Monday, March 31, 2008

Spanking the Donkey.

It's the title of Matt Taibbi's excellent book, written as he covered the 2004 US presidential campaign. In it, he highlights how ridiculous the media's coverage of the election is — specifically, how they deal with the minutiae instead of the giant issues facing the country.

Two minutes ago on CNN, that was perfectly encapsulated in an exchange between Jack Cafferty, a no-nonsense correspondent who gets people to email them their opinions on the chosen subject of the day, and some guy named John, the host of The Situation Room (pinch-hitting for Wolf Blitzer).

* * * * * * * *

Cafferty: "So, there you have it. Twenty-eight million Americans are predicted to be on food stamps by the end of the calendar year 2008."

John: "Amazing."

Cafferty: "Should be a campaign issue."

John: "Sure should be. Thanks, Jack."

Cafferty: "You're welcome."

John: "Up next: Obama goes bowling!"

* * * * * * * *

To quote the title of Frequent Site-Contributor ECB's blog, "I couldn't even make this up." The two newsmen were discussing about how the news should really talk about how a lot of Americans are in exceedingly shitty situations, and how the candidates propose to get out of it. But not three fucking seconds later, the host of "The Room" (as I imagine some call it) is talking about BARACK OBAMA AT THE GOD DAMN BOWLING ALLEY.

Have the media gone completely batshit insane?!

(The smart money is on "yes," by the way.)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Points for inventiveness.

I don't normally dig into my Spam folder in my email account, but I decided to pop on in there and see if anything made it in there which shouldn't have. This caught my eye, though, and I really have to hand it to the person/machine who wrote it:

Subject:
Bomb her womb from your huge cannon!

Message body (beginning):
Turn your small gun into an enormous weapon for love-making!
Rely on this preparation to enhance safe and rapid growth!

And they say creativity is dead in advertising.

On Americans.

I've spent a good deal of time in the USA, both throughout my life and in recent weeks. As such, I feel qualified to make some observations about them, how they think and act, and what they might have up their sleeve.

If you've never seen the movie Idiocracy, please get yourself a copy. The gist: people in 500 years will be extremely stupid, and an average person today would easily be the world's smartest person in the 26th century.

On the long drive back from Chicago on the Easter weekend, I mentally mapped-out a "spectrum of enlightenment," if you will — on one end, citizens are well-informed about both local and world affairs, think before they make decisions, and are generally "with it." On the other end are the morons in Idiocracy — people who watch TV shows such as Ow My Balls! while sitting on Barcaloungers which double as commodes:


I realize this is a simplistic analysis, and a crappy diagram to boot. But hey, (a.) I'm not a smart guy, and (b.) I'm no artist. At any rate, here's my take on where "average" members of both Canadian and American societies compare:


Harsh? I don't know. Visit both countries, talk to the people, get a feel for both places, and get back to me. I grew up a 30-minute drive from Michigan, and we'd go there at least once or twice a month to shop and buy cheap gas. At last count, I've visited 27 US states — some admittedly in a "passing through" kind of way, others in more depth — and eight provinces.

But, like a wise person once said, "Never try to walk across a river which has an average depth of four feet" — that is, averages can be deceiving. As such, I've tried to capture the range of American and Canadian enlightenment in this next diagram:


If I were a better artist, I would have drawn in the distributions, because they sure aren't symmetrical bell-curves. I think the right ends of the bars are fairly small; smaller than the left ends. I also think the two distributions are sliding around; the US more to the right side of the spectrum, and the Canadian (slowly) to the left. (Michael Adams has an excellent book, Fire and Ice: The US, Canada, and the Myth of Converging Values, which studies shifts in public opinion in much more depth.)

Now, here's the punchline. There's such overwhelming popular anti-intellectualism in the US — they want their president to be a plain-talkin', brush-cuttin', man-of-the-people (despite multiple Ivy League degrees and an ├╝ber-privileged upbringing), for example — that I'm afraid the people on the left end of the spectrum will just get drowned-out. You can see it on TV — I think David Letterman said it best about Bill O'Reilly that when he observed that O'Reilly "would rather be loud than right."

Unfortunately, these days, "loud" trumps "right" — I had to turn CNN off because their Sunday afternoon show, Politics, was going to be a special on Clinton vs. Obama, with a whole boxing-match motif. No policy comparisons, no in-depth analysis... just a stupid, sensationalistic "he said this, and she said that! Wow!" hour of vapidity. Do we see that in Canada? Not really.

