the house while some sneaky member of the family tosses gifts under the blanket. When the children return, all the adults begin to say, Let’s see if the dude has crapped. Look what the dude has crapped out! Ohh, what nice crap! Then it’s back to the song and parade and more gifts.

You know, I’m really not too uptight when it comes to language and my child, but something about this just doesn’t sit right with me. I guess it’s not so much the words as it is the focus on defecation and coprophagy by proxy.

But who am I to argue with tradition? In the same way that one can never really pinpoint the origins of obsessive-compulsive acts, cultural traditions inevitably guard their own secrets. Some say that it began in the Pyrenees and spread down from the mountains. My in-laws, who never miss an opportunity to describe their hardships during the Civil War, explained to me about 5 or 12 times over dinner that they had to beat on just an ordinary Tió, with no face, legs or hat. In the face of such determination to eat the crap from a log, I doubt that I will ever be able to dissuade my son from participating in this deviant ritual.

But all told, I don’t suppose it’s quite so bad in comparison to a tradition in which I grew up, in which every Sunday I was forced to eat the flesh and drink the blood of some long-dead guy who had been beaten to a pulp and executed in a brutal and excruciating manner. So, really it’s all just a matter of perspective. On the one hand, coprophagy. On the other, cannibalism. It’s so hard to judge.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Society - More Statistical Bullshit

Among the top headlines today is a report by the BBC that 94% of banknotes in Spain have residues of cocaine on them. The story suggests that not all of those bills were used for snorting, but that residues may have come from contact with other banknotes.

Now, how did the un-named “experts” in the article come to this sweeping generalization about the approximate one billion banknotes in Spain? They sampled 100 bills. 100 out of a billion. That's 0.00001% .

Further, they sampled 20 bills from each of 5 cities. The cities and their populations are:

Barcelona 1,600,000

Bilbao 350,000

Madrid 3,000,000

Valencia 735,000

Seville 695,000


Total: 6,380,000

That’s 6,380,000 out of a population of 40,000,000. 16%. They sampled 0.00001% of the banknotes in the country focusing on 5 urban centers which comprise 16% of the population, not taking into account any of the rural communities. And somehow that is considered hard research worthy of international headlines.

Granted, I’m no statistician. And perhaps the nuances of the science escape me. But that sounds like a lot of bullshit to me.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Update - Damn, I Won

A few days ago I posted on the topic of my newfound fear of winning the lottery. And I'm sorry to say that I won. I hit for 120€. So now I'm faced with some vital decisions. Really, I want to make this money work for me, but I'm not sure if I should invest it in something secure or venture into real estate. I suppose I'll need an accountant now. I'm not even sure how to begin deciding on one of those. That's a whole ball of wax right there. But I guess it must be done. Fortune oblige and all.

Please, no emails requesting donations to charity or funding for a performance art space.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Christmas Truce

It was a mass movement that began with songs. German voices strained across No Man’s Land, carrying the words of Stille Nacht to the hearts of war-weary British troops, who knew the song as Silent Night. They began to sing along. Then the soldiers took turns serenading their enemies, one song after another. Brave party crashers crawled across No Man’s Land, carrying not grenades, but bottles of brandy, or jars of marmalade.

Before long, an unofficial truce was established as German, French and British enemies left the trenches to join each other on the battlefield in a novel way. They shook hands and shared cigars. They regarded each other warmly. Almost immediately, it became obvious how unpleasant the party was with all those dead bodies around. So they set about to burying them. Chaplains came out from both sides as they quoted psalms together and sang hymns.

Once the field was clear, it was only natural that they should play football. Rifles were exchanged for a ball, vital organs replaced with a goal, and they battled nation against nation in the truest of true world cups. There was more singing and dancing as soldiers continued fraternizing with their enemies, day after day, until the generals could stand it no longer, and they unanimously decided that this was bad for the war and it must stop at once.

The only problem was: The soldiers didn’t want to end the truce. For once, they were having a good time. Orders to return to battle were issued, but ignored. In some cases, officers aimed their weapons at their own troops and ordered them to begin shooting at their newfound friends. But no shots or artillery would strike human flesh in the aftermath of that impromptu holiday truce.

In the end, troops had to be rotated to the rear so that perfect strangers could once again be counted on to kill each other without remorse. And every Christmas after that, for the remainder of World War I, the generals ordered constant artillery barrage at Christmas to avoid any repeat of this expression of good will.

Fortunately, for the generals, they were able to control this impulse toward cameraderie and the war managed to continue another four years. If it hadn’t been for their perspicacity, the trench warfare might have ended right there and we may never have discovered tanks, anti-aircraft guns and flamethrowers. But the event will forever be remembered as The Christmas Truce.

Have a Merry Druidic Tree-Slaughtering Festival and a Happy Random Change of the Calendar Year!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Notable Blogs - The Rude Pundit

To anybody who's read me or knows me, I don't guess it would be much of a surprise that I really like this guy, The Rude Pundit. Anybody who can create an adjective like bugfuck, or a phrase like Whitehouse Spokesdouche, borders on brilliant and should not be ignored.

He almost gives me something to aspire toward, were it not for the fact that he specializes in politics. Alas, I'm beginning to glean that the key to success in the blogosphere lies in specialization, rather than the diverse flotsam that I harbor.

If you've got any sense of taste and humour, you will make Rude Pundit part of your daily reading. And if not, you have no idea what you're missing. Check him out.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Personal Essay - Lotophobia

Tomorrow is the drawing for the Spanish Christmas Lottery, and like approximately two-thirds of the Iberian population, I’m already planning on how I will manage this substantial change in my personal economy. As the day has drawn closer my revelries have grown less sporadic and far more elaborate, so much so that last night I suffered a bout of nausea just dealing with all the headaches that my sudden and imaginary fortune will bring.

I came to the conclusion that perhaps I would be better off if by some remote chance I shouldn’t win tomorrow. After all, I have zero experience in handling sums of money larger than the purchase of some domestic electronic device. What would I do with it? What kinds of things would I be forced to learn? How do I know that I could trust other people whom I would charge with the management of my hard-played fortune?

