Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I like "Slate" because they link directly to TMZ's headline stories

This comes from their "Slatest" section. Because this section houses the latest news, and the name of their publication starts with the letter S.... so, naturally:

Virtually every part of your vehicle that affects driver safety, from the steering column to the windshield, was tested by having a human corpse slammed against it, reports Wired. Computer modeling is used to design new safety features, company officials say, but when push comes to shove there's still no substitute for testing new equipment using a genuine human cadaver. "It's still very important," said a Ford safety specialist. "Even though we have very good math modeling of dummies, human modeling hasn't reached that state yet." The bodies are swaddled in stockings to protect their dignity, then used in exactly the same way as a conventional crash-test dummy; after a simulated crash, the cadavers are rushed away for X-rays and autopsies to check for organ damage.

I'm just happy to hear that the dignity of the deceased was accounted for.

I think the "research" we conduct on dead bodies is rather amusing. It's like when I hear about how the National Football League is working really hard to prevent concussions.... uhhh

Muslim? Is that like a Methodist?

They believe in what? Not Jesus? You're kidding. Who told you this? Well, do they have a book where they wrote all of this down? It's probably, you know, one of dem' chapter books... is there a movie, like The Passion? What about their clothing? Huh? You can't just wear pants and sweatshirts then? Oh, you can? Well sure, I just think they're really comfortable...

I've found myself unhappily aware of a few thousand newsy articles (I won't link them, so you really can't trust me in any way on this one) about why there is so much Islamophobia in Uh-mare-eek-a.

Now, as usual, I don't "know things" about Islam, but let me say this before you return to Craigslist to shop for a new rug, or whatever: the people who are afraid of Islam probably (fuck it, certainly) don't know many American Muslims because, if they did, they'd realize American Muslims... well, what are they? Now — to my chagrin — I happen to know a bunch of Muslims (most relatively recent transplants from Northeast Africa) and they are all terrorists, just as I expected, and they all ride those damn camels around the neighborhood and it creates quite a stir especially when I'm helping the old ladies into their Lincoln sedans after church on Sunday and the tired joke goes on. But, actually, they are hilariously similar to my not-wealthy friends and associates of Christian and/or Jewish descent (not a shock, is it), which is to say: they have vague and altogether silly ideas about what their religion/social club is all about but what is really important is their job-kids-porn-when dinner will be ready-football-what their cell phone can and can't do-and why the hell is this month's electric bill twice! as much as last month?!-etcetera. I have not associated with or even observed Muslims in their motherland, so I can't make any sweeping generalities about them, but the ones that are in the USA are as American as Chlada Fakya Pie and Chevrolet. Our culture (whatever it is) can and will devour and reshape whatever and whomever it ensnares. We're too distracted to read holy books.

The consequence of being born into a social club is: we can not think about it from the purview of an outsider (it's like The Truman Show!!). And we don't really give a shit about it unless we feel our vague and silly ideas — of which we don't know or think about — are under attack. We don't like that. This is what generates get em!! propaganda, I suppose. It's like our Mommas or our taste in beach footwear: you don't want anyone to raise any doubt or questions, but you're not exactly writing a book on the subject either. Now, I'm not saying this is "T"rue of any or all Muslims, I just made it up based on years of anecdotal evidence (a favorite oxymoron of mine).

I've also heard friends and internet personalities call for a (paraphrasing, in quotes) "calm, clear, and thoughtful discussion about the similarities and differences between the major religions." Now, what doesn't shock me is that, I'm pretty sure, that calm, clear and thoughtful discussion is supposed to be happening on television. (Yes, I know, the tee vee doesn't like to do calm or thoughtful, you might be saying out loud to nobody in particular.) God knows we couldn't have that chat on our own, at home or at the community center with, you know, the Muslim friends we don't have during the free time that we also don't seem to have.

Here's what we (who am I including here?) do about Muslims in America: ignore them. Let them do their thing. Now, when I say ignore I certainly don't mean shun, just keep your nose out of their business. They'll probably appreciate the gesture and decide not to ram an explosive laden John Deere into your house when the time for house blowing-up inevitably arrives.

Remember folks, men created these religions. And Man is both strident and fickle, both muderering and loving — we will all just have to deal with that, you know, as we go.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Great folks, lousy names

I, like so many, hold Martin Luther King Jr. in high esteem. Yet, the name gets me. It is a crappy name. Now, the cadence is rather pleasant — I like the two-two-one syllable sequence (ignoring the Jr.). But the components of the name leave me cold:

Martin Luther: demagogue/dickbag
Kings: a touch pompous, a rather demanding ilk. Who needs em'?
Juniors: It does not seem to reflect well on the father — an awkward whiff of patriarchy.

