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.