That’s when I imagined my reaction to winning. I don’t think I would jump up and down screaming. Rather, I would probably become very scared and withdraw to my bed for a number of days, with the winning ticket tucked back in the closet and filling a space immensely beyond its proper dimensions. Somewhat like a chunk of plutonium.

It occurs to me that most people, when they buy a lottery ticket, are buying a piece of hope, a commodity that is infinitely valuable in a society that rarely offers more than currency for our labors. But I, on the other hand, just now realize that I have bought 15 pieces of fear. Man, that is wack.

So, I suppose it will be with relief when I face the inevitable tomorrow, and fail to come into my millions. Still, there’s a one in six chance of hitting something in this special draw. While millions might be a little stressful to handle, I think I could make do with 500,000. Maybe a little more.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cool Websites - Brain Sex

I always knew that I had a feminine side. I just didn't know how large it was.

This is a very interesting online test that analyzes your mental faculties in various arenas and places them in the categories of what we traditionally consider feminine or masculine capacities.

Take the test. Or, are you afraid?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Television - To Be or Not to Be in the Entourage

Let’s face it, this is not compelling drama. The plot line and story arc are as thin as the cocktails at an Amish wedding. But what drives this show –for good and for bad—are the characters. And this, even though the writers have failed to give them any depth. Quite simply, these characters are shallow.

And that is either the most profitable event of serendipity in history or a ballsy risk taken by the writing staff of this program, because somehow these boys are interesting despite the fact that they are not interesting at all. They seem like people we all know; they’re not superlative; they’re accessible, like guys you could comfortably hang out with.

That’s the point, right? The boys have a modicum of charisma and a reasonably chill attitude, so much so that you’d feel right at home doing bong-hits with them in their kitchen. They celebrate E’s breakup by rolling off to Vegas, and you’re right there wedged in the car with them. Throw in millions of dollars to waste like spare change, and you’ve got the ultimate plug-in fantasy.

At least, that’s the way it is through the first two seasons. If you’ve plodded through the show week by week, forgetting about it between seasons, you may not have picked up on the nuances of change. But if, like me, you’ve watched all three seasons back to back over the course of ten days, you may have returned to your pre-Entourage ennui –if not visceral hatred—of the shallow cesspool that is LA.

By Season 3, you decide that these guys maybe aren’t so cool. It might be fun to have them visit you for a couple of days, as long as they stay in a hotel and not your crib—but after that it would be best if they moved on. No sense ruining a good thing.

By Season 3, Vince’s laid-back affability transforms into a perennially glib, affected aloofness. E’s natural modesty and insecurity has grown into smarmy superiority. Johnny Drama remains the same oaf, but is no longer low-key; rather, he’s grown exagerrated to the point of obnoxious. Turtle, probably the least attractive member and therefore not subject to quite as much off-screen, ego-inflating attention as the others, has maintained his odd blend of confident humility. So far.

The character of Ari, played by Jeremy Piven, if not the most experienced actor in the cast at least the most adept, has somehow improved. It’s as if he has taken the journey in reverse. Starting out as the most exagerrated egomaniac in the show, he has come to embody the more endearing qualities of honor and respect. Great credit for this must be given to Ari having actually had compelling events written for his character.

Still, as much as these guys have come to make me smirk rather than grin, I’m eager to see Season 4. It is an addictive show. Perhaps I should get a life.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Blogging - What Hullaballoo

Well, talk about a scandal. My previous post, Poriticarry Collect, generated quite an emotional response, so much so that I've decided to forego my intended post today and dedicate more attention to this.

It's amazing how easy it is to get a little attention in the Blogosphere. I haven't had this much fun since my Defamation of Character suit against the Anti-Defamation League . True story, but that's an anecdote to share some other time.

On the advice of an adept blogger, I posted a link to my opinions on a few other blogs and news forums, which generated over 300 hits over the weekend. Not a lot, by blogging standards for sure, but quite surprising to me.

There were many anonymous comments which threatened violence and ill-will upon me and/or my children. And, curiously, a large portion of those wannabe violent ne'er-do-wells linked to my site from Model Minority, a self-described Asian American Empowerment zone. Naturally, I tried to register and log in just to see what was being said, but my email and IP address have been banned. I petitioned a few friends to try as well, but they are also banned. So apparently membership to this site is exclusive and their discussions are highly secretive. And judging by the commentators to my blog, their discussions must be somewhat volatile.

The commentators at one very nice looking blog, Kimchi Mamas, have also taken quite a bit of umbrage at my "white privileged status" and ignorant volubility, so much so that I felt the need to express regret at any ill-feelings I may have stirred up.

This is one of the reasons that I have emigrated from my home country, the U.S., where race is just far too much of an issue for my tastes. It reminds me of an experience I had here in Barcelona a few years ago in a pub: I had come across a couple of merchant marines and found out that they were also from Virginia. We chatted pleasantly for awhile until one of them turned to his friend and said, "How you like that? We come halfway 'round the world, meet a guy from Virginia, and he's white!"

I took no offense. It just seemed a pity to me that it was a fact even worth mentioning. I actually felt sorry for the old guy that this was something to which he gave importance, like a throwback to another era. Yet it was refreshing to see that his younger colleague grimaced in a way that expressed that he, like me, believed it was time to move beyond that mode of thinking. And the young guy and I continued to chat, ignoring the dinosaur who --rightfully or not-- operated under a different paradigm than us.

And in the end, I had a much more pleasant experience than if I'd engaged the old guy on my definition of "right" thinking. There are times when it just seems best to teach by example, not debate. I wonder if I'll ever figure out how to do that in the blogosphere, a realm whose cellulose seems to comprise strictly of debate.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Society - Poriticarry Collect

Once there was a time when the Chinese weren’t a bunch of Politically Correct crybabies. They weren’t so insecure as to jump on any opportunity to scream and kick about some perceived slight. I used to think they were the only ones left who felt secure enough in their long history and incredibly massive unity that they were indifferent to harmless jokes and even outright racist slurs. In a word, the Chinese stood strong.

