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Friday, December 28, 2007

Traditional Tea Ceremony


With the winter months now setting in, thoughts turn to warm beverages shared by good friends. Perhaps cocoa is your beverage of choice when the snow starts falling. Others may turn to coffee as the night creeps in earlier and earlier. But I'm guessing you're a tea person, aren't you? Well the best way (well maybe not the best, for for the sake of this article I'm saying it anyway) to enjoy some lovely tea in the company of good friends is to have an authentic Japanese Tea Ceremony. (Provided that the tea you had in mind all this time was green tea - I don't believe there's a traditional English Tea Ceremony for all of you Earl Grey fans out there, though I could be wrong.)

So, you think you're ready to host your own Japanese Tea Ceremony? Hopefully you've done a little bit of research and you're aware that it's not just a bunch of people getting together and pouring them all some name-brand canned "green tea" and playing your favorite J-Pop Mix CD and talking about which Inuyasha characters you all fantasize about while munching on some Pocky. The Japanese Tea Ceremony has a long and lavish history, requires dedication and poise, and a great deal of knowledge about the tools and the seasons themselves if you want it to be done correctly. The ceremony itself was started in the 9th century when a Buddhist monk first brought tea to Japan when he returned from China. The ritual of drinking the tea and meditating spread as a religious Buddhist ceremony, which was picked up by the samurai who used it as a ritual for meditation and focusing energies, and it eventually became a nationwide tradition in Japan due to its roots and principles: harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

In fact, you may want to start with preparing your calligraphy wall scrolls that contain philosophical sayings or key words/phrases - appropriate for the current season, time of day or central theme you have for the ceremony. Oh, you don't have calligraphy wall scrolls? Better go out and get some, or possibly learn to make them - I know how, but that's a subject for another time. Also make sure you have your chabana, "tea flowers", arranged around the room - high vases with seasonal flowers only, no filler and simple, usually only housing one full blossom per arrangement. Oh, you're not well-versed in the language of flowers and their meanings or connections to the seasons? Again, that's a topic for another day - try asking a flower expert or make an educated guess, I suppose. If you're having a FULL ceremony, make sure to have your kaiseki ready - the MEAL you plan on serving before the tea makes its entrance, usually accompanied by sake, Japanese rice-wine (if you're of proper age to be purchasing/serving alcohol).

Now that you're prepared the room, it's time to make sure you've got everything you need for your proper ceremony itself. Complete your checklist!

Chakin, the rectangular white cloth used to clean out your tea bowl.
Fukusa, the square silk cloth used to clean the other equipment and handle hot things.
Hishaku, the ladel used to either transfer water while preparing the tea or used in the ritual purification performed by guests before entering the tea room.
Tana, the "shelves" or technically any furniture placed in front of the host on which to prepare the tea.
Chawan, the tea bowl, which is the most important part. Shallow bowls are used in summer to cool tea down quickly, and taller bowls are used in winter.
Natsume, the tea caddy that contains your usucha-style matcha - used to make thin tea, the common variety.
Chashaku, the bamboo/ivory tea scoop used to transfer the matcha to the water.
Chasen, the bamboo one-piece whisk traditionally used to prepare the tea.
(optional) Cha-ire, the tea caddy that contains koicha-style matcha - used to make thick tea, which is not done in every tea ceremony.

Got it all? Then it's time to invite over some kimono-wearing guests and get ready to have a calm, tranquil Japanese Tea Ceremony! Don't forget to remind them to pack their kaishi, special rice papers used to hold sweets and kept in the breast of the kimono, if you plan on serving sweets instead of (or after) the traditional meal. Got them assembled already? Then let's press on and get this ceremony started! After all, the usual traditional tea ceremoney takes between an hour to five hours, depending on the meal possibility and variety of teas being served.

Step 1: After waiting in the garden or sitting room, when you beckon your guests into the tea room/house, they should all perform the cleansing ritual. They wash their hands and rinse their mouths with water. Then they can remove their shoes and enter the room where the tea ceremony will take place.

