Friday, August 30, 2013

Miley Cyrus and Racism

So Miley Cyrus twerked last weekend. Some people had a problem with this. (Probably foremost is Sir Mix-A-Lot, but I'm just guessing here.)

One of the complaints is that Miley is racist for stealing an element of black culture. Seriously.

If you have a culture that is identified with twerking, your culture is terrible. That's not a culture, that's a rap video. Culture is the shared set of values and practices that create community identity. A rap video is a caricature of sexuality and materialism. When your shared set of values and practices is a caricature of sexuality and materialism, your community is worthless.

Other angry people have been angry about the notion of "black culture." Instead of being seen as a homogenous group with identical tastes and behaviors, they want to be seen as individuals. But then why do things like "the black vote" and "acting white" continue to exist? A massive percentage of American blacks behave as a homogenous group with identical tastes and behaviors; 98% of young black women voted for Barack Obama in 2012. If you don't want to be seen as clones, don't behave like clones. If you don't want to be identified with a deficient culture, don't allow your culture to become deficient.

As If Millions of Hipsters Suddenly Cried Out in Terror and Were Suddenly Silenced

Our new town is going to be overrun with hipsters this weekend. I figure the nicest thing I can do for them is to pretend I've never before heard of anything they're saying, doing, or wearing.

But soon all these hipsters could be crying into their regular Coke, weeping tears for the loss of Mexican Coke. I know lots of people (mostly Arizonans) say Mexicans are why we can't have nice things, but I didn't think that generalized to Mexicans still in Mexico, too.

PS: I hope Mumford and Sons plays Dust Bowl Dance. I love that song.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Not One of Them Knows the End"

Lately I've been thinking about the song Carolina Drama by The Raconteurs.

The narrator finishes by telling us that we'll get the truth by asking the milkman. So what do we know about the milkman? That he comes to the house every morning at nine (a deplorably-late time for a morning milk delivery, but no matter). We also know that he's connected to Billy's younger brother, who is central to story but forgotten by most listeners (including those posting on SongMeanings.com).

The little brother is the first person mentioned in the song. This signifies his importance. When he reappears at the end, he is connected to the milkman, who the narrator tells us knows the true story.

The boy enters with the milkman's hat, but also with a bottle of gin. Whence the gin? From the milkman. Why did the milkman leave gin? When we are introduced to the boyfriend, we're told that he has "a drunk temper that was easy to lose."

Last point: when Billy calls the preacher his daddy, his mother doesn't contradict him.

Okay, here's my take on the "truth of the story." The preacher is Billy's father, and visits to leave money for the family. How the preacher came to be Billy's father, and whether he's still shtupping Billy's mother is immaterial. What matters here is that the milkman is currently in a relationship with the mother, and seems to be the younger boy's father. Wanting to eliminate his competition, he leaves a bottle of gin to get the boyfriend drunk, perhaps figuring he would then beat the woman and she would leave him? Showing his connection to the boy, he leads him away from the scene after leaving the gin, which is why Billy didn't see his brother there when he looked in the window and why the boy is holding the milkman's hat when he finally returns.

However, the now-drunk boyfriend instead beats the preacher, who he takes (rightly or wrongly) to be the suspected cuckolder. By the end, the boyfriend is dead and the preacher is severely debilitated, and it's all the fault of the milkman leaving gin on the porch that morning.

From a more meta perspective, "not one of them knows the end" because it's a story without an ending, so all speculative endings are not accurate. In trying to tell the non-existent ending to the story, I've now become another of those telling the story without knowing the ending.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Irony Becomes Earnestness

Have I already blogged about this? Probably.

I remember when Carl's Jr. invented the Six-Dollar Burger. The initial ad campaign was about how restaurant burgers cost six dollars, but now at Carl's Jr. you can get a restaurant-style burger for something much less than six dollars. The name was ironic, because you were getting a "six-dollar burger" without paying six actual dollars.

Time has passed. Carl's Jr. bought Hardee's (or was it the other way around?) and now includes a Six-Dollar Burger on the Hardee's menu. The last time I ate at Hardee's (which was the last time I thought, "Living into my 90s is over-rated"), the price of a Six-Dollar Burger was close to five dollars, and with added fries and drink, the price was well above six dollars.

The irony is gone now. The name now means, "This is what you can expect to pay after ordering." It's like asking for the dollar-nineteen Slurpee. And now that I think about it, maybe the world would be a better place if more businesses functioned this way. You can't really hide the price if the price is the name. And it would keep stores from trying to force us to say stupid product names.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Don't You People Steal My Joy

I've been reading Ted L. Nancy's Letters From a Nut. Lots of people have been telling me, "You know that's Jerry Seinfeld, right?"