Sadly, that day appears to have passed and Rosie O’Donnell has caved in to pressure from a group of Asian American journalists for an apology. Certainly, the whole Chinese race –or agglomeration of races—hasn’t changed so much as all that; and probably not the whole of Chinese Americans, which makes this whining group of journalists something of a disgrace to their people.

In regards to the self-confidence historically displayed by the Chinese American community, could this be the beginning of the end?

The video of O’Donnell’s bit hardly seems that offensive to me. The humour of it is based on the comic concept of Surprise and Incongruity. Essentially, she improvised a Chinese news broadcast, using Chinese sounds, and speckled it with a few English words. I’ve lived in Korea and travelled around Asia, have worked and socialized with dozens of Chinese in The States, and I can attest that this actually happens in real life; and when it does, it’s only natural to laugh. For some reason, our brains are hardwired for such a reaction. Imagine Oscar Wilde speckling his speech with hip-hop slang. The effect would be similar.

And this is one of the reasons that the Politically Correct movement gets in my craw so much: It’s unnatural, the way they intend to manipulate and control human nature. They incorrectly imagine that they are going to change attitudes by attacking the language in the same way that totalitarian regimes believe that the suppression of speech controls the attitude of the population.

If Unity: Journalists of Color Inc. finds offense in O’Donnell’s use of “ching-chong” during her poor rendition of a Chinese language, perhaps they would be better served by teaching her Mandarin or Cantonese. But of course, what’s really at the heart of this is that this organization needs to find a cause to fight in order to justify their own existence. Now that Americans are somewhat more enlightened than a few decades ago, Unity: Journalists of Color Inc. has no choice but to find a racist under every bed. Otherwise, they would have to close up shop.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Rant - Cracking Under The Barrage

Sometimes I wish I had a firehose, like riot cops, so that I could just spray it around me in a circle as I struggle through the city.

Every day I take a crowded metro to work and have to push my way through bodies just to disembark. At my destination there are always a couple of guys at the top of the escalator, slowing down the crowd as they hand out free “newspapers,” which are light on news and heavy on ads. They block the escalator, shoving their rags in my face and I burst through them like Henry Rollins in an angst-laden music video. Often they’re accompanied by a man named Professor Ali who hands out flyers offering his services as a professional psychic. He actually goes so far as to shove his flyers, unsuccessfully, into my clenched fists. I get across the street and there’s an old gypsy woman in a shawl who steps in my path with her hand raised and pleading for a donation in a sing-song voice.

Her intrusive technique is similar to another beggar who prowls the metro on my return trip. He never fails to shock me by shoving a scabrous stump between my face and the pages of my book. Walking the sidewalk to my apartment, I’m often confronted by people with clipboards who want to tell me about some “amazing offer” they have for a travel agency or in the Mormon Church.

I get home and the phone starts ringing. It’s somebody wanting me to change telephone or internet providers. While I’m sitting down to lunch, the doorbell rings. It’s somebody else with a clipboard and a bright, irritating smile. After lunch, it’s back to the street and metro for more of the same.

Speckled throughout my day, I’m inundated with a barrage of disorienting advertisements in the form of posters which practically scream out for attention, video screens in the metro selling some product and the incessant abuse of television spots. Like the beggars who invade your psyche with a visual appeal to your conscience, or the chipper door-to-door and telephone salesmen who invade your home, these ads are scientifically designed to get in your head visually or through the use of jingles. Even on Sundays, there’s a man who sets up a large electronic keyboard which pours forth a cacaphony even though he plays with just one finger.

And it’s driving me fucking crazy. Somehow, what we consider to be rude behaviour is considered acceptable when it plies the interests of Capitalism. (Even the beggars where I live are part of an organization that provides training, transport and coordination.) For some reason it’s okay to be pushy and offensive, as long as you don’t do it within your own monkeysphere.

And why is that? I mean, what if I stood in front of the elevator doors in my apartment building and blocked my neighbours, asking them for financial assistance or forcing them to take some paper that sells my services? Maybe I could ring their doorbells at dinner time and try to sell them something. I could plaster posters up in the lobby, stand there with a guitar and sing obnoxious jingles. How long do you think I would last in my building before somebody gave me a royal ass-kicking? Yet we accept this horrible behaviour from complete strangers.

You know, I like money, I like having things. And I recognize that the economy depends on the buying, selling and promotion of things. But every day, I feel more and more that Capitalism is just so stinking obnoxious.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Technology - iPod-Nike Conspiracy

NPR reports that your Nikes could be your worst enemy. Apparently iPod and Nike are in cahoots to create a secret spy program that will give anybody with a little know-how the ability to track your every movement merely by sitting at home and watching you on GoogleMaps.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cool Websites - The Negro Space Program

This is among the top ten funny things I’ve ever seen. No intro necessary, it speaks for itself.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Language - What’s Wrong With "Fuck"?

In the presence of my toddler recently, I let fly the phrase, “That’s fucked up.” And of course it became a new addition to his rapidly expanding toolbox of expression. What was remarkable to me about the episode is that, once confronted with it, I really didn’t care if he spoke that way or not. Another way of putting it, of course, is: I really didn’t give a fuck. And I couldn’t help but wonder if there is something wrong with my attitude.

A friend of mine lowers his voice on the phone when uttering the word as an intensifier, as if he were telling me about some whore he screwed in Utah while his wife’s in the background wiping oatmeal off his kid’s cheeks. It’s such an evil word for a child to be exposed to. Apparently. Yet, aside from the fact that everybody else thinks so, I don’t see why. As I expressed to my child’s mother, if eventually he can distinguish between situations in which it’s acceptable or not, what’s the big deal?