Step 2: Have your guests admire your calligraphy wall scrolls and flower arrangements that you placed in the room. Then have them sit seiza-style (butt on heels, feet-tops flat on floor, hands in lap, back straight) arranged clockwise from the host/ess' position in order of prestige. After all, the best guest should get their tea before the less-honored guests, wouldn't you agree? Of course you would, it's tradition!

Step 3: This is the time when you can serve your food. Serve either your kaiseki (that meal I suggested you prepare in advance) or go straight to the sweets, which your guests can eat from the kaishi you reminded them to bring, right?

Step 4: The ceremony begins. You present each of your utensils (bowl, whisk, tea scoop, ladel) and ritually wash and clean them. This must be done in front of your guests, out of respect for them so they can be sure they are clean. Dry them with their respective cloths. You may then put the matcha tea powder into the tea bowl, add hot water, and whisk. If you have both usucha and koicha matcha, use the thick tea first. When the tea is ready, you may ladel it into a bowl.

Step 5: The bowl is presented to the guest of honor, or the most-prestigious guest. Bows are exchanged, between host/ess and guest of honor, then between guest of honor and second-prestigious guest. The bowl is raised in respect/honor for the host/ess, rotates the bowl to NOT drink from the front, and takes a few sips. Prayers may be said between sips depending on the theme/reason for your tea ceremony. The rim is wiped clean, then the bowl is rotated back to original position. The bowl is passed as the next round of bowing goes, followed by the same procedure for drinking and passing. If thick tea is used, there is another round of tea-making and bowl-passing for the thin tea.

Step 6: When the last guest has enjoyed the tea, it is time to begin the cleanup of the tools. Usually the guest of honor will request the host/ess to allow everyone to inspect, examine and marvel at the tools that were used to create the fine tea(s) they drank. The tools are then collected up by the host/ess, and the guests are allowed to leave the tea room.

Congratulations! You've just performed a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony!

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Smoking and Other Bans

Hopefully by now you've gotten the message that I'm against the smoking ban. If you don't regularly read my blog, let this be your introduction to my hatred for this ban. I'm not as against it as the ban on the sale of foie gras, which is the most ridiculous ban I think I've heard of in the past few years, but I'm still very much against it. Maybe this will help illustrate why.

I'm not a smoker. This isn't about me wanting the ban to go away so I can smoke in places that aren't subzero in temperature. This is about civil liberties being taken away under the false pretenses of "benefitting the many over the benefits of the few" or some nonsense like that. You know, bleeding-heart liberal slogans designed to tug at heart-strings (possibly how the term 'bleeding-heart' came to be?) and basically saying under its breath "we pander to stupid people because stupid people vote in higher numbers and we want it to be for us." Here's a quote from the article I read this morning:

For health advocates, the ban represents a simple idea: The rights of an individual should not come before the health of all.

This is the biggest pile of nonsense I've heard in a while - thank goodness they put it so succinctly, because that makes it all the easier for me to mock it and illustrate a point. Several points, actually. Because it's horrible thinking like THAT which is going to be the end of us all. Forgive me if some of my arguments border on the "conspiracy theory" line, but I'm just following that "simple idea" as my mind takes me. Let's see what the future holds if this precedence holds and indeed dooms us all.

Ban on junk food. Well, the hot-button issue is the "obesity epidemic", which means that if obesity is threatening to somehow spread like a disease, then they can enact laws that take away your rights as an individual to eat how you want for the sake of the health of all. They already started with trans fats, didn't they? How long before they press onward? That basically opened the door, along with this precedence, to allow them to declare a ban on anything deemed by a panel of idiots (like the FCC of food) to be "unhealthy". All the good fast food places shut down, Hershey's goes bankrupt, as well as the Mars corporation. And probably Frito-Lay as well, since their "healthy" chips are disgusting and I doubt anyone buys them, even if there were no alternative good-tasting chips.

Ban on fat people. You think I'm joking, right? Well they already have a study showing some kind of correlation between having overweight friends and becoming overweight yourself. Which means that idiots will assume causation, and then obesity will be not only a regular disease but also a social disease to them, and then fat people are banned. We won't be allowed to socialize indoors in public places or within 15 feet of building entrances, lest someone have to talk to us and catch a bad case of obesity or something.

