Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fair and balanced

Don't you hate it when the articles you are reading do not tell you what you want to hear? I came across an article, "Our hand-cleaning paranoia," that I thought would be excellent support for my rant against our germ-obsessed culture, particularly in relation to raising young children. But no, the article is actually in favor of people washing their hands. I still think that some people's cleaning habits do border on paranoia. (Apparently a relation of mine, while visiting my parents, constantly wipes everything down with Clorox bleach wipes.) But perhaps there are some simple habits that we need to adopt. However, I still think a trend towards outright cleanliness paranoia may end up harming consequent generations more than it will help.

Look at that: I gave a viewpoint that wasn't exactly in line with my own beliefs, and didn't completely belittle it. Just like how Fox News does it...

Speaking of trends, and quality news sources, I was doing some high-brow reading the other day in Reader's Digest. (Give me a break. I'm in the middle of Cloudsplitter and I recently read A Confederacy of Dunces and some Salman Rushdie.) In an article about "Fads that have to go," the RD was right there with me on some things: I'm looking at you, Mister Talking-on-the-cellphone-in-the-public restroom. But some of the fads (not all are listed in the online version) just seemed a little to ranting-for-the-sake-of-ranting. Really, you're going to complain about flatbread? Without it, how could I make my homemade cheesy gordita crunch, which makes the Taco Bell version seem like dog food? Of course, I support ranting--it's one of my favorite hobbies--but I at least want a logical foundation to the rant.

Lastly, I'm sure we all know that Big Brother is watching us, via our cell phones and the Google. But it still unnerves me how much information can be learned through technology about our personal lives. Soon it might be time to go off the grid.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Feel the burn

I love spicy food. I dump or sprinkle hot sauce or chili flakes on most of my meals. Almost everything I cook for myself is spicy, and I have a strong predilection for cooking Thai, Indonesian, Indian, or Mexican food. My cooking habits have adjusted quite a bit while I've been home, since some of the people I'm now cooking frequently for cannot handle any spice. (Certain individuals have tried arguing with me, saying that they do like spicy food, but no, they do not. A twist of the black pepper grinder does not make a dish spicy.)

A recent article, "Why do we eat chilli?" (also, why do the Brits spell chili with two Ls?), examines why humans, unique amongst the animal kingdom, seek out and enjoy something that is technically--from a physical receptor standpoint--painful. Is it conditioning, the fact that we've actually worked to build up a tolerance? Or some human psychological flaw, a form of masochism? Masochism, tolerance development, I'll just call it delicious and let the scientists try to figure out why.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My ADD is acti...Squirrel!

The Onion recently published a video skewering Time. The gist of the critique: Time lacks in-depth coverage; its short-form journalism lacks intellectual rigor and is geared for short attention spans.

But I like Time, I thought to myself. Is it true that I, like so many others in my generation, lack the ability to focus on a single topic for more than two minutes? Do I need to immediately track down some Ritalin to save myself?

This train of thought got me thinking about Twitter, that ultimate purveyor of small-burst thought. I briefly considered starting my own Twitter account. I waited several days, making note of things I would post if I had such an account. Four days later, I realized my postings likely would have amounted to two things:
1) Seeing a picture of his newly born grandson (my nephew), my father exclaimed, "Look at the hair on that kid! He looks like a drug addict."
2) Peanut butter pie is a breakfast food, isn't it?
Not exactly world changing, stimulating stuff.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

There's still hope for me

Some recent research has revealed that heavy drinkers outlive nondrinkers. Take that, teetotalers and crazy religious folk! (However, they do say that moderate drinkers live longest of the three groups compared in the study.) And since I don't write poetry anymore, by my estimation I should live, approximately, forever. There goes my plan to die young. Maybe by the time I'm 106 I can afford a house of my own.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Me write good some day

While doing some updating at work today, I found that in one of our online records, a coworker had listed a "Coalition on Litteracy" [sic].

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Getting down to the meat of the matter

I don't really eat much meat. While I was in Indonesia, I was borderline vegetarian. It was easy there, partially because of the abundance of tofu and tempeh in the Indonesian diet. And it was cheap. Tempeh is considered a low-class food, since the rich people can afford to eat quality meat regularly. Once, a taxi driver asked me about my favorite local food. When I replied that I liked fried tempeh, he laughed hysterically and said that he would invite me over to his house to eat some, and then he laughed some more.