It’s a word, nothing more. A labiodental fricative and a velar plosive, separated by a monophthong. So what? Fff, uh, kk. Three sounds that, in any other combination, are harmless. Twenty years ago I read –in some unremembered source—that what anglophones consider vulgar or not is actually descended from an ancient form of ethnocentricity. For a few centuries after William the Conqueror, the language of the English court was French. So all words deriving from French, such as fornicate, penis, or vagina were considered acceptable. Fuck, cock and cunt, however are Anglo-Saxon, deriving from the Germanic origins of the language and were therefore considered vulgar. Vulgar, by the way, originally meant “common” and only later came to include the definition of “in bad taste”

Its power lies not so much in its presence but in the intention behind it. Once, in high school, a teacher ripped my Sony Walkman out of my hands in the hallway and took it into his classroom. Feeling a sense of injustice had been committed, I followed him into his class and, in front of his remedial reading group, demanded the return of my property. Persuant to my understanding of the regulations, walkmen were prohibited in class, but not in the hallway. When I refused to leave without my device, he wrote me up for detention. Then, very slowly, I tore the detention slip in two and dropped it on his desk, saying, “You can go fuck yourself.”

The strength in the statement lay not in the literal meaning of the phrase, though it would have been amusing to see him try. What rankled him and his administrative overlords more was the absolute destruction of that pedestal of respect that authority depends on. Not only did I refuse to acknowledge the sancity of his quarters, nor give importance to his imposition of d-hall, but with one fell swoop I tore down the barrier of propriety that divides students and teachers and said, essentially, You are not important enough for me to observe the rules of language. For some reason, that was worse than any of my other “offenses,” and it begat a series of parental meetings ultimately resulting in my suspension from school.

I’d like to think that words like “fuck” and “nigger” will eventually become disempowered along with all their cronies, that they will become like a rubber knife that will only be laughed at if used seriously. But given the self-importance of both the puritanical and politically correct, it seems that day is a long way away, even if, due to overusage, the word is far less powerful than when Holden Caufield freely commented on it in 1951. Indeed, the television show Deadwood is fighting the good fight by defusing the word through overusage, as can be measured in The Deadwood Fuck Count. I look forward to the day when politicos speak as freely as the characters on HBO. “That miserable fuckwit thinks he can run this country better than I, and god help every one of you cocksuckers if he wins this fucking election.” I wonder how many more votes Kerry would have won if I had been his speechwriter.

I suppose that –in the spirit of “If it bends, it’s funny; if it breaks, it’s not”—I will continue to be amused at the sporadic “fuck” that my baby utters, knowing that it offends sensibilities that I neither share nor approve of. As he goes through life, I’ll do my best to instill an idea of pertinence and moderation, along with respect for individuals. But if, on the odd occasion, he looks up at me and says, “Papa, that Blues Clues is one fucking good show!” I’ll just smile and scratch his head. “That’s my boy.”

Friday, December 08, 2006

Science - Cooperative Hunting

The recent discovery of cooperative hunting between two species could signal the inchoate beginnings of an evolutionary leap similar to that which propelled humans to the dominant position they now maintain. It seems that, in the Red Sea at least, when groupers are thwarted in the hunt, they enlist the aid of moray eels, who –depending on prior engagements—may or may not accompany their petitioner to the offending crevice where said prey is hiding.

The behaviour is similar to the relationship that exists between real-estate agents and homowners; the difference being that an eel is a slimy, slithering legless predator with toxic blood while a real-estate agent actually has legs.

Could this be the beginning of a threat to Homo Sapien dominance? Should we be concerned? Many anthropologists believe that human abilities and civilization began with a need to develop the mental capacity to cooperate in the hunt. We domesticated the dog in order to assist us and expand our sphere of cooperation. This in turn led to other forms of animal husbandry. What if these two species leapfrog over us and become our masters? Perhaps, just to be safe, we should eliminate the eel and grouper from our planet. And, while we’re at it, we could get rid of real-estate agents too.

For if we don’t act now, it could very well be that, down the evolutionary pike, when there is nothing left of man’s hegemony but a fossil record and a layer of oxidized metal far below the Manhattan Desert, the descendants of these creatures will have evolved into two separate societies battling over their own underwater version of the Holy Land. Perhaps in some distant future, when the mighty United Giant Squids provide unlimited support to the Eels, some renegade Groupers will fly a manta ray into the twin coral towers. Then in response, the Squids will ignore the Groupers and, instead, will seek vengance on some unsuspecting nation of Clown Fish.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just looking too deep into this. I think I’ll go get myself a plate of unagi.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Society - Who's In Charge Here?

What would you say if I decided that I could shit anywhere that I want, whenever the urge came, and what's more, if I insisted that you follow me around constantly and pick up my droppings throughout the day? Would you feel this role to be somewhat subservient?

Well, it seems to me that most people would. Yet, I can't walk down the street without seeing such a dysfunctional relationship 5 or 10 times a day. And what's worse is these people do it without receiving so much as a grunt or nod of thanks. Not even a squint of appreciation.

You've probably already figured out that I'm talking about dogs and their owners. It's puzzling to me, because these people consider themselves "the masters" when they are clearly the slaves. It's been a while since I've had a dog and, thankfully, I've gained some insight from my distant perspective. But I guarantee that if I ever get another one, I'm going to train him to yelp at least a modicum of gratitude.

Author's Note - Hiatus

For personal and professional reasons, I had to take a break from posting. But don't you worry, never fear. Mackey's back in town.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Random Thoughts - If My Ass Itched...

My son, who turns two and a half years old today, had a slight fungal infection earlier this week. As a result, he had an itchy bottom. On the way home from the pharmacy, we stopped off at the local supermarket, where he enjoys the rewards of a modest fame. As he made the rounds to collect votives in the form of cheese, ham and breadsticks, he made a point of announcing to each of his acolytes: Em pica el culete, which is Catalan for “My bottom itches.”

Once the general concern had been ameliorated and he had paid for our purchases, we returned home and applied the unction offered to us by the pharmacy. He immediately slipped off into a siesta while I retired to the balcony to suffer a slight twang of envy.

Why is it that only toddlers and lunatics are given a monopoly on such unabashed honesty?, I asked myself. Wouldn’t we all be better served by baring our souls and maladies to casual inquiries regarding our state of health and mind? Isn’t that what cooperative existence implies?