Ban on meat. Think the Atkins diet would help you become skinny enough to be allowed back inside buildings? Well you'd be quite out of luck, because once we have no fat people allowed in buildings to talk sense into the retarded PETA skinny-people brigades, they'll have their run of the show. They'll use their studies showing that cows and other ruminants cause XX billion tons of pollutants and global warming - yadda yadda yadda - all meat is banned for sale because the rights of an individual to eat meat should not come before the health of people who live in the environment being destroyed. (Even if we all know that without the meat industry, the cows will just continue to produce pollution because they're not being slaughtered to become tasty steaks that people can eat in order to save the world.)

Ban on food. All it's going to take is a few idiots who happen to get a peanut-based allergic reaction from being on a train with someone who just had a PB&J or crumbs in a break room resulting in an epinephrin-injection to resume breathing and then we're all up a creek without a paddle. Lawsuits ensue and then we've got mandates about foods. We won't be able to EAT indoors in public places or within 15 feet of building entrances, lest the allergy-prone have to be trapped with a food they're allergic to. Or just food that smells in a way they don't like. Think I'm insane? Follow the logic, and you'll likely get there, even if you're not insane. The rights of an individual to eat what and where they want should not come before the health of the feeble who just don't want to take precautions and place that responsibility on everyone but themselves.

You know, there used to be a thing called "survival of the fittest" where the strong go on to live and breed and the idiotic dumbasses ate too many marbles as kids and died. It's time to stop banning games with marbles that idiot children can eat and start focusing on teaching children to not eat marbles or they don't get to grow up and have kids of their own. I'm sick and tired of watching stupid behavior and wanting to remove the gonads of everyone in that family unit as a way of saying "your bloodline stops here, and the world will praise me for doing it." But I digress - back to the bans.

Ban on profanity. I'm not talking about record labels and TV/radio airwaves. I'm talking about cursing in general, just in everyday conversation. Sooner or later we'll get a study linking a child hearing a curse word and some kind of new psychological mental illness or even the ever-widening umbrella of A.D.D. or something. And the mental health of all, segue to the individual rights to freedom of speech, ergo a ban on profanity everywhere but inside your home and beyond the 15-foot building entrance lines now drawn out like bubbles because of all the bans in effect.

Ban on defending ourselves. Now I'm certainly in the "conspiracy theory" zone, but if all the above has palyed out to the point where we're all starved, weak, repressed agorophobes - we'll have lost our "superpower" status completely. Even Canada could just decide to walk right in and take over. It's more likely to be all of those Middle-Eastern regions that we've had the pleasure of declaring war on in the past. And seriously, once they start their suicide-bombing runs here in the U.S.A., we'd still be banned from even fighting back. Someone would argue that fighting back would cause more Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by fighting in a war to defend our country than the amount of PTSD generated by witnessing an ongoing stream of bombs going off and killing loved ones and other civilians. They'd argue it, and there would be no intelligent people like myself left to argue back due to a severe lack of steak. Our country would be doomed.

And that's how the smoking ban apparently kills us all. Remember that on January 1st, when the smoking ban takes effect. And horde your steak. For the good of the world, people.


(An online version of the article I read in today's RedEye)

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Interesting New Weight-Loss Surgery

I've recently been reading about an interesting new procedure that looks rather promising. It's called a lap-band procedure, which stands for Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding. Basically, they make small incisions to get inside, and then they place this inflatable silicone band around the upper portion of your stomach. This creates a smaller pouch for storing food, so you're not able to eat as much before feeling full. I'm sure that if you look, you can find the best lap-band Tampa facility to have this procedure done.

It sounds a lot like some similar medical procedures that limit stomach capacity to allow a smaller food storage capability, which leads to less eating and eventual weight-loss. I like this system because it doesn't involve damaging the integrity of the stomach itself, it's just a band that clamps off a section of the stomach without DAMAGING the stomach in any way.

All in all, sounds like a great system, and a procedure I might look into in the future.

This is a sponsored post for JourneyLite.

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For those of you who are unaware of the phonetic nature of the katakana alphabet of the Japanese language, that phrase translates to "Merry Christmas" - and is heard around Japan from November until Christmas Eve, even though less than 2% of the population is Christian.

