Reflections from Boston: April 20, 2013

December 31st, 2015 / #observations

I originally wrote this after they caught Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I had just consumed some sushi, if that does anything for you. It was fried, because I do not eat raw fish.
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This has really been a long week.

It occurred to me that this was the first high profile national news week I’ve seen since I graduated with my journalism master’s last year. It started on Monday, when Ren remarked, “something, something, Boston Marathon.”

I know, I’m a jerk – but I honestly wasn’t listening. Whenever anyone mentions anything related to Boston, I treat their comment like the plant brother insists exists that allows recently blown loogies to just drip off. That is, I ignore it. An adolescence of hating every Bostonian sports fan who ever lived sort of programmed me to do it.

It was only until I was on my way back from the copy room when it registered: “a what at the Boston Marathon?”

We both saw live views from the scene as they dripped in. Yeah, we clicked NSFW links on Reddit. I think the University IT guys can give us a break.

And that was Monday.

It all ended tonight; at least the free-for-all ended. They caught the bad guy, killed the bad guy, and sold a bunch of cars while they were at it.

This was one of the biggest post middle school news stories I can recall. I went to get my hair cut this afternoon just as someone on the internet accidentally heard “perp’s in custody” on an open scanner line. I got my hair cut by a woman who knew every detail of the manhunt up until her 2:30 shift started, and begged me for what she’d been missing out on as if she were a cliché housewife asking another what she had missed last week on Peyton Place.

When I checked my phone at the register, they hadn’t caught him again. Anonymous had misheard and caught the tail end of a wholly different sentence. The hunt continued.

It continued on my drive home, it continued as I walked my dog, and it continued as I sped back from Friday night sushi.

God Save the Queen’s Face

June 5th, 2012 / #observations, #politics

It occurred to me recently that America’s a funny place. I mean, most places are funny places in the sense that they’re full of funny people who do funny things for funny reasons, but America is funny in an Itchy and Scratchy type of way instead of a Monty Python type of way.

Take the recent hoopla over the Queen Mum’s diamond jubilee: an entire nation – with the notable and slightly bitter exception of Prince Charles, perhaps – looking on to collectively celebrate sixty years under one monarch.

I don’t claim to know anything about British politics beyond Ed Milliband’s dweebish caricature in the press and that some dude exists named Nick Clegg. And this critique certainly isn’t meant to offend Her Majesty. But to an American, the entire idea of a Diamond Jubilee is a pretty silly concept.

Setting aside for the moment the adorable name – a jubilee! – this entire affair smacks of a family gathering for Grandma’s birthday, only on a much larger scale. Some siblings adore her, some abhor her, and all are just sort of… waiting. “Congratulations for living another year! You’ve made it now! You’re sure you’ve got your will signed?”

Which brings me to America and how it’s funny in a much less charming way.

While Britain swirled with the excitement of a jubilee this week, we Yanks latched on to a story (or series of stories, rather) about zombies. Of course, I (and apparently most other news outlets) adopted the colloquial “zombie” term because it’s easy, vivid, and fun. What we were actually tracking was a homicide where the killer was a weird guy on weird drugs.

After considering the memery of cannibalism Stateside and the Buckingham blowout, I tried to think – really, think – of someone the entire country could rally around in the way that Britain’s rallied around the Queen this week.

It almost certainly couldn’t be a politician. I say this partly because of the way the media frames politics as a bitter, partisan, zero-sum game, but also partly because of the growing multitude of communication channels that exist among the electorate. People are encouraged to project their views in ways that were never available before, and we all know what opinions are like.

So, as sad as it is, we’d probably have to rely on some celebrity if we want to stand united behind someone. But it’s got to be the right celebrity.

Could you imagine the fallout from Tim Tebow Day? As much as I’d love to celebrate that holiday by circumcising poor Asian children and shouting 58 Hail Urbans, a vast majority of the country wouldn’t see things my way.

Perhaps you’d prefer Kim Kardashian’s Rhinestone Jubilee?

Thoughts from an airplane

June 12th, 2011 / #awesomeness, #observations, #random

June 8, 2011 – Somewhere over Georgia

I like flying. I don’t understand people who don’t. Of course, I don’t do it often.

I also like to eat ice cream. As with flying, I don’t eat ice cream often.

People who fly often, whether for business or pleasure, validate their detest for flight by pointing out how much they do it. But repeated actions alone aren’t enough to cause one not to like something. If I ate ice cream every day of my life, for example, I bet I’d like it. Sure I’d be fat(ter) and my lactose intolerance would make every trip to the bathroom a fecal disaster, but I never said I liked the events associated with ice cream. I said I liked eating ice cream.