I don't know if MLK preferred to have "Dr." attached to the front of his name (my guess is he didn't, probably went with Rev.). If he did, this makes the name even worse. If you are not a medical doctor, you're not a doctor. Yes, sure, a highly regarded (no doubt) institution has awarded you a doctorate, but you ain't no Doc. It's both confusing and lame; should we all attach our highest educational achievement to our name?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The FDA finally succumbs!

I saw this on GG's blog and quickly concluded that I too would enjoy publicizing the brilliant panache of America's Finest News Source. If you're not quick enough to catch it the first time through (I wasn't), be sure to check out the crawl on your 2nd twirl.

TIME Announces New Version Of Magazine Aimed At Adults


The good folks at The Onion thanked me for the nod. The publicist said being referenced at What the Tee Vee Taught was the "big break" they desperately needed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's all taken care of: The Genius

I do kinda like my automated life, perhaps I'm a little embarrassed to confess.

I have this funny and convoluted idea, which I find myself consulting from time to time, about what a miserable indignity it must be for everyone birthed outside the nicely upholstered cushions of wealthy western society in say — oh, I don't know — nineteen eighty-three (I'm reminded of the saying about how "back in the day" even the King of wherever had to shit in a bucket). You see, this life — my life — is taken care of.

Mind you, by the measure of those most propinquitous to me, I am not a wealthy fellow. Yet, I have never found myself without the idiomatic excretory pot. My time is completely almost completely allocated to my own pursuits: I can't think of anything I do that feels obligatory. It has been some time since I've found myself being sneaky — I have no one to hide things from, not even the stuff that we're often expected to hide.

Other than the lavishly immoderate relationship I have with the folks who send mouthwatering fruits and vegetables directly to my door every Wednesday, I live, relatively, without signs of gaudiness – so I don't even find myself feeling terribly guilty about my unquestionably good fortune: the tee vee knowingly records my favorite shows; the inscrutable languages of my world come pre-translated; my ravishing lady friend lovingly prepares the majority of my meals (atta babe), my house has just the right number of windows... it's all quite serene.

In spite of all of this, in spite of truly enjoying not having to do many things for myself, I fucking hate the so-called Genius feature on itunes.

1) The name is a bit self-congratulatory for my tastes.
2) The playlists are vapid and expected — as it is designed to be.
3) It absolutely crushes one of the last (last? what am I talking about?) vestiges of individual creativity.

I want to talk about a combination of number two and three. The "Genius" doesn't have to think, it's an algorithm that works off of the collective. Ostensibly, it produces the most uninspired, trite, cornball musical associations imaginable. I don't mean to be hyperbolic or figurative. This Genius encourages you, the listener, to be average, normal, predictable. Essentially, it makes us into a bunch of shitbirds. And I'm not suggesting that I don't like what it produces... I just don't like how it happens.

Make your own playlists. In this case, a billion minds are not better than one. You determine how to mix songs and expression. You create. I'm drawing the line somewhere. A company that screams "we're good and organic!" can send food to my door, that's fine. But I'm not letting anyone suggest to me what could follow Pass the Hatchet, I think I'm Goodkind from Yo la Tengo's I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat your Ass — I'll do that myself.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This will, almost certainly, not be on the test

I picked up Nicholas Lemann's The Big Test because public school teachers are, I think, contractually obligated into listening to fellow teachers complain about and "analyze" the futility of standardized tests. Since circumnavigating these discussions is clearly impossible, I figured I'd beef up on how America went from this:
In football he electrified the crowd at the 1926 Harvard-Yale game by throwing what one of his classmates later called the "greatest of all forward passes, and also the most artistocratic." Sitting in the stands that day was Richard Gummere, headmaster of the Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. He was so impressed by Chauncey's performance on the field that he offered him a job as a teacher and coach — that was how things worked then.
To this:
This doesn't need to be offset as a quote because I, rather hilariously, may not (the legal disclaimer at the bottom of the email is quite clear) reproduce the content of the message without permission (I don't have permission). However, I suppose I can tell you (without having to digest the fear of legal punishment) that these emails implore me to receive very important training that, once completed, will grant me a seat on a distinguished panel. This panel is tasked with conducting rigorous and formulaic teaching position interviews. Sounds fun.
I'm really reading the shit out of this book (annotating and everything) with designs on doing a bit of writing regarding testing and... well, I don't really know yet — as it should be, doesn't matter. Anyway, the Chauncey who could throw a football so aristocratically (what the fuck would that look like?) is Henry Chauncey, the man largely responsible for the SAT, among other standardized tests. An interesting character, no doubt. Shortly before his death, he gave an interview to the folks at PBS; when asked how standardized tests were helpful, he posited:
Helping people to understand themselves. To think sensibly about what they might want to do. And then to assess how well they've done it. There are a lot of different things that testing gets used for... It seemed to me that we knew more about the horses in the country than we knew about the people of the country. And that it would be useful to know more about all the different people.
A few questions later, he is asked about whether he foresaw the delirium that the test would engender amongst concerned parents and desperate-to-achieve high school students (which is a hilarious question, imagine if he said, "yep, that was always part of the equation"):
I didn't foresee this. And in fact, I and others in the field of testing have tried very hard not to have people put as much emphasis as they do.
Who hasn't created and championed a remedy for societal ills that ultimately (and perhaps inevitably) slips — or projectile launches/explodes — out of the creator's control and doesn't do, you know, what it's supposed to. I know I have.