I tried to imagine the reaction of cashiers and toll collectors. They would say, “How are you doing today?” And I would respond, “Well, I’ve got a slight touch of gonorrhea, but other than that, not bad.” Or perhaps, “I’m feeling like I’ve squandered my life away and have fantasies of a piano falling on my head and putting an end to this anxiety.”

In an ideal world, the clerk would hand over my change and commiserate by sharing a similar jewel. “Mmm. I know how you feel. I pretty much despise my life and wish I was smarter and more attractive.”

Why is it that we all must suffer in private? I guess there are really two answers to that.

One: Humans are a cruel bunch. When they sense weakness in an otherwise strong person, they pounce. Even if they do it harmlessly through distant ridicule and gossip. While it’s distasteful to harass the seriously maligned, we find great pleasure in hearing news of the demise that befell what we thought was “the perfect couple.”

The other reason why our social survival demands reticence is far more obvious and blatant: Nobody gives a fuck.

When you’re an adult and not in the pantheon of the rich and famous, people just don’t want to hear that your ass itches. If Tom Cruise stopped off to buy toilet paper and mentioned that every day he looks in the mirror and gazes at a disturbed, ridiculous freak, the news would hit the wires like “Officer down!” through police dispatches. But the rest of us are about as interesting as televised government meetings.

For those who feel indifference toward the unimportant, it would only be fair if, in this utopia –or, depending on your sensibilities, dystopia—that I imagine, one should be allowed the liberty of saying, “I’m not really sorry about your husband, because I didn’t know him. And, actually, I’m thoroughly bored right now. Could you move on, please?”

I don’t suppose that my ideas will ever catch on. Yet another reason why I will never be voted “Ruler of the Planet.” People just don’t know what’s good for them. Lucky for them I don’t have a powerful daddy and smooth relations with the petroleum industry. I might just make a difference.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Comedy - Kramer Goes Nuts

The racial scandal involving Michael Richards is all over the news and the former Seinfeld star is grasping to recover by hiring a publicist to reach out to leaders of the black community. More than likely this guy’s career is washed up and –though he probably has no financial need to work—my prediction is that he will commit suicide.

I personally don’t have any problem with a white guy saying “nigger,” as long as it’s said in a satirical or affectionate manner; and with that ephemeral and ineffable sense of cool. But on viewing this performance, painfully, it’s evident that this guy has some serious issues. If he were simply an unmitigated and unconscionable racist, he would at least find strength in his convictions, but clearly Richards is repentant and ashamed, which makes the onus that much more unbearable. A conflicted pariah. That must be a hard cross to bear.

After a performance like that, with the eyes of the world glaring at him, I expect a long hard road of soulful suffering for poor Mr. Richards. Let’s see if he can hold up.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Random Thoughts - Business and Sex

The other night I went out for drinks with my friend Tyrone. After the hour-long banter about music, books, Battlestar Galactica, magic and chicks, he managed to mention in earnest that he has a thing for prostitutes. “I really like them,” he said. “They’re so down to earth. The conversation afterwards is always so interesting.”

Ever the one to find connections in the world, I noted that Tyrone is the third person I’ve known who is a practicing john, and like my other two friends, he is a capable and dedicated businessman. The other two were both brokers, one in steel, the other in petroleum. They differed from Tyrone in that they were both substance abusers and full of self-loathing. Still, I wondered privately if the Adam Smith school of thought somehow lent itself to solicitation.

It’s always dangerous to draw conclusions based on anecdotal evidence. After all, in poker, it’s not too extraordinary to get three of a kind in anything. So, why even remark on it? Well, possibly, because it feels like there’s a correlation. Three johns who are also three hardcore business guys. A successful player in the business world doesn’t simply stumble into the job like one does for, say, a delivery driver or motivational speaker. No, it’s a vocation. It’s a career that takes a certain kind of person, one who thinks and sees the world in a very specific way.

For the adept capitalist, any human interaction is an avenue for commerce and exchange. Casual meetings, weddings, introductions, chance encounters –whatever—they are all legitimate opportunities to feel the ground and swap business cards. Inane banter is gregariously embraced as a vital preliminary to the bonhomie necessary to conduct trade.

Standing on the outside, witnessing these interactions, I can almost see the gears turning behind the rigid smiles as both parties size each other up, asking themselves, What does he or she have that I want? What does he or she want from me? How valuable would this relationship be to me? Yet, where I once suffered a nauseating and visible distaste for such pragmatic calculation, I now tend to think that this is not unlike any interaction between strangers, though most of us tend to perform such calculations on a purely subconscious level. And for that reason, when savvy players are on their game, it’s almost refreshingly pure and honest, if not artless.

As my friend Tyrone says, “Nobody does it better than Americans. The French, they have rules about not talking shop with their cousins or whatever. But that’s why the French suck at business.”

It’s not to say that all who embed themselves into the world of business are insincere and superficial. Perhaps only the majority of them are. My three whoremongering friends, for example, adapt their manner to whomever they are talking to. They’re superficial only part of the time, when it’s to some advantage. But obviously they can be genuine and introspective enough to make the kind of confessions that they’ve made to me, someone who has nothing to offer in business but who also happens to enjoy thought-provoking dialogue.

To get to the point: When, in a person’s perception and attitude, any conceivable human interaction is reduced to the bottom line of economics, certain romantic notions like “true love” and “selfless giving” are regarded as unprofitable. Or so it seems to me. Time is money, and the effort spent in wooing a potential sexual partner must be weighed against the benefits to be incurred. If a romantic interest cannot bring money, connections, aesthetics or consolation to a partnership, but only sex, then the most profitable and efficient course toward orgasm must –and can only be—through a quick and efficient means of monetary exchange. No fuss, no muss. Not only is prostitution a major time saver, it’s good for business.