When I went to Thailand, I had to eat meat. Vegetarian options don't abound there, and I was eating most of my meals in the school cafeteria, where there were a limited amount of options every day. And I'm allergic to fish, so that avenue wasn't open to me, either. I complained at several meals to my boss that not only were there no vegetarian options, there were occasionally no vegetables to be found. As in Indonesia, eating meat had an air of socio-economic superiority; vegetables are low class, and our students were upper class.

In Ireland, the cost of meat kept it out of the refrigerator; I ate a lot of eggs. (And cheese. Damn the cost; I NEED cheese.) But when we ate in pubs or restaurants, there was meat again. Vegetarianism hasn't really caught on there, and I only saw a couple vegetarian dishes on menus. Fortunately, I do have a weak spot for cheeseburgers.

Recently, Salon has run a series of articles about people and their relationships with eating meat. No ground-breaking journalism, but it did make me think about my own habits.

I grew up eating meat. Lots of it. Ground beef (from cows that I helped raise, so there's that aspect), Spam (which I didn't raise), and bologna and that bizarre Oscar Meyer ham and cheese loaf (now: blech). But somewhere along the way, I lost the taste for it. I don't avoid meat really for any notion of saving the world, and only marginally less for health reasons; I don't eat meat because I don't really like it. At least this prevents me from going out in search of fake meat; my non-meat proteins don't in any way resemble meat, though I'm not sure how unusual this is.

For the time being, I'm back at home living with my parents, whose dinners seem to consist of a piece of meat and accompanying vegetable or starchy root vegetable. When my mother has asked what I want for dinner, I've told her that I don't eat like them, so if she'll tell me what she wants, I'll make it for her. (There is also the slight problem that almost everything I eat is spicy, and my mother can't handle any degree of heat.) I've decided to eat as they eat; dinners seem more communal if everyone's eating the same thing, and I don't really want to prepare two meals. Also, the grocery store at the bottom of the hill isn't the most vegetarian friendly; they don't have tofu, but at least they have hummus. But I've been surviving the daytime without meat, when I'm only preparing food for myself.

I don't advocate for anyone I've met to eat less meat. I don't think I can change that habit in people so easily; it truly is something ingrained in our culture and habits from a young age. But I have been able to push for local consumption: if you're going to eat that burger or fish, maybe you should know where it comes from, and then decide if you want something from a little closer to home. ("Why is this turkey from Canada?" I exclaimed the other day.) Maybe awareness won't change the world, but it's a start. And everything has to start somewhere.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dancing and drinking

This may be the best video ever about serving hot beverages.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My digital heart

Obviously, the way we interact with each other is changing as technology changes. When was the last time you sent an actual written letter to somebody? Technology is also changing the way we relate romantically with others. (Granted, the way things are changing isn't all technological. When was the last time you used the word "courting"?)

In a new book, The Breakup 2.0, reviewed here, Ilana Gershon makes the case that technology is making relationships more traditional in some ways. Reviewer Adam Kirsch writes,
[T]he truth, as Gershon shows, is that in important ways all these new media are actually making college-age love affairs more traditional -- that is, more governed by strict etiquette, and more accountable to the judgments of peers.
While that may be partially true, I think that the more important factor is the way that information now spreads, bringing information quickly to so many people. Our every move is broadcast to our peers, but I don't know if that is a good thing; we stop being ourselves and make decisions partly on what our friends will think and not as fully on what the significant other will think. Technology changes the degrees by which we are accountable to others.

It's harder to break up quietly these days, as I've encountered personally. We, as a people, like to control the reactions to our own emotional suffering, which I think is a fair right, but that is co-opted by our new desire to share everything with everyone. Personally, I decided not to acknowledge my most recent relationship via facebook, choosing to insulate myself against future pain regardless of whatever lack of dedication to the relationship this showed. (Ultimately, I don't know if this was the right decision.)

I think technology has also made us more callous in our relationships. That most recent relationship ended, more or less, via an email. Call me old or a traditionalist, but I wasn't too pleased by that communication choice. (And at least I didn't have to broadcast the breakup on facebook.)

Most of us have probably seen that Sprint commercial where a woman breaks up, via text, with a man sitting directly across from her. Even in this technology driven world, how many of us would side with the woman in this video, even if her actions weren't so gleefully over the top?