I'll stop there: I have some reading to do. This is a taster, I suppose, of what I'll try to write more about in the coming days.

Friday, August 13, 2010

School is almost back in session (I haven't even choreographed the blocking yet)

Big day today... big. While waiting for those big things to come, I've been preparing for my first-day-of-school performance. The time has come to say, is dehumanization such a bad word? That's right reader, I will be bringing to life Arthur Jensen's sermon to Howard Beale from Network (enjoy 8 minutes of mighty film-making):

My vision for the performance is not entirely settled. For instance, how do I play the scene as a one-man show? Do I dare braid Jensen's (Ned Beatty) speech with Beale's (Peter Finch) tee vee studio performance? I remain undecided. Suggestions will be welcomed.

One thing I do know, it'll be handy to get the kids acquainted with what will prove to be a familiar classroom refrain: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature Mr./Ms. (insert student surname), and I won't have it!

No matter which way I go, the kids are gonna love it, their parents are gonna love it, and I'll probably have somebody film my performance and post it on the school... wait, district website so everyone can love it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Drunk, late, gum commerical

I'm watching Stewart's show, and he's interviewing Jason Bateman, and it's just mind numbing. Finally, my diligence pays a dividend: a commerical break.

I must say, I really truly like the tee vee commercial as a medium. People — you know who I'm talking about, the undesirables — often pooh-pooh add-vert-is-mints. Not me. I like em'. They can't help but pull and put the blinds on our impulses and wants.

Ads are so fucking (least favorite thing about alcohol: all the casual swearing) insane and absurd — it's fun. Dentyne, the gum people, have paid to mention a few words and show us a few images:

First, before we get to the good stuff, let's check what was in fine print:
*New Dentyne Pure (TM) neutralizes bad breath odors caused by bacteria and food.
What is that asterisk about? Why is this in fine print? Legal reasons? It must be. The next, and last, piece of fine print says that Cadbury Adams owns Dentyne — good to know.

Okay, this ad has five shots in a tidy 15 seconds:

1. guy with tall hair making out with girl, city skyline watching.
2. tall-haired guy offers gum to co- office worker at place of work.
3. tall-haired guy offers gum to... (friend?) at gym.
4. tall-haired guy offers gum to sleeping companion in what I can only assume is a carpool.
5. Human head chalk outline ingests the gum and a bunch of lines swirl on the screen, one of them fairly clearly says "pure".

Office, Gym, Carpool = drab and predictable... what did you do today, successful young professional? 

If you look closely you may notice the three guys who have gum thrust upon them all respond with looks that vary on annoyance, and rightfully so. The guy offering them the gum is an ass. "If you're going to accuse me of sporting malodorous breath, please do so privately, or not at all" they seem to say.

And the things the voice over says, fantastically strange:
The average person will spend 20,000 minutes kissing.
Behavior research confounds me. Everything about this statement is inane (note: I know nothing about behavior research). Yes, this harp was recently plucked, but I liked it then, so I'm back: Why twenty thousand minutes? Why not convert it to terms we use: slightly less than 14 days. It's certainly more manageable. 20,000 minutes is mush, it means nothing. 14 days is so approachable that it's almost trite. Perhaps they assumed we'd all be depressed if we found out one dose of my cat's flea medicine does it's thing for twice the amount of time an average humanoid will kiss something (what we're kissing is unclear: just other people? are they talking only lip to lip? Please clarify, Dentyne). Whatever, next line:
Now there's a gum for the other forty million minutes.
Well, shit, if I've got 40,000,000 minutes to kill, can I get a cigarette? Am I supposed to feel frightened? disconcerted? Are they actually suggesting I spend all that time, seventy-six years, chewing a gooey, viscous, bizarrely flavored stick of synthetic rubber? What in God's fuck are they talking about?
Introducing new Dentyne Pure
Uh, alright, a pleasure...
It purifies your breath deliciously, instead of just covering it up.
I'm flabbergasted.
 Dentyne Pure. The new way to practice safe breath  
This ad is hilarious. Ad People are paid to come up with this stuff, so I can only assume they're good at it. Ostensibly, this ad is a good ad: it's going to move some gum — the Dentyne people would not settle for garbage.