Happily, no it's not. You see, if it's Seinfeld, the book becomes crap, because the foreword is written by Seinfeld and it's all about how hilarious Ted Nancy is. If Nancy is Seinfeld, the foreword becomes a giant piece of self-congratulations. "Look how funny my use of parentheses is!"

I knew it wasn't Seinfeld, but then enough people told me it was that I began to doubt myself. When I read some more this morning, it wasn't funny at all. Now that I've confirmed my correctness, I'm looking forward to reading some more.

The lesson I've learned: don't listen to fools. I've got very little joy in my life, people, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let you steal it. The first person that tells me Alexis Bledel wears colored contacts is getting a shiv in the neck.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How Can These Both Be True?

The average earnings of young college graduates continues to fall. And the average cost of college continues to rise (faster than inflation).

I guess it's possible the lower wages are just in nominal terms. The real returns to college could stay constant, or even be increasing, I guess. But for the costs to be increasing so much faster than the returns, college was either undervalued to start with or the returns to the alternatives are dropping even faster.

A more-likely explanation is that the demand for college has no relationship to the returns to college.

I believe I've shared this video before, but I'll share it again. I've only ever seen it on TV in English, but it's just as stupid in Spanish, just sexier-sounding.

Education doesn't move mountains, build cities, do whatever the syringe represents, advance technology, or create a better future for your children. Educated people do those things. There's no reason to suspect that sitting in a desk for 20 years will work magic.

"Everyone can and should go to college." A million times NO! It is advice like this that drives the demand for college irrespective of the returns, that makes the demand for college relatively price inelastic so tuition can continue to outpace inflation. What other item on Earth is sold with the pitch, "Well, it's not worthwhile, but you should continue to buy it, and why don't you pay more for it at the same time?"

If the returns to the "no college" option are dropping even more, that's a larger problem, because it means those who are trying to escape the broken signal are not succeeding. As long as document runners require a bachelor's degree, education is a long way from being fixed.

Free Speech When No One Is Listening

Did you know it is illegal to speak freely any place the Secret Service is protecting someone?

Felony charges based on speech alone. Seems legit.

NB: The Snopes "mixture" rating is based solely on the fact that a very similar law has been on the books for over 40 years. No one denies you can now be sentenced to a year in prison for entering an area where someone receiving Secret Service protection doesn't want to hear what you're saying, even if you don't know you aren't supposed to be in that area.

Twitter As News Source

About five years ago, I had a discussion with some associates about my news sources. They were convinced I didn't read serious news because I was a libertarian-leaning conservative. I had to allay their concerns by reassuring them I checked msnbc.com every day.

Last semester a student of mine mentioned he only gets his news from Twitter. After we gave him a hard time about that ("What Jim Carey thinks of Honey-Boo-Boo doesn't count as news"), he made his case that he gets legitimate news sources from the tweets of people he follows. He relies on them linking to the stories he needs to see.

That sounds like a terrible idea to me. In discussing the end of Google Reader, journalist Ezra Klein writes about "curating" your media content. He rightly notes the reinforcing nature of getting news from blogs and Twitter. This is how fake stories become phenomena (like a Florida teen attacking a man and getting shot when the teen tried to take the man's gun) and real stories get ignored (like a White House aide giving military orders when an ambassador is attacked). If it appears in 15 separate tweets, it must be serious news, right?

Klein thinks he can get around this by using "socially curated" sites. It's not just one guy's opinion, so it must reflect differing views, right? Wrong. When everyone in the curating process has the same opinion, it doesn't matter how many of them you talked to. This is the old "no one I know voted for Nixon" story. "I went to Reddit and everyone there agreed that this is a big deal, so it must be a big deal." Now replace "Reddit" with "the Times, the Post, the Tribune, MSNBC, and The Daily Show" and you have the problem with the modern "well-informed" member of the educated class. Not only do they only hear what they already think echoed back to them, but then probably believe the opinions of those outside their class aren't worth listening to, anyway. If those people weren't so stupid, they'd have popular blogs for me to follow, wouldn't they?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Annihilism Update: Hacky Sack Loves You

College campuses attract fire-and-brimstone preachers. I can't necessarily say that I agree with everything they say, but in general I believe it's healthy to remind college students of God.

A sports blog I follow shared this video with hearty approval: students at University of Missouri enthusiastically support a shirtless hacky sack player who is vying for attention with a preacher. The students give him a card of appreciation and chant for him.