I’m also not saying I like the inconveniences of air travel; I just like flying. Even though the eight year old Egyptian girl sitting behind me is kicking the back of my seat like she’s on her way to try out for the national soccer (sorry, football) team, I think it’s pretty awesome that I’m in a steel cylinder 36,000 feet above a ground I can’t even see and the thing I’m most concerned about is the juvenile ruckus happening in seat 11-D.

Some people are afraid of flying. I suppose I can get on board with that train of thought. But, like most, I’ve also fallen into complacency in this respect. We’ve come a long way in the short amount of time humans have tamed the skies. A logical man would see the great risk associated with traversing the heavens on one individual flight (and putting his life in the hands of some muffled, quick-talking voice he’s never heard before), yet we continue to blindly board. People are irrational.

For example, they will cower in the shadow of a rollercoaster – a one-way ride that’s bolted to the ground – yet they happily climb aboard a vehicle that will take them thousands of feet higher than the dreaded coaster at a speed of more than ten times what you’ll see at Disney World. Like I said: People are irrational. (But we all knew that, so maybe we aren’t as irrational as I think.)

Which brings me to my own irrational behavior. I’ve never used the lavatory on an airplane before. At first, this was because I simply didn’t have to. Now, though, it’s been such a great conversation piece when discussing travel with others that I don’t want to ruin it.

My dedication to preserving this ace in the hole is noteworthy in it’s own right: I flew back to the U.S. from a vacation in Rio de Janeiro a few months ago. I held in a turd from the skies above Panama to the first bathroom in Houston.

Smuggled the little guy in.

Regarding Winning

March 4th, 2011 / #currentevents, #observations, #random

One of the reasons I blog is so that on the offchance a girl chooses to reproduce with me, my child will have an account of how I saw things as a semi adult. In an age when (I assume) there will be flying cars, meals in pill form, and humanoid robots that keep your house clean, I want my kid to have an idea of how we, as a society, got to that point.

So, you can stop reading now if you’re not interested. But I want to explain a phenomenon that’s happening as we speak so my child might understand what kind of wacky world I live in. Kiddo, this is for you.

There is a popular movie and television star named Charlie Sheen that recently went off the deep end (or became supremely enlightened, depending on who you ask). He is in the midst of a one man media blitz that has caused nearly every American to pause and consider the ramifications of stopping life and realizing the dream of doing drugs all day and having sex with solid 8s in a Beverly Hills mansion.

Much of the public disapproves of Charlie’s antics because he’s got a couple of kids (which, by the way, he claims are his number one priority). I don’t necessarily disapprove because I think Charlie has an end game in mind. He’s controversial, meaning someone will give him a reality TV show. (Reality TV, in case it’s gone by the time you read this, was a dark period in our nation’s history eclipsed only by the disco craze of your grandfaher’s youth. Nothing good came of it.)

So, my child, the Charlie Sheen situation is more than a lesson in celebrity craziness. It’s a prime example of how entertainment capitalism works in the year 2011: if you’re famous enough, crazy enough, and controversial enough, you will inevitably profit in the form of book deals, reality TV, and Internet fame. If I make millions of dollars by the time you pop out of your birthcave, I fully intend on pursuing the Charlie Sheen model. If that makes me a bad father, well, tell it to my harem of solid 8s.

Driving me mad

February 28th, 2011 / #cars, #observations

While driving to Clearwater, FL from Gainesville, FL on February 27, 2010, I got to thinking about the makeup of the people on the road. I got to thinking, and came up with this list of stereotypical Interstate drivers. I’m sure there are more, and if I think of them in the future, I’ll add them here.

The Scout. If you’re in a hurry, the Scout is of utmost importance. Generally, when people who are comfortable with speeding are on the Interstate, they tend to form “packs” of multiple marauders that rove the asphalt countryside, bypassing weaker commuters and leaving them in a cloud of dust. To do this, each pack tacitly designates a temporary leader to act as a wedge and forge the path between tractor-trailers, wide loads, and senior citizens who are unaware that their Buick can, in fact, hit 70 miles per hour. Of course, with great responsibility comes great risk: it is the Scout’s responsibility not only to clear the way for the pack, but also to keep a keen eye out for the fuzz. Since the Scout is usually the fastest traveler of the bunch, he runs the risk of being cited for his sacrifice. Sometimes, the system isn’t fair. (Note: On long-term voyages, the burden of being a Scout should be shared between pack members. Every 25-35 miles sounds about right.)