That's funny, right?

Friday, August 6, 2010

What does marriage give who?

Like most things, I don't know much about marriage (what I do know I learned from The Princess Bride: kill your wife to start a war/land grab. That was the movie's message, right?). Marriage, like many ubiquitous social customs, if you stare at it long enough it takes on a bizarre shape. This morning, when I started thinking "why marriage," here's all I had: competition for mates can — under certain circumstances — get quite fierce, perhaps chaotic. Chaos is bad for the business of organized civilization, so we'll get a system in place to keep mating regulated and respectable. That is, more or less, my thoughts on why marriage came about — what am I missing?

So, the Prop 8 was overturned. Rejoice? Sure, why not? The law was a textbook example of the savagery majorities — a whopping 52% — are capable of, and it's a pleasure to watch our democracy reject that type of discrimination. So why is this such an issue? In trying to make some headway, let's examine what marriage can mean (just a few examples, not meant to be exhaustive):

1. Kids, kids, kids and God the Father. You want some kids? You're going to need a wife or husband. Not sperm or an egg, mind you, a wife or husband. I checked in with the Christian Family Research Council to read their arguments against gay marriage. They have, rather conveniently, "ten arguments from social science against gay marriage." Seven of the ten are about why man/woman is the only suitable parenting operation. The other three arguments focus on: explaining why gay marriages would "undercut the norm of sexual fidelity within marriage"; why marriages "thrive when spouses specialize in gender-typical roles"; and "how women and marriage domesticate men".

So, seven arguments saying gay couples aren't as good at parenting (clearly a dubious claim, I'd imagine you read at least a little something about the recent beating this line of thinking took — peer-reviewed and everything!), and then three arguments essentially saying that gays are (A) more likely to understand the need for and give approval towards extramarital action, (B) Gays won't be as happily married (which is an interesting argument: you can't perform typical gender roles, you won't be as happy, don't even try), and (C) marrying a woman makes men into hard working, god-loving, drink-avoiding, one vagina only citizens, and their testosterone drops — essentially, the argument is (as we'll revisit in a moment) that married men are stripped of their feral nature and don't run around abusing women.

This group focuses on the kids and what they see as necessary gender roles. Marriage, their logic goes, is about creating and raising little kids. Fair enough.

Interestingly, the early Christian church sages: not big marriage fans. Saint Jerome thought celibacy was where it's at. Always practical Augustine thought that "go forth and multiply", Genesis' great call to, uh, action, was no longer necessary. There are plenty of us (maybe about 1/30th of today's numbers), Augustine contended, it's time to get celibate and get ready for the end times. My point, many of the most influential early Christians leaders were sexual ascetics who thought marriage was the best option for those who couldn't keep it in their pants, or tunics, or whatever they wore. Since some Christians embrace an "older is better" guide to dogma, I find this to be rather amusing. But, again, I'm going off on a tangent.

2. Romantic Love: we all have a right to love and its expressions. When you're in love, you marry as consenting adults, acting as equals forming a bond. Sure, you might have some kiddies, but it's about loving someone. This is where Judge Vaughn Walker's view seems to reside. His ruling recites the changes the institution of marriage has gone through: no more anti-miscegenation laws, no more coverture/wife as property of husband — "shit be a' changin' wit da times", he seems to say. He also notes that civil unions vs. marriage is little more than a new take on separate but (almost) equal, and — as we learned in school — separate is inherently unequal. His ruling concludes by pointing to the 14th's Equal Protection Clause, suggesting there is no rational basis for treating gays differently in regards to marriage. Fair enough.

3. Marriage is about protecting female sexuality. This shares some similarities with our first example: we'll look for differences. A guy like Sam Schulman argues that gay marriage advocates are only looking to join in on the this type of marriage — romantic marriage. From his perspective, that isn't what marriage is about. Marriage is about what he calls a kinship system: A means to, most importantly, protect female sexuality from rape and incest — it's all about who has access to a woman's reproduction organs and when. As a result, certain types of sex become okay, other types not okay. He uses "legitimate" and "illegitmate" children as an example. Ultimately, by Schulman's estimation, marriage allows a woman to use her body as leverage against the men who would like to get after it.