Nihilism would say "Your attempt to spread God's word is not superior to my appreciation of hacky sack." But annihilism says "Your attempt to spread God's word is inferior to my appreciation of hacky sack." The preacher's call to repentance meets the students' disapproval, but Hacky Sack Man's meaningless gospel of "You're all beautiful!" gets a rousing cheer.

Misdirection

Sometimes I show my kids videos featured on "The Kid Should See This." Probably because the title of their blog compels me to. I'm powerless before their Jedi mind trick.

Anyway, today we watched a video from Google promising to show how e-mail works. Instead, it talked about how awesome Google was for being so Earth-conscious. But also, notice the section where security is discussed.

"When your message reaches our data center, we protect it with a wide range of security measures, like security cameras, iris scans, and fingerprint scans in our buildings." Oooh, that sounds so secure. Ain't no way a Google employee is going to steal my e-mail! But later.... "Our servers work together to process your data, including duplicating your message to create backups..." and, um, sending one of the copies to the Federales. But don't worry: our buildings have iris scanners!

Given that Google has argued in court that Gmail users have "no legitimate expectation of privacy," why does "The Story of Send" mention security at all? As far as Google is concerned, anything I send in an e-mail is as good as publicly disclosed. They could have saved themselves a bundle on iris scanners and security cameras.

Google wants to make me believe no one is reading my e-mail, and then they want to read my e-mail all they want, and to send copies to the Federales just in case I do anything inflammatory like "rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority." Because only terrorists believe in crap like that.

Unnecessary Mormon Weirdness

We went to Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday. While we walked around, we saw lots of crosses on headstones, and a few Stars of David. Then we saw one weird circular thing a few rows of the path. I sent Crazy Jane to investigate.
"It's an angel Moroni!" she reported back.
Why do Mormons spend their time insisting they, too, are Christian, and then take every opportunity to point out ways in which they're different? What is the defining characteristic of our faith, the atonement of Jesus Christ, or a visit by an angel most people have never heard of? The cross is popularly understood as the mark of the Christian. Using a different mark just fuels the "you're not really Christian" stupidity out there.
I told my wife, "If I'm ever in a position to be buried with a military marker, I'd rather have a cross than an angel Moroni." This blog post is to function as a legally-binding addendum to my will requiring my family bury me accordingly. (Just kidding; there's no way my blog will still be around when I die--the NSA will have shut down all political speech by amateur opinionists by then.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Life Soundtrack

I've written before about the changing theme song for my life. I don't know what it was in the earlier part of this year, but here's what it is now.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Real v. Fake

From the August 12th Sports Illustrated:

[Columbus Crew goalkeeper Andy] Gruenebaum originally picked up the guitar two years ago when he confronted a shameful truth: He had become, as he puts it, "almost too good" at Guitar Hero. Alas, he realized, pretend shredding in front of a pretend audience would only afford him pretend glory. "I was in my basement, and my wife was working upstairs. I had my plastic guitar around my neck, and I just hit rock bottom. I realized: I was a loser," says Gruenebaum. "I thought, Hey, if I put as much time into real guitar as I did Guitar Hero, I might actually pick up a useful hobby."

Kudos to Gruenebaum for realizing the meaninglessness of virtual achievement and replacing it with actual accomplishment.

Another point: virtual accomplishment is rarely social. Notice that Greunebaum (who is called The Hebrew Hammer) was spending hours in isolation in the basement. Now he's in a band with three teammates. Not only did real accomplishment replace fake accomplishment, real interpersonal interaction replaced fake interpersonal interaction.

So It Has Come to This

Next week, my family and I are moving to Ohio. We will be living with my parents. Because there's a whole new level of failure I need to find out more about.

My wife says I shouldn't talk about this as a negative, which is why I haven't been talking about this at all.

As currently conceived, we will live there for one year while I finish my dissertation. Of course, Chiang Kai-shek thought he'd be back soon, too.

Since we leave in a week, I won't be blogging much between now and then.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Thriller vs. Detective Novel

Last night I finished reading Birds of a Feather. Meanwhile, my wife's been reading Dan Brown's Inferno (which is like Dante's Inferno, only less high-brow and more lucrative).

Today I mentioned to her that it seems the major difference between detective novels and thrillers is that in detective novels the character figures out the mystery before it is revealed to the reader, and in thrillers the reader and character find out together. Maisie knew who she was going to catch (spoiler alert: it wasn't killer German birds) but didn't let us know, but every book Robert Langdon finds out some shocking revelation and we're there when that happens.