Me, I make no judgements other than on the art inherent in ritual. I have no moral qualms with most anything that anybody does. Despite my own personal tendency to gravitate toward the romantic means of getting laid, I don’t begrudge anybody who hasn’t time for such tomfoolery. After all, if we were all the same, it would be a pretty boring world. And I don’t suppose that all businessmen (emphasis on men) are the same. Still, I wonder what statistical data a study would bring.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Technology - Clonosexual

My friend Anastazio has some wierd ideas. Over coffee the other day, he was rifling through the paper and came across an article about the world’s second racehorse to be cloned. He snapped the paper loudly with his fingers and tossed it onto the next table.

“Let me ask you something. Do you masturbate?”

“Of course not,” I assured him.

“Well, I do. A lot. Let me tell you.”

“No thanks. What’s that got to do with a cloned racehorse?”

“It has everything to do with it, my friend. I’ll ask you something else: Why does a dog lick his balls?”

“I don’t know. To get the shit taste out of his mouth?”

“Maybe that, too. But the other reason: Because he can.”

“What the fuck are you going on about?”

This began a long conversation in which I –under protest—became educated to a variety of Anastazio’s masturbation fantasies. However, the apropo scenario began as no fantasy at all before quickly transforming itself into an ominous dilemma. Anastazio had been trying to perform acts on himself that only a lithe gymnast could even comprehend when it suddenly dawned on him that if he could somehow duplicate himself, he would accomplish all that he desired … and more.

After that, his doppleganger became a frequent and familiar actor in his private sock hops. He wondered if perhaps he was discovering a latent homosexuality, so he switched to other fantasies which he once tried out of curiosity –all fizzling out with the same, uninspiring results. No, he was certain: It had to be himself.

“Do you think it’s just vanity?”


“That would make me homosexual in it’s most literal sense, wouldn’t it? ‘Sex with the same,’ right? You can't get anymore same than that.”

“I guess. But there’s a long tradition holding rights to the term. Probably you’d have to come up with a whole new word. Like, ‘Clonosexual.’”

It was with a blend of excitement and shame that he ended these ethereal trysts with the overwhelming recognition that he was an anteclonal deviant, and he wondered if he was not more of a pathetic lecher than a sexual prophet and vanguard.

“You know, it could really be very awkward. I mean, imagine if I made a clone of myself for other reasons, like I needed a kidney or something. Sure, it would enter my head. But imagine if, when face to face, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted, that it was just too weird. You know? Still, he would know what I was thinking. So we’d be standing there, in the hospital or whatever, looking at each other. He’d probably say, right there in front of the doctor and everything, ‘I know what you’re thinking.’" He gulped. "What am I supposed to do with that?”

“More than likely, your clone would be a baby at first. And it would have to grow up, like a normal human.”

“Great. So now we’re talking statutory rape. I guess incest, too. Maybe. Do clones even have rights?”

“Well, technically, there are no human clones. So, for the moment …”

Anastazio leaned back and lost himself in thought. After a few minutes, he wagged a finger at me. “You won’t tell anybody about this conversation.”

“Of course not,” I assured him.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Business - Those Thieving Workers

By my own estimates, the American workforce is gouging about $25 billion dollars a week out of its generous employers.

A recent survey concludes that fantasy football costs as much as $1.1 billion per week in lost productivity. The study, by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., culls this figure from Harris polls that estimate 36.8 million participants in the online sport, two-thirds of whom spend about 5 hours a week managing their teams.

“With people spending an average of 43 minutes per day on their teams, it is not out of the realm of possibility that they are spending at least 10 minutes of that time doing so at the office,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Even though this may be a gaping non sequitur, the methodology by which C, G & C draw their conclusions is intriguing and can be used to conclude that these same employers are actually victims of a much greater injustice.

The company compiled their statistics based on the average salary of these employees ($76,000) and breaking it down to $6 of wages every ten minutes. Multiplied by 5 work days, and again by the number of players, this figure of $1.1 billion dollars is only the tip of the iceberg.

If one should consider that the average employee takes a 5-minute bathroom break every hour, during the average work day that’s 40 minutes a day in the toilet. Four times the criminal cost of fantasy football.

Then there are personal phone calls and emails. Tack on the thrice daily phone conversations of the parents of newborns, the messages between new lovers and friends setting up a time to meet after work, bookings and attempts to correct the sly errata of modern life, and you could be looking at a whopping 60 minutes a day, costing employers $6.6 billion a week.

And we mustn’t forget gossip. If the numerous places I’ve worked at can be any kind of measure, a full 30 minutes a day can be allotted to the discussion of the drinking, work and sexual habits of other employees and their questionable hygiene. $3.3 billion.

Speaking of hygiene, if one figures that the average women spends 20 minutes a day grooming herself at work while a man spends perhaps 1 minute doing the same, that averages out to a little over the 10 minutes spent on fantasy football.

General distractions and lollygagging? Probably about 90 minutes a day, nearly $10 billion a week.

Given that these are all rough estimates, let’s tally the grand total to a conservative $25 billion a week that employers are losing to their lazy, uncooperative workforce. These selfsame workers are fucking around almost 6 hours a day and providing their generous oversears a mere 25% of the work that they are contracted to provide. That is simply egregious.

Given these startling figures, I would recommend that employers cut all bathroom and coffee breaks, eliminate any non-essential conversation in the office and monitor all communications going into and out of the office. If they were to invest only a small portion of that $25 billion that they are being robbed of, they could hire an internal police force to enforce this discipline, and then perhaps we could get about the business of making good business.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cinema - Lucky Number Slevin

You know, I’ve always prided myself on an ability to predict the outcome in every mystery/suspense/intrigue film that I’ve ever seen. The subtle clues that the creators are obligated to include in order to make the outcome credible, like the careful buildup –but failure to show—a pivotal character’s presumed murder, have always screamed out to me for attention, announcing exactly what we can expect in the dénouement. This is a necessary weakness in the art of film; because if certain details aren’t provided along the way, we tend to feel ripped off; the entire purpose of intrigue being to engage the intelligence and attention of the audience.