The Pace Car. You may be in a rickety old Ford Escort on a two lane turnpike between Uncasville and Norwichtown, but this guy’s in the pace car on the 497th lap of the Daytona 500. He knows that the second he pulls away from the long line of angry automobiles, the race to a green-white-checkered finish will begin with a roar. Until then, though, you’re stuck behind this guy and the truck he’s trying to pass in the right lane. Unfortunately for all involved, you’ll be waiting a while – both the Pace Car and the truck it’s trying to pass are cruising along at what seems like 12 miles per hour.

The Self Righteous Trucker. Some states have laws that forbid semi trucks from entering the left lane, but these laws assume you’re driving down a highway with more than two lanes. Those unlucky souls who are given the choice between only a pair of lanes, however, are bound to meet the Self Righteous Trucker. To fully understand the Self Righteous Trucker, though, it is important to get inside his head:

“Hm, the truck ahead of me is going approximately .00000000000323 miles per hour slower than I’d like to go.”

The trucker looks to his left and sees nothing. In his rear view mirror, he sees a rapidly approaching car, traveling approximately 35 miles per hour faster than he’d like to go.

“Oh well, I can make it. They’re my roads too, damn it.”

The trucker merges left and takes the span of 4.3 miles to pass his nemesis in the right lane.

The Eagle Eye. Even though the nickname might cause you to respect the Eagle Eye, don’t fall into that trap. As the Eagle Eye drives along, he makes it a point to remain abnormally vigilant for any sign of police presence: “The flashing sign 3 miles ahead in the dead of night? I don’t want him to know I’m going 2 miles per hour over she speed limit – better slam on my brakes!”

The Weaver. In order to qualify as a Weaver, you must fulfill three requirements: (1) you must own a motorcycle; (2) you must be in a traffic jam; and (3) you must be an incredible douchebag. Weaving occurs when these aforementioned douchebags weave between lanes (emergency lane included) of stopped traffic. I understand that splitting lanes is legal in California’s stop-and-go expressway traffic, but the lion’s share of Americans, contrary to popular belief, are from places other than California. So as I, an upstanding and patriotic citizen am inconvenienced to the point that I must listen to yet another installation of NPR News in my motionless automobile, the Weaver is rewarded for his brazen behavior. I guess this falls under the category of life not being fair.

The Police Impersonator. Unlike the Weaver, the Police Impersonator is not characterized as a moron because of a conscious decision to be a moron. The Police Impersonator is a moron because of his uninformed choice of automobile. Rather than choosing a painted, newer model car, the Police Impersonator purchased an old police cruiser at auction. But despite the inexpensive price tag, he’s paying for his decision, all right: now, wherever the Police Impersonator goes, he will invariably be stuck in never ending traffic caused by the inaccurate perception of others on the road that this is a police officer. (Note that the Police Impersonator is a touchy subject – some people are required by law or employment to drive these terrible vehicles. Some folks can’t help it.)

I’m one of these types of drivers. I’ll let you guess which one.

This post was not written in the form of a question

February 15th, 2011 / #observations, #television

Tonight, for the second time in as many days, IBM’s Watson will battle the brains of a couple of the best Jeopardy! contestants of all time, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

I’ve been reading about this for months now. For some reason, I subscribed to Forbes in late 2010 and their story about artificial mind power on syndicated television game shows is the only thing from the publication I’ve read to date. Turns out I’m not really a Forbes kind of guy. Surprise, right?

Anyhow, all of this talk of digital daily doubles got me thinking: Who (or what, as it were) should I root for? Humans? Robots? It’s an epic clash of man and machine.

On the one hand, to root against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter would be traitorous to my own kind. On the other, if Watson can eke out a victory against the best of the best, it will prove the technological prowess of our species. But is it acceptable to cheer progress, even if it is at the expense of real men?

After thinking about where my priorities are, however, I came to a conclusion: I can’t stand human Jeopardy! contestants. From their obnoxious little mannerisms to their uninteresting and tedious personal stories after the first commercial break, there are few players I can actually tolerate. And when Ken Jennings was on for 74 days in a row? It was like watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island: you know how it’s going to end, but it’s 7:30, I just ate, and the remote’s all the way over there. A recipe for disaster.

The computer doesn’t have any of those characteristics. No personal quirks, no faux humility, no propensity to be an annoying sack of bones. It’s for this reason – not because of the wonderment of a technological tomorrow – that I hereby endorse Watson in this contest.