This means Scooby-Doo books (which I've read a lot recently with Jerome) are detective novels, because the readers don't know the culprit until the gang pulls off his mask and says, "Just as we suspected!"

The First Commandment

Much of what modern people do is designed to assuage existential anxiety. As a recent web article noted, "I have learned that to deal with life’s pain most of us choose one of the following: alcohol, drugs, pornography, or spirituality." I think pornography is just one facet of the crutch of sexuality. And of course, alcohol's a drug, so that brings it down to three options, but I think aggrandizement can be added to the list to get it back up to four items.

So we self-medicate using either drugs, sexuality, aggrandizement, or spirituality. And this week I realized that the first commandment ("Thou shalt have no other gods before Me") greatly informs the problems with the first three options on the list. The proper medication for the pain of life is spirituality, is God. When we choose one of the other three, we are replacing the role God is supposed to fill in our lives with either drugs, sexuality, or aggrandizement. We are quite literally placing something else in the place of God. The struggle of life is to consistently choose spirituality from the medicine cabinet when we experience pain.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Video Games As Sports As Actual Accomplishments

It seems in the olden days (like back when dudes didn't have last names), men were distinguished by their performance in warfare. It was the actual achievement of actual accomplishment.

Then we lost a bit of that martial streak (only a bit, though), and we replaced warfare with sport. It doesn't really matter if the ball goes in the net or not, but we made up rules that said it was important, and then the men who can do it well become distinguished. It's the actual achievement of artificial accomplishment.

Now we're replacing sport with video games. There's no actual doing going on anymore, not even of an artificial accomplishment. Last week a video game ad yelled at me, "Become a medieval lord and build your kingdom." I thought, "No one's actually becoming anything, and nothing is really getting built."

This is a whole new type of wasting the days of our probation. It used to be that people would waste their lives with the actual achievement of artificial accomplishment, such as succeeding in business or in school or in society. At least they had a real thing at the end of it, disregarding the meaninglessness of that thing. Now young men around the country wake up on their 30th birthdays and have absolutely nothing real that they didn't have when they were 14 (except, perhaps, the groundwork for diabetes).

It seems to me like the warning to be involved in "things as they really are" is especially fitting here. Of course, most people will respond by saying, "He's talking about those other people; what they do is really a problem!" Just because there is some digital pursuit worse than our favorite does not mean that our favorite digital pursuit is blameless.

I recently read an article about people spending thousands of dollars in video games to attain in-game rewards with no real-world value. This isn't like buying stuff in Second Life; they are ending up with non-transferable prizes. (I'll probably end up blogging about this article from a monetary economics point-of-view.)

Am I just having a get-off-my-lawn reaction? Is it really no different from spending thousands of dollars to achieve sporting success? I still feel sport at least contains a real thing that's been done, and that that is superior to a virtual-only accomplishment. Moving from sport to video games is a step in the wrong direction.

If Jacqueline Winspear Had Wanted to Jump the Shark

I'm reading Birds of a Feather, the second Maisie Dobbs novel, by Jacqueline Winspear. I'm 2/3 of the way done, and today I told this to my wife (who read the book last week; doubling up on a single library loan doesn't actually save any money, but we do it anyway).

"Here's what I think could happen if Jacqueline Winspear had wanted to jump the shark. So far we know that Billy hates birds ever since the war but we don't know why. And we know that Mr. Waite added an international component to his business a number of years ago. And we know that Mr. Waite was mean to the people at Maurice's clinic that made poor moral choices. And we know Maisie and Billy noticed some birds at the Waites' home. So here's what I think could tie it all together: Billy hates birds because the Germans trained birds to deliver poison during the war. Mr. Waite used his international business connections to buy some killer German birds and he's using them to kill Charlotte's acquaintances because they did something immoral together in Switzerland before the war. That's why Maisie found the feathers in the rooms of the murdered women."

My wife's response: "You're completely wrong."

Me: "And remember when that bird ran into Maisie's office window?! It was a killer German bird sent to do her in! However, I'm unsure how Mr. Waite trained the birds to then stab the women they poisoned."

My wife: "You're nuts."

Dear Jacqueline Winspear: as you can see, I'm really good at developing Maisie Dobbs plots. Feel free to hit me up for some advice. Reasonable rates.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Thoughts on My Impending Triathlon

"It's going to be like when I went to that NAACP banquet and the lady said to me, 'Are you sure you're in the right place?'. They're going to say to me, 'Are you looking for fat camp? It got bumped to next week.'"

This is what I told my wife tonight. I think I'll probably die this Saturday morning.