The best way to mask a scream is by diverting attention to other sounds. And, like Orpheus’ battle of the bands against The Sirens, the most elegant diversion is through artful artifice, not by volume –which is exactly what makes Lucky Number Slevin an elegant film. The motus operandi by which this distraction is accomplished is blatantly explained in the beginning, when Bruce Willis’s character, Goodkat, describes a ruse known as The Kansas City Shuffle. “It’s when everybody looks right, but you go left.”

All the details necessary to ruin the surprise are provided, but they are eloquently minimized through shear distraction. Nothing is what it seems, and though we already know that to be the nature of a film like this, we are nevertheless caught up in it’s web, willing to believe the lies of the spider. Why not? They are delivered with so much charm.

The complete reversal of the protagonist’s role of victim to victimizer is executed with mastery and an underlying sense of justice that makes an evil act –or series of acts—unquestionably good. The film surpasses The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense on their very own merits, not least of which are the pensive soundtrack and gratifying cinematography. Classic actors Morgan Freeman (as The Boss) and Sir Ben Kingsley (as The Rabbi) provide their usual stade elegance and depth while Bruce Willis commands an ominous presence, which is exactly what he does best.

The subplot love interest between Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu, while unavoidably gooshy, is nevertheless charming and, dare I say, envious, if for nothing else because of its union of two souls who happen to be true connoisseurs of James Bond.

Slevin represents the film debut of the young screewriter, Jason Smilovic. I’ve never seen any of his television work, nor do I suppose that I will, but I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Cinema - I Am a Sex Addict

The autobiographical docu-drama, I Am a Sex Addict, has a lot of merits, despite Caveh Zahedi’s painfully self-conscious presence in front of the camera. His manner has been compared to Woody Allen, but I would agree with that in only an abstract way. The self-effacing honesty is reminiscent of the Wood-man, but not nearly so irritating nor contrived. Yet, lacking Allen’s budget, it stands out as amateurish and requires the intent acceptance of a serious Indie aficionado to see it for what it is: A refreshing breath of truth, tinged with the kind of humour that makes you squirm in your seat, thinking, I’ve done something like that before. Or, I could have done something like that.

The tale follows Caveh’s spiral from prostitute fantasy to prostitute fetish, ending up on the ashes of two destroyed marriages and a number of failed relationships. After finally finding salvation in the basement of a Methodist church, sitting in the circle of a male-only sex addict’s meeting, Caveh embraces his epiphany and ends the film on a hopeful note: The tearful wedding ceremony of his third marriage. It’s from the dressing room of the church, just before the ceremony, that Caveh narrates a large portion of his story.

All in all, I’d say it’s a film worth seeing, though I found it easy to divide my viewing into two evenings. It doesn’t necessarily provide any insight into the world of whore-mongering, except maybe by making it look surprisingly normal, as if it were similar to a pentient for singing show tunes in the car. Caveh’s bug-eyed discomfort probably bespeaks his true reticence to expose the emotional misery that he intimates but never expresses convincingly. Indeed, the only time he doesn’t seem too uncomfortable is when receiving numerous simulated (?) blow jobs on camera, which makes one wonder if he’s merely substituted prostitutes with struggling actresses in the pursuit of his jollies.

On the surface it seems that this whole venture has been not much more than a therapy process for him. But combined with a mesmerizing score by Hilary Soldati and quirky animations by Bob Sabiston, the humour and originality make for an interesting voyeuristic experience.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Television - Olbermann Rocks

This is exactly the kind of honest, straightforward commentary that has been severely lacking in the media for decades. It's about time.

Politics - Why Vote?

The AP just ran a story, titled, “Why So Few People Vote In The U.S.? In it, they cite Curtis Gans, who is Director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University. The story quotes and paraphrases Mr. Gans:

"We've had the fragmenting and atomization of our society," Gans said, driven by the 500-channel TV culture, the interstate, strip malls, abandonment of farms and the rise of the Internet. "All of those things have undermined community."

He goes on to blame the politicians and their attack ads along with a lack of clearly defined choices. This is something I truly hate to see: Thousands of dollars invested in a study that justifies itself with lots of brouhaha when the explanation is really very simple: America is not a Democracy. And the voters –perhaps only subconsciously—are aware of that.

I say subconsciously because –despite the Orwellian method of hammering the “cradle of democracy” message into our heads from birth, Americans sense, but hate to admit openly, that we are not a Democracy but an Oligarchy.

Two parties is not a Democracy. If 220,000,000 eligible voters --more or less-- have only two candidates to choose from, it's a guarantee that the majority of voters are not going to be happy with either one. What's truly amazing is that even 40% of voters bother to turn out.

The electoral college is not a Democracy. Nobody I know actually understands this system. The only thing that I truly understand is that it somehow permits the plurality candidate to lose.

A partisan Supreme Court which decides “constitutionally” how an election is to be resolved is not a Democracy. If the decision made in 2000 was actually based on the constitution, how is it possible that our sacred document could be interpreted so radically along party lines? Given such obvious partisanship, the U.N. should have been called in to take the streets of D.C. under marshal law.

Electronic voting machines are a threat to Democracy.

Lobbyists are a threat to Democracy.

Lack of voter turnout has nothing to do with strip malls nor internet, nor 500 channels on satellite nor trousers that hang down to reveal teenage underdrawers. The majority of voters either sense or actually know that their vote really doesn’t count. They know that the Coke or Pepsi choice has little or no reflection on their own demographic interests. They know that even if the candidate they resigned themselves to vote for were elected, that more powerful interests than their own would subvert any promises made during the race.

Those who feel the most confident about their interests being seen to --i.e. the wealthy-- are those who have added influence to insure their needs are a priority. The rest, --i.e. the poor and middle class-- who supposedly have the majority and therefore the power under a Democracy, are forever being swept aside.

In Europe, where I live, there are at least a half a dozen parties to choose from in most countries. Often they must form coalitions and make compromises in order to push their own interests. It’s a very different Democracy than the bipolar model in which Americans alternate between 8 years of conservative agenda and legislation and 8 years of a slightly less conservative agenda and legislation.