Gays, he claims, don't have these issues. He sums up his argument:
Since gay relationships exist perfectly well outside the kinship system, to assume the burdens of marriage--the legal formalities, the duty of fidelity (which is no easier for gays than it is for straights), the slavishly imitative wedding ritual--will come to seem a nuisance.
 Our species needs marriage to protect our women, gays don't need it at all, and it'll end up being a chore for them. Ah-ah-ah, Wait. Just. One. Minute. Why do gays want marriage rights? (I'm not quite there yet, let's think about it).

Now, if you recall my opening remarks, Schulman and I have very similar ideas about the initial utility of marriage: a means to organize sexual relationships. And he acknowledges that our new concept of marriage has drifted away from that and now focues on love and romance. But, again, he's worried:
Marriage is not about couples or lovers – it’s about the physical and moral integrity of women. When a woman’s sexuality is involved, human communities must deal with a malign force that an individual woman and her family cannot control or protect.
Modern marriage is only the least worst version of marriage that has emerged from all this – but it is still necessary for women. What protects women, ultimately, is that marriage laws and customs confer upon her independence something extra – dignity, protection, sacredness – that others must respect. And if this quality can be bestowed upon anyone, even those not in intersexual relationships – it reduces, even dissolves its force.
I get that couples and lovers don't need marriage to do their thing, but what a strange false dichotomy he has constructed — I struggle to understand how people construct their ideas of security. Marriage keeps women safe(r) and allowing gays to marry will make them less protected. Confer upon her independence something extra? Dignity? Sacredness? "Marriage protects women" follows the same logic of "guns protect people". Tie a woman's value to her womb and that's where she'll stay. Don't respect her because she's a human, respect her beacuse her uterus and ovaries are sacred and dignified? We are not required to think in these terms. It is possible to simply reject violence entirely. It is possible to loosen the chains of "that's the way it is". I don't disagree that at some point in history Schulman's argument may have carried some weight... but today? I can't see it.

Maybe Sam is correct about us (a broken clock is still right twice a day), maybe we're all just a half step away from being the Mayor of Sodom, but he seems to be missing the boat on what gays want from marriage:

Authentic legitimacy within the social body. "Stop treating me like a pariah, like an unperson" — that's the rally cry I hear. Unfortunatley, gays can't make a reasoned argument that will convince every bigoted asshole to smash their "Kill a Queer for Christ" mentality. What they can do is kick down doors. Stonewall is not so different from Selma. Nobody wants to compromise themselves because they make foolish, morally self-certain neanderthals uncomfortable.

If you want to talk about gay marriage (or women in society) start at the bottom. Why marry? What is marriage for? What can it do for women? For men? If gays are a threat, how? etc. Don't let presuppositions slide away unheard and unseen. Have long conversations that build on mutual understanding. Let's start figuring some shit out and stop pretending like we know where everyone's arguments are coming from.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

If my thoughts have flawless delivery I can lead the army that will follow.

Did the Verizon ad team borrow that line from Goebbels, or perhaps a less cliché propagandist? No matter. I sure do like me a tee vee ad that blatantly promotes the utility of some well-laid prop-oh-gander.

Air has no prejudice. It does not carry the opinons of a man faster than that of a woman.
Right, Air doesn't care if you're a man or woman. However, we are curious, are you, man or woman, a member of our premium plan? 
Air is unaware if I'm black or white and wouldn't care if it knew.
Uh, what? If it knew? Air, like Stephen Colbert, is oblivious and indifferent to color — which is exactly how we should move "forward" in post-racial America. Did you notice the clever move: the white girl said black and the black girl said white. That, friends, is unity.
So it stands to reason that my ideas will be powerful if they are wise, infectious...
Infectious. Indeed. These ads are great, I really cherish all the sentence finishing. What a show of... Girl Power? Did anyone say Girl Power? I was thinking Girl Power.

Putting my tedious derision aside, this advertisement — produced for a telecom giant — is trying to look like it's saying some things about women or maybe gender roles or advocacy via personal multimedia; I imagine I might... hang on,

if you'll excuse me, I'm receiving a call on my Verizon telephone...

do you mind if I put you on hold?

No, no, it won't take long.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fun watch: Gambling

In a rather lifeless bar, I bet a friend:

If you ask ten people what type of bird scares them more than any other, at least two of them will say "bats".

In addition, the bet has a second part:

At least two people, upon being informed that "bats are not birds," would argue with him.

He took the bet, a relatively nominal sum, and two charming women proceeded to win for me (both eventually complained their answer was invalid because of a "technicality," which is true).

Lesson: gambling (winning) is fun...