Perhaps I should be happy about this digital shift in relationships. I'm better off at portraying myself through my cultivated online persona than I am in person, as several recent strikeouts at the bar have shown. But I also tend to use technology to insulate myself; every action is plotted and thought out, which is different from my face-to-face, rant-inclined, overly-reactionary nature. This emotional distancing makes my digitally portrayed self somewhat less real, or less authentic, than the physical me. And I, personally, need my relationships to be real.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Grammar antagonism

In my normal, everyday life, I work as a copy-editor of sorts. To be qualified to do this, I need to be reasonably okay at grammar and stuff. Like other English nerds, I have some pet peeves. The one that has been gnawing on me a lot lately is overuse of the "and/or" construction. Check out this brilliant piece of writing from a website I encountered at work the other day. This company supports programming that
...[p]rovides supplementary academic and/or arts-based enrichment experiences to develop and/or enhance skills and proficiency in leadership and/or creativity and/or the use of digital imaging technologies such as scanning, digital photography and/or digital printing.
There is so much "and/or" going on that my brain gets distracted and I have know idea what any of this really means. And it's unnecessary. (And let's not go into the fact that someone was actually paid, and perhaps paid well, to write that sentence.)

For example, let's say a government wanted to help people who were homeless, jobless, or deprived of food. Do you think anyone would interpret that as meaning that the government DIDN'T want to help people who were homeless AND hungry?

Granted, the construction occasionally is necessary in a legal context, but it should almost never come up in everyday life.

I'm sure what I've just discussed has a ton of relevancy to the lives of everyone out there. Thanks for listening. Now I'm off to eat something and/or drink something, because getting upset about things makes me hungry and/or thirsty.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In which my righteous indignation wasn't exactly correct

We all know all about the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. And for the past several weeks I've been advocating against going to any BP-branded gas stations. Seems somewhat logical, right? However, BP itself only owns two percent of the BP stations in the US; the rest are independent. In most cases, boycotting a BP station is only hurting a local business owner who has nothing to do with the disaster.

Some of the stations are countering the loss of customers with lower prices. In the midst of the recession, this brings people. A man patronizing a BP station states in the July 12 issue of Time, "I wish I could afford some outrage. That must be a good feeling." Outrage is good sometimes, but it needs to be properly directed.

It's noble in some ways to take a stand, but we need to know all the facts before we expound about the evils of the world. In this case, I was initially wrong.

They are out there among us, people who don ridiculous outfits to do good in the world. (Note to self: find then watch Kick-Ass.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The mall

Realizing, or at least finally coming to terms with, the fact that I only have three serviceable t-shirts--far less than the amount needed to get through a week, obviously--I headed to the mall for some shopping adventures. This resulted in several thoughts:

a) I hate the mall. There are lots of people there, and I don't like people. And I know I've been away from the mainstream for the past seven years, but really, is this what America looks like now? Maybe I'm just out of touch. But then again, isn't people watching part of the reason we go out in public sometimes? And it's not like I'm a paragon of high fashion and culture myself, I suppose.

b) Major stores are very bad at math--ahem, Younker's and Kohl's. I saw a shirt for $30 marked down 60% for a final price of $14.99, and another $30 shirt marked down 50% for a final price of $13.99.

c) I wasn't going to go into ShopKo. I don't know why I had this aversion. But it's the last place I looked and the place where I actually found a shirt in my price range, i.e. cheap. It references STP motor oil, but really made me think of Stone Temple Pilots, whom I randomly heard on the radio earlier today. (In other radio randomness, I heard Steve Perry's "Oh Sherrie" on two different stations only a minute apart. Seriously, that probably made my weekend.)

In the end, I survived my difficult venture out into that microcosm of society, though I don't know when I'll voluntarily go back. Fortunately, these days I can do almost everything from my computer, eliminating the need to interact physically with the rest of the world. But if I don't go out in public, I won't have a chance to rock my new shirt, so I will eventually step back out into that big scary world. Wish me luck.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A portent of doom?

It's Friday the 13th. I'm slightly hungover and it's raining outside, but other than that I've encountered no problems so far. Here's a brief slideshow about the holiday and a link to my classic and previously twice-run post about the holiday. Stay safe out there, y'all.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Alcohol and ugly

We all know I like beer, and talking about beer, so I'll post this list of "Abnormal Ales," courtesy of the Phoenix New Times' food blog. They give a shout out to the Cave Creek Chili Beer, which my brother has had and proclaimed undrinkable. They also have a beer made with post-civet-defecation coffee beans (which I've only known as kopi luwak from my Indonesia days). Most of these beers seem borderline disgusting; I have a hard time trying to find the point.