Unlike other prerequisite reading, the bookstores can’t rob you blind on this one

February 14th, 2011 / #holidays, #observations, #valentinesday

So, having not updated WordPress for fear of mucking up the works behind-the-scenes of this website, the works got mucked supremely this weekend. On Friday, I first noticed the blank page of death. Something must have been wrong with the database.

After a few hours of exporting, importing, and general nerdery, the site is back up and looking better than ever. However, before I could walk away I had to go through and reassign hyperlinks in over seven years of posts. As I was doing this, I realized something.

If you publicly blog over a period of years, you essentially assign homework to any legitimate prospective spouse. I don’t feel I would be completely comfortable spending my life with another person if she hadn’t read my every inconsequential rambling. Long-term blogging acts as full disclosure and a way for others to see how you’ve developed over time, both academically and in terms of the opinions you hold. It’s required reading.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Happy Valentine’s Day, kids.

Christmas time was here

December 29th, 2010 / #christmas, #observations, #television

I realize it’s sacrilegious to criticize American icons like this, but since no one reads what I write anyway, let’s get down to business.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, while charming, is really terrible.

I understand that part of the allure of gathering the tots around the tube every yuletide is to reflect back upon memories of simpler times while appreciating the historical significance of the cartoon, but c’mon: the production value of the thing is just awful.

Whenever I catch a Charles Shultz biography or similar documentary, they are quick to point out that, in a radical move uncommon to the industry, Charlie Brown cartoons used actual kids rather than grown-up voice actors for the audio track. Neat idea, I guess, but did they have to use the least convincing children on the planet for the job? The lack of trained child voice actors in the heyday of animation results in Shultzian quirks that, thanks to broadcast television’s annual promotion, remain with us to this day: long, awkward pauses; weird voice inflections; and a final speech by Linus that’s delivered so quickly it seems like he has to pee or something.

Also (and this is an aside not solely related to the original Christmas show), using child voiceovers necessitates whole new casts for future iterations of Charlie Brown cartoons. After they air A Charlie Brown Christmas, they air I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown! with an entirely different cast. I realize that the latter was made decades after the former and that it would be nearly impossible to use the same cast for both, regardless of age, but something tells me it would be easier to emulate the original voices had they been well composed by professional voice actors. Just my two cents.

However silly these kids sound, though, I still watch A Charlie Brown Christmas every year (in all its terrible glory). I don’t know, maybe it’s that I’m a sucker for convention and to watch Peanuts cartoons on major American holidays is the most conventional way a middle class white kid can spend his youth. Maybe my relatively newfound discovery of jazz music has drawn me once again to the cartoon’s soundtrack. Or maybe I just like to watch for the purpose of participating in the greatest of all American pastimes, rampant and unfounded criticism.

Look out for my Christmas post next year, in which I attempt to discern the origins of this new-fangled “Rerun” character. That kid sucks.

Spare some change?

November 6th, 2010 / #complaints, #music, #observations

I like public broadcasting. I remember when I was young, it seems like every major event occurred with the faint dinging of Mister Rogers’ trolley in the background. I remember when B.J. totally ruined Barney’s show by joining the cast. And I remember the pre- and post- Shari Lewis years.

As I grew up, I moved on to National Public Radio. First, it was Morning Edition in the mornings to keep me awake when I had to rise at 5:00 a.m. for high school, then it was whatever was playing on the station in Gainesville (Science Friday was and is a personal favorite). Now, I listen whenever I think about it since they did away with classical music and switched to jazz in the evenings on WUSF.

Either way, though, I don’t listen as much as I should. It’s not because of a lack of relevant and interesting programming; it’s because they ask for money all the damn time and I’m sick of it.

When one of the weekly pledge drives crops up on my radio, it’s an instant turn off. Whenever one of these events in monotony arrives, it’s all I can do not to imagine Ira Glass in his big, dumb hipster glasses with a tin cup begging for change outside of a 7-11.

I love public radio, but I think there should be a way to give those who actually donate a way to listen to all of their fine programming without degrading yourself and selling tote bags and DVDs for hundreds of dollars. It’s unbecoming.

A Random Observation About News

August 18th, 2010 / #complaints, #observations

Given my new status as a wannabe newsman, I suppose I should give my opinion about something not related to baseball or bacon for once.

Remember when CNN Headline News was, you know, actually a news show? Now, HLN has devolved into a hodgepodge of superficial news and uneducated opinions. Any given half hour of programming consists of about 20 percent news and 80 percent Twitter whoring. Look, I understand that it’s chic to employ social networking on the tube nowadays, but when your show is focused more on what Ethel May in Alabama thinks about building some mosque in New York rather than actually building the mosque in New York, I think your priorities are a bit backward.

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