Sure, in some states, there are a few Independent or Libertarian candidates. But, what good does it do to vote for them? Any true change would call for drastic measures at the highest levels of government. You’d think that if the government has the wisdom to break up monopolies in business, that they would apply the same sapience to themselves. But, we all know: There’s a fat chance of that happening any time soon. So, really, Why vote?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Personal Essay - Forty Orbits

I hardly ever make a big deal out of my birthday. No blowouts with friends, no parties. Perhaps this antipathy shares its source with my natural aversion to the sound of applause. Nor will I make much of it today, even though I have just completed 40 journeys around the sun. Most likely I’ll go see a comedian in a pub with a friend or two, just to break up my routine. But no celebrations. I’ve made no effort to remind anybody of the day’s significance because there’s really nothing significant about it, much less the arbitrary importance given to a mulitple of ten. I suppose that some time during the evening, after a few drinks, I may mention something; but then again, I may not. We’ll see.

It hasn’t always been that way. I used to see the importance of making one day special for myself, using it like others do as a form of blackmail that my intimates should be kind to me. But over time, I came to view such kindness as hollow compared to the spontaneous, non-obligatory kind. Thus was my transformation to cynicus natalis.

Nevertheless, I do have to acknowledge that there have been moments in my life when I’ve found the universe to be somewhat magical, and many of those moments have coincided with various birthdays. Very often, these episodes involved affectionate priestesses from the Cult of Woman, their appearance as sudden and iconic as a lady appearing out of a cake, but without the cake. In the interest of good taste and decency, it will suffice to say here simply that the events I refer to had a resemblance to the supernatural and –on at least one occasion—the superhuman. It could be that the perceiver –namely I—was more apt to project mystique into the events, but their effect was no less appreciated for that. I suppose that what I’m trying to say is: Nothing beats a birthday gift from The Gods. And I sure hope I haven’t jinxed myself this evening by mentioning this here.

Perhaps it’s through some reflection of society, but –despite any distaste I may have for premeditated fanfare—a part of me feels that today should be marked by some novel act. Thus, I have started a blog, and a passing curiosity has of this moment been amplified into actual participation. The main reason why can be summarized by a quote from the character Sir Randolph Nettleby, played by James Mason in The Shooting Party. As he writes away in his journal, his grandson asks him what he’s writing. “Oh, just my thoughts,” he mutters. When the boy asks him why he writes them down, Nettleby answers, “To save myself the trouble of sharing them with others.” I paraphrase. It’s been 20 years since I saw the film.

That’s another strange thing. The idea that it could have been 20 years since I experienced some thing significant enough to remember in a mature and pertinent conversation, something other than a crisis involving a certain sibling or toy. It doesn’t seem long ago at all that 20 years ago was before I was born, part of a time when people looked and behaved like the actors on Dragnet, people so alien that they were virtually of a separate species than me. But now, that same yardstick reaches back only to a time when I was still an adult, however rudimentary. The equivalent measure touches an era when I ineptly fumbled with the fairer sex and was inherently incapable of managing any responsibility, a stage of life in which I was not much different than I am now.

Somehow, I am not what I expected to be at this age, though in all my imaginings, I never really dedicated any thought toward the future. Sure, there have been dreams, expectations, but nothing that really involved any concrete plans. Still, instinctively, I envisioned myself a little wiser and not so wracked by insecurity and doubt. In many ways, it’s good that I haven’t stepped into the pipe-puffing tweed world that I subconsciously anticipated. I like that I don’t feel that I have all the answers, that my outlook is fresh and only slightly wizened. I like that I’m shamelessly inquisitive and can talk comfortably with people of all ages, especially the youth, who find me accessible and, on occasion, even sexually attractive. Yet, I look around me at what other people do and wonder if perhaps I’m going about things the wrong way.

Inevitably and reluctantly, my thoughts drift toward the future. If the next ten years pass as rapidly –or most likely, more rapidly—than the past ten, I will soon be puttering about in an aggrieved state imposed upon me by a withering mortality and sagging genitals. All of my friends –who tread a traditional, more conservative path—will have made their final mortgage payments while I, at 50, will still be making sojourns to the shoe store with my mother. Given my current trajectory, in ten years I see myself sitting on a park bench trying to entice college girls to partake in excellent marijuana and a cheap but cheerful bottle of merlot while at the same time scolding their ignorance of Iggy Pop or the Violent Femmes. In some respects, it sounds pretty good.

However, if I should choose to avoid this demise, drastic action is called for. What form this action would take, I don’t know. Perhaps I might finally invest my energies in some sort of business enterprise, one which doesn’t require any form of fiscal or moral responsibility. I could become a lobbyist or a drug-dealer, for example. Perhaps an extortionist or some sort of charlatan, such as an executive in the advertising or entertainment industry. Before making any decision, it seems that more study and market research are in order.

Whether these concerns are invoked by the official advent of middle-age or by a recent transition to fatherhood, I cannot say. Without a doubt, the greatest thing in my life at the moment is my son. At two and a half years old he’s remarkably easy and extraordinarily reasonable. And though his original nature has little to do with me, I can’t help but feel that, at least in one respect, I’m doing something well. But, as most every parent feels, I’m sure, it’s not enough to be merely a patient friend and adviser. It’s for him, and only for him, that I presently worry about material stability.

Thus are the thoughts that drift through my head today. While true that some people feel the need to be depressed on their fortieth birthday, I can’t help but be indifferent. In East Asia, a baby is one year old at birth, zero being an impossible age. Depending on your cultural perspective, I’m actually forty-one. If I were going to be depressed, it should have been a year ago. Also in East Asia, old age is seen as a venerable state of wisdom. Far from entertaining maudlin reflections, they actually rejoice at the elevation in status, much like Americans do at 18, when they’re old enough to vote and die overseas in the interests of the military-industrial complex.

A very wise friend once convinced me that the only thing you can truly control is your attitude. But fortunately I don’t really need to draw on that advice today. Because, in all honesty, when I ask myself, What does it mean to be forty? The answer is easy. Nothing at all.