The New York Times has an article about why we find certain animals ugly. Interesting stuff. (Note to self: Never compare a person's offspring to a blobfish.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This is why you're fat

When I was in Indonesia, my British friends liked to pick on Americans for being obese, even though our sampling over there was in pretty good shape. I would point out that their country wasn't doing too well on the scales either (confirmed somewhat by my actual visit there), but they would just ignore me.

Today I came across an article attacking the Brits' love of barbecue as a source of over-consumption for that increasingly portly nation. (By barbecue, they don't mean our honored and delicious tradition of smoked and fire-cooked meats, but just anything cooked over the flame.)

The article describes an average barbecue meal thusly:
...two sausages, one-and-a-half burgers, two chicken drumsticks, one and a half meat skewers, fish, a baked potato, a green side salad, pasta salad, a desert and – for the sake of healthiness, no doubt – a bowl of fruit salad to round the meal off.
Holy shit. By way of health advice, the article mentions that "one sausage is apparently much better than three." I love journalism that tells me things I couldn't possibly figure out on my own.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rock your pants...on?

I know it's a commercial, and they're selling underwear, but somehow the song "Comfortably" rocks in its own way.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Safety Bear to the rescue

Doing some research at work today. Apparently the Alaska State Troopers have a kid friendly mascot to teach children about safety. His name is Safety Bear. And he scares me.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A bottle of delicious disappointment

In preparation for my return from Ireland, my mom bought me some Guinness. Apparently, my imported extra stout is imported...from Canada. New Brunswick, to be exact. This makes me slightly sad. (I still enjoyed it, though.)

Bar diving

I'll admit it, I like dive bars. Places that are just slightly above that level of seediness where you would actually feel unsafe or extremely uncomfortable. Why do I like these places? I don't know, but it's probably the people. Or, more likely, the lack of a certain other type of people. When I'm drinking, I don't like being around people whose shoes cost more than my entire wardrobe (not just my clothes that day, but everything I own). I also like to not spend $10 per drink.

"How to start your own dive bar" is somewhat sarcastic about the concept of dive bars, but gets a lot of things right. First, the author, Lessley Anderson, tries to define what a dive bar is:
Some people would insist that a dive bar must have been around at least 30 years yet still be undiscovered by anybody with a liberal arts degree or a full set of teeth, while others would call the grungy punk rock bar with its own Facebook page a dive. Let’s simply define it as a bar that’s casual, shockingly cheap, not very clean, and imbued with a sharp edge of nihilism that perfectly suits the mood of these rocky times.
Among the things she gets right about how a dive should operate: "Open before 8am," "Offer only a few kinds of cheap beer," and my favorite, "Establish quirky traditions."

The article also offers a bar-naming device featuring a "Too drunk to type, name it for me" button.

If it wasn't 9 in the morning (actually, if I wasn't about to start working) I would throw a BL back for dive bars everywhere. I guess I'll wait until I'm actually in one tomorrow.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Huge news, and America yawns

In the past couple of weeks, two massive articles were released in major publications: a look at the somewhat ridiculous infrastructure of our security-scared nation's intelligence sector, and previously unreleased information about America's actions in Afghanistan.

And no one cared.

Perhaps we were too busy reading about Chelsea Clinton's wedding plans.

Michael Barthel tried to examine why the general populace didn't read the articles. Among his reasons are, "They lacked a simple, relatively novel takeaway point," and, "They did not have a direct, obvious impact on readers."

Have we really come to the point as a population where we won't read anything that can't be broken down to a single easily digestible blurb, or we don't care about what's happening overseas because "most of us don't know the soldiers coming home in body bags"?

It's easy enough to sit around living our easy suburban lives and not paying attention to what happens outside that bubble. I've done it for years at a time when I was living far, far away. But what is the cost if too many of us fall victim to this behavior? America is built on the ideal of government of, by, and for the people. But if we hit a point where only the politicians know or care what's happening, that American dream we all thought we were living could disappear in a hurry.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Do not forget that this cannot be forgotten

Last week I encountered an article titled "The Web Means the End of Forgetting." We are living in a world where the occurrences of our everyday lives are being broadcast to more and more people, and once the information is out there, it is very difficult to remove. For example, I haven't touched my MySpace account in years, but everything is still there, still how I left it, and still viewable by those who stumble across it.

The proliferation of personal media is also removing the barriers between the different realms of our lives. (As George Costanza said, when one of his romances made the jump into the world of his friends, "Worlds are colliding!") The article gives an example of a teacher who was fired because of drunken photos of her on facebook.