Anyway, in the words of Terence Maddox, "I think I've made my point." Whatever that is. And now, if you'll excuse me, an all-new Ow My Balls! is on.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

One person can make a difference.

Over the Easter weekend, I was driving somewhere along the 401 when an ad came on the radio from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, advertising something-or-other.

The ad was set up like a game show — there was a host, a couple of contestants, a sound effect that ressembled an old-school buzzer — so you knew it was gonna be irritating. However, one of the questions went like this:

Host: "What is the name of the force which holds you to the ground as the Earth spins on its axis?"
(bzzzzort)
Contestant: "Centrifugal force!"
(ding! ding! ding!)
Host: "Correct!"

Little did the Insurance Bureau of Canada know it was in for a WORLD OF PAIN. How dare they misrepresent that most mysterious of forces, the weakest yet most pervasive of the Four Fundamentals, the glue which holds the Universe together, the apple of both the eyes of Newton and Einstein!

So, I wrote an email pointing out their error.

The response arrived today.

Dear Mr. JTL.

Thank you so much for your email. We clearly made a mistake and thus we have pulled the ad in question. We will re-work the script to make the correction, which will be done by the end of the week.

Again, thank you for bringing it to our attention. Please don't hesitate to contact me with further feedback.

Best regards,

Nancy Martin
Insurance Bureau of Canada

You know, it's not often in this world that one single person can truly affect change. But I'd like to think that, in my own small way, I kicked a little bit of ass.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Finally.

Finally I can unpack my stuff, relax, and not have to worry about where I'm going next.

Since the morning of March 7, I have:
  • driven over 3000 km
  • made four border-crossings
  • gone through Flint, Michigan on two separate occasions
  • seen four US states
  • visited Target stores in three of them
  • purchased a small fortune's worth of gasoline
  • endured both upper-midwest nasal twangs and southern drawls
  • slept in my own bed exactly four (4) times
Good times. Busy, good times. But, y'know, I do this little thing called "work" now and then, and it's about time for me to actually do some. That pile o' tests & labs doesn't go away on its own, y'know.

(Well, unless I set fire to it. Anyone have a lighter?)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No rest for the wicked.

My March Break was jam-packed with a 4-day union meeting, a 4-day Florida jaunt, and some good quality family-time.

Now, after working 4 days, I'm off to Chicago to visit Frequent Site-Contributor ECB. The long weekend is all planned out, and I don't think I need to tell you twice that there's gonna be some high-quality, high-quantity boozin' going on.

Of course, I'm bring a care-package with me, containing stuff you can't get in the US: Shreddies, Bravo pasta sauce*, and delicious delicious ohmygodsodelicious Hockley Dark.

...not to mention the new Hockley Stout, which I am eagerly anticipating. Whee!
_________________________________
* To quote Dave Chappelle, "That shit is gross!"

Monday, March 17, 2008

I love graphs.

Stolen from Riz. Mull it over for a while.

Hits the nail right on the head, doesn't it?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

New culinary experiences and preparing for Doctor Jellyfingers.

Last night's baseball game was rained out, which is kind of a bummer. But, I did have a new experience at the park nonetheless: at one of the concession stands, they were selling something called "boiled peanuts," and were offering little samples for people to try. So, being the curious sort I am, I asked the lady if I could try one, because, really, who the fuck has ever had a boiled peanut outside of Florida?

She demonstrated the technique, which I'll get to in a second — but first, let me describe the product itself, because I imagine that you're at the stage now that I was about 15 hours ago: completely ignorant of what they are. Here's the deal... you take peanuts in the shell, boil them in saltwater for about 12 hours, then you fish them out of the hot brine with a scooper, and serve them hot. Appetizing, no?

Now, as for eating these things, here's what you do:
  1. Put the entire thing in your mouth — the peanuts are still in the shell, mind you.
  2. Use your molars to crack the shell slightly.
  3. Remove the peanut from your mouth, but "suck the juice out." Remember, it's hot saltwater.
  4. Use your fingers to open the shell completely.
  5. Eat the peanuts inside.
Before I popped the things in my mouth, the lady advised me, "The boiling changes their consistency. Think less 'peanut' and more 'baked potato'." Appetizing, no?

I tried the things, and very promptly asked for a container of caramel corn.

* * * * * * * * *

I'm currently sitting in Tampa International Airport, which is nice enough to offer free wireless internet access in the terminal (unlike the cheapskates in Flint, who nick you for $14.95). However, security searches are getting even more intrusive: if you have a hoodie on, they make you take it off. Along with your shoes. And if you have a laptop, it needs a plastic bin all by itself.

I figure within two or three years, full cavity-searches will be mandatory. I just hope The Good Doctor's hands aren't cold.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

News from Central Florida.

A little mid-vacay recap:

1. I rented an "economy" car from Budget, through priceline.com (a swell website for things like this). However, instead of some little tiny subcompact, they stuck me with a Chrysler PT Cruiser, which I have always maintained is the ugliest automobile in the world. See for yourself (the attempt at fancy lighting doesn't really help):


The thing is about as fun to drive as it is to look at. Also, unbeknownst to me at about 8:15 am on Wednesday (an otherwise-still Florida morning in a Days Inn parking lot), if you use the key to unlock the trunk with the car's doors still locked, an alarm goes off. Who knows why the fuck why. But now I'm afraid of the thing.

2. The baseball has been excellent so far — one game in Dunedin, today was in Lakeland, tomorrow evening is right here in Kissimmee. I have a bit of lingering pinkness, but I was in the shade all this afternoon, which helped.

3. My current hotel room is right by the elevator. Every ninety seconds or so, the electronic-y bing! sounds, and... well, I'm about ready to take a sledgehammer to the thing.

4. Americans drive like they're continually nodding-off at the wheel. Maybe they are, I don't know. But they sure do act like it.

5. I'm gonna geek-out all day tomorrow at the Kennedy Space Center, before the baseball game in the evening. Woo!

6. If you've never been to an Old Navy-ish clothing store in the US called Dave & Barry's, you really oughtta go. Often, including today, they have sales where everything in the store is $8.98 — so I picked up a pair of sandals (not flip-flops, which I hate), a pair of baggy basketball-ish shorts, and a pair of brown sneakers (quite a departure for me, but hey, for nine bucks, c'mon!).

7. What kind of a hotel doesn't have Comedy Central? I'm going through Daily Show Withdrawal over here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

America the Blunt.

Seen at a bank in Clearwater, Florida:


I'm not entirely sure why, but I love this sign.

Also, it's kinda warm down here. But I like it. Perfect baseball weather. More to come.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I haven't disappeared.

Four straight days of union meetings has pretty much fried my brain.

So, it's off to Florida for me, after I grab my passport, throw some clothes in a bag, and high-tail it to my parents' place for tonight.

And yes, I already packed the sunscreen.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Five favourites.

I'm normally extremely noncommittal when it comes to things like the following, but I think I have some wiggle-room, which I'll explain later.

The Five Songs To Which I Enjoy Listening The Most
(that I know of, so far, at the moment, and in no particular order)
Whenever people ask me to name my favourite song, album or artist or something along those lines, I have to hesitate because I'm always afraid I'm going to miss someone really important. And I know that, in this list, I didn't include anyone like Genesis or Steely Dan or AC/DC or Blue Rodeo or even Bob Dylan (oooh! How could I leave out "Like A Rolling Stone"? Dammit).

See? I'm second-guessing myself already. I swore I wouldn't do that.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the tunes. I sure do.

You will thank me later.

The next time you cook brown rice, add the smallest dash of cumin. Not too much — you don't want it to dominate the naturally-great flavour of brown rice (I'm coming back to the fold; white rice is just too plain for me these days).

But seriously, folks. A tiny bit of cumin, and a quarter to a half of a bouillion cube crumbled into the water before it boils.

It will end up being... hmm... I'm not going to say a "taste explosion," but you'll never quite look at rice the same way again. I know I won't.

Speaking of flavour... you got the flava!

Monday, March 03, 2008

You seriously need to read this story now.

Over there on the right side of this here page, I have a link to Jason Mulgrew's blog. Maybe you're familiar with it, and maybe you're not — if you fall into the latter category, let me just say you don't quite know what you're missing.

At any rate, on the latest post ("shore recap and other miscellany"), he does his Six Songs thing, as per usual. However, the story attached to the last song on the list is just so... I don't know... it just seems like something that would happen to me, exactly in that way, with exactly the same outcome.

I can't tell you the number of times I've had an encounter where you really do only get one shot at making a good impression — be it in a romantic milieu or otherwise — and, for whatever reason, shit just absolutely does not go your way. Every joke you tell falls flat; every word you say sounds stupid; every chance you get to prove you're awesome ends in a spectacular, plane-hits-a-mountainside disaster. If you could rewind the world five minutes and start over and just keep your damn mouth shut and only say things that would turn out right and not make a fool of yourself because you've got exactly one shot and don't fuck it up and goddammit why'd you say that and oh hell she thinks you're a bumbling idiot and congratulations you've just cacked it up again.