Perhaps the thing I find most disturbing is the mention that employers are now asking prospective employees to open up their facebook accounts during the interview process for inspection. I don't agree with this breaking of boundaries between personal and professional life. If I'm a competent employee, and don't drink during the week, does it matter if I take down a handle of Jack on the weekend?

Of course, we all have the option of freeing ourselves from the web world--an employer can't look at my facebook account if I don't have one. But, to a certain extent, is that really that likely in today's ultra-connected world? Where should we draw the line?


The other day, I encountered the "Amazing Fact Generator." It made me happy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Who nose?

I've written about my lack of a sense of smell before, but yesterday I encountered another article about another person suffering from this affliction. Bonnie Blodgett writes:
About 5 percent of the population suffers from smell dysfunction. (It can also be caused by a virus or a head injury, allergies or polyps, or a brain tumor.) Many anosmics endure debilitating depression as well, and they are more prone to suicide long term than those who go blind or deaf.
Again, I'm thankful that I can't remember having the sense; losing it seems more stressful than never having it. Also, at 5 percent, it isn't actually that rare. And I hope it is not the result of a longstanding brain tumor. ("It's not a tumah," Arnold says somewhere back in my brain.)


Scientists at Clemson are testing the time-trusted 5-second rule. Why are scientists always trying to mess with our completely unsubstantiated beliefs?


Lastly, a history of ketchup, written by Malcolm Gladwell. Since I'm only in Ireland for a limited time, and my roommate doesn't do ketchup, I've refrained from purchasing the condiment. However, after baking some potato wedges, I did whip up a homemade batch of ketchup-esque substance. Gladwell explains why my version cannot live up to the "actual" thing.

Now I'm off to Dublin to see the magical Guinness brewery. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ghosts of the past

When Roman Polanski's film The Ghost Writer was released, I would rant against the director whenever the media (trailers on TV, in the theater, posters in the mall, etc.) reminded me of this fact. I would announce--to anyone who was in the vicinity and would offer their ears--my boycott of the movie and offer a denouncement of anyone who volunteered to work with the man.

And now Roman Polanski is essentially a free man. Not that he wasn't really free before. He still lived his life of privilege; he just couldn't come back to the US.

The response of certain media types to the whole situation is somewhat appalling. Some people seem to feel that Polanski has done nothing wrong, or that his position somehow makes what he did acceptable on some level.

But, as Kate Harding reminds us, "Polanski raped a child."

I'm considering a boycott of any movie featuring anyone who has worked with Polanski since 1977, since working with him in a way says that the actor or actress condones what the director did. I realize it would make no difference in the world and would probably seriously limit the movies I could watch, but sometimes I feel we need to take some sort of stand, no matter how small.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Soccer sayings

I've been watching a lot of soccer this month and last. I've never been a huge fan, but I was unemployed and the people around me were watching it. Being who I am, I therefore fell in with everyone else.

Over here in Ireland, the commentators for the World Cup are fantastic. I wish I had kept a running list of some of their quotes, which run from brilliant to just strange to incomprehensible. Here are some of the ones I do remember:
  • "His shot is a little off. He didn't plant his foot, and he didn't believe in himself."
  • "That pass was an audacious flip."
  • "They've been making too many cynical fouls."
I wish I could remember more, but my brain got Guinessed last night, and I can barely think today. Luckily, other people out there in the wonderful internetical webisphere have compiled quotes from one of the commentators, George Hamilton (not the sun-baked actor, unfortunately).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

He flies through the air with the greatest of ease...

Just bought my plane ticket from Ireland home to Green Bay. Due to some difficulties with my credit card, and then a wait to see if prices would drop slightly, I didn't buy my ticket as early as I had initially intended. Consequently, there were none of my cherished aisle seats remaining (I don't like climbing over people when I need to leave to take a leak).

As I was complaining about this to my friend, she channeled Louis C.K. and his appearance on the Conan O'Brien show, where he rants about how everything is amazing and nobody's happy: "Did you fly through the air incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight, you non-contributing zero?...You're sitting in a chair in the sky."

Sometimes I think we need to look around and be amazed by the world around us and also the things we as a society have created. Sometimes when I'm on a plane I like to remind myself that even though I don't seem to be moving, my head (and the body attached to it) is traveling at over 500mph. It puts things into a slightly terrifying perspective.

If we don't have respect, or even fear, for the technology, if we take it for granted what technology both can and can't do, we have situations like what is currently happening down in the Gulf of Mexico.

Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that any suitably advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In a way, we are living in a magical age. I hope we don't ever lose our wonderment, the sense that life can be something special.