Yeah. I've got a little experience doing that.

Anyway.

Just read it.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A missed milestone, repetition, and the end of an era.

According to Blogger, this is my 701st post. Luckily, around #75 when I started running out of material, you didn't notice — and that's why you're still here, like the sucka you are. Anyway, so much for Magic #700, which I believe is the "meteorite" anniversary.

* * * * * * * * * *

My students this semester are great. I have two classes of Grade 9s who are eventually going to be in this somewhat-fancy-pants IB program when they hit Grade 11; as such, they're packed full of keeners, which lets us examine stuff in a little greater depth. The only problem with these classes is that they're bigger than I'm used to — normally I teach the Applied-level 9s and 10s, which are smaller (by design). These two classes, though, are each around 30... which means every time we do a quiz or a lab, I have approximately sixty of them to mark.

I posed this to my students one day: "How long do you want me to spend marking something you hand in?" Most of the kids said somewhere around 4 or 5 minutes; one suggested fifteen. I said, "Alright, with about sixty of you in total, the number of minutes I spend marking each of them is the number of hours it would take me to mark all of them, not including breaks."

I think it finally sunk in how tedious my job can be at times; they only really see me for 75 minutes a day, and maybe here-and-there in the halls. This goes for the majority of society whose only interactions with teachers has been as a student — which is most of us, unless you have a teacher as a family member, a close friend, and/or have occupied their spare bedroom for months-on-end.

Anyway, in this stack of quizzes, I've come across the word "seperate" about threeve* billion times. When I felt the urge to jab at my eyes with my red pen, that's when I figured it'd be a good time to stop for a minute and type something, i.e., this.
_____________________________
* It's a combination of 3 and 5, invented by French Stewart.

* * * * * * * * * *

You're no doubt familiar with the URL (or is it "URI" these days?) of this here blog — but, unless you went to Queen's, it probably looks like gibberish. The scoop: when you get a Queen's email address, they give you this code which contains your initials; stick on @queensu.ca, and that's your identity for the next few years.

("Queen's University: Where you're not just a name, you're a bunch of numbers and letters.")

Well, because I haven't been a student there in a little while, today is the last day my Queen's email address will exist. It gets obliterated tomorrow, as does a little piece of my identity. I'm not entirely sure why this means anything to me... but it does, and I'm sad to see it go.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Three things.

Thing the First: Facebook's being a pack of bitches.

My hometown is very small, but it's my hometown, dammit. Because it's not on their list, I can't even type it in and have it stick. I emailed Facebook and they said they're "working on it." I don't think they are.

Thing the Second: I baked this bitch.


I took an existing recipe and cut it in half, but it's kinda hard to judge exactly half a packet of yeast, and I don't think I quite used enough. To my surprise, though, the dough actually did rise when I wanted it to — but I truly didn't realize how long a process this is, start to finish (about three hours, but a lot of that was waiting for yeast to do its thing). This has been a goal of mine for quite a while, and now I can say I actually did it. Hooray for me.

Thing the Third: Who are all you bitches?

I use this doohickey called StatCounter; I've had it on my blog pretty much since it started. It just tells me how many hits I get on this site, and a bit of info about who visits the site.

(Don't worry — it doesn't tell me what you're wearing. Except if you're nekkid. ECB, I'm looking at you... put something on! You'll freeze to death.)

Anyway, there seems to be someone who consistently checks-in from somewhere in or around Oakland, California. You use Linux. Who are you?! You fascinate me.

I'm taking the plunge.

I've put it off for years.

Said I was going to do it, and chickened out. Made plans for "another time," but ended up being too much of a wuss. My dad's done it, and he even has two bad knees from decades of climbing up and down towers in petrochemical plants.

I normally pass the buck to Lou, who I pay to do it for me. He's a bit pricey, but he's good. Really good. Better than I could ever be, I bet.

This year, though, is different.

This year, I will prepare my own tax return.

I'm gonna go old-school on this one, too — none of that fancy-pants computer software for me, thanks. Here's what I figure I'll need:
  • a pen
  • a calculator
  • a shoebox full of receipts
  • six borrowed Guatemalan "dependents"
  • a quart of gin
  • moxie
  • 2 girls
  • 1 cup
Really, how hard can it be? I don't own a multinational corporation, I have no kids (that I know of), and I didn't even pay any tuition in 2007. The way I figure it, I'll do my tax return early, and if it's really not coming together right, I'll call up Lou and let him do it for me.

Wish me luck, folks.