So how - you might ask - do the Japanese have such a fondness for Christmas, and why - you might also ask - are they celebrating it in any way, shape or form at all?

The short answer: Marketing.

Like many holidays here in the United States, ranging from St. Patrick's Day to Valentine's Day to Secretary's Day - holidays provide a source of income to companies producing gifts, decorations, cards and other holiday-type items as the nature of the holiday demands it. In Japan, Valentine's Day has traditionally been the giving of chocolate from women to men. While the most special chocolates given are usually hand-made, chocolate companies profit greatly. Moreover, this holiday has a related holiday called White Day, celebrated on March 14th, one month after. On this day, men decided to thank the women who gave them gifts by giving THEM gifts in return. For younger males, this is traditionally a gift of cookies. For the adults, the most popular gift is actually lingerie. How do I know these holidays have been commercialized? It is widely-known that the White Day gift is meant to be twice the value of the Valentine's Day gift in order to be of proper thanks.

But I digress, this is about Christmas. And surely you must be saying, "There HAS to be more to Christmas in Japan than your answer of 'marketing' and profiteering." You'd certainly be right.

The long answer: Tradition.

The story of Christmas in Japan goes back quite a long time. Not as long, obviously, as Christian roots in the holiday, but starting around 1549 - when a Portuguese man named Francis Xavier first taught Japan about Christianity. Among the teachings of Christianity, of course, was the idea of Christmas - and the first recorded Japanese Christmas Mass was held at Yamaguchi Church in 1552 as popularity of the religion made its way throughout the country. This led to the "KAKURE", or "Secret Christians" who kept their religion secret and celebrated with Christmas carols sung in Latin, and this sect remains to this day. Why did they have to keep it a secret? Well, in 1639, National Isolation was imposed on Japan and they were shut off from the Western World for quite some time so there was little support religiously.

National Isolation was lifted in 1854 by naval Commodore Perry - and Japan took to the Western civilization once more. During/after WWI, American companies began ordering their Christmas products from Japan since Germany was no longer a viable source. All of the Christmas decorations and toys and aluminum Christmas trees slowly started seeping out from the factories and into the culture as Japan became the new "North Pole" for all things Christmas. After WWII and upon finding Hong Kong and Taiwan for cheaper mass production, the remnants of Christmas had moved from the factories to the Western shopping malls in Japan as the holiday was celebrated more in the spirit of the Western world than the Christian world.

This paradigm shift in Christmas from the Christian notions to the spirit of America and the rest of the Western world led to a great deal of Western traditions being implemented in the celebration of a Japanese Christmas. For example, the traditional Christmas dinner during decades past was "Hamburgers and Stew" in honor of the American style of cooking brought to Japan after the war. Eventually this shifted to another American food tradition - Fried Chicken. In fact, at Kentucky Fried Chicken and American-style restaurants, you can even place your Christmas Dinner orders in advance to reserve your family some of that glorious fried chicken. I read one account of a Japanese woman being asked why chicken, rather than turkey, was the traditional food. The response? "The ovens aren't big enough."

The other food from the Western world that made it big in Japan and became one of the few OFFICIAL Christmas symbols in the country: sponge cake. In fact, the combination of sponge cake, strawberries and whipped cream is the official "Christmas Cake" and NO Christmas celebration is complete in Japan without one. Bakeries even hire people (usually students and teenagers saving up to buy a special someone a gift) to advertise on the street to make sure every Christmas Cake is sold before Christmas Day. Why before then? Well, the Japanese really only celebrate Christmas Eve, and there is no use for a Christmas Cake on the day after. The Japanese are often flabbergasted when they learn that there is no "Christmas Cake" in America nor a hint of a tradition matching it, unless you accept the vague jump to "cookies and milk" left for Santa or the "gingerbread house" whose sole purpose seems to be a marketing push for gingerbread itself. The Christmas Cake in Japan is most related to the Christmas Tree in America in the "what would Christmas be without it" tradition category.

So speaking of Christmas Trees and saving up to buy someone a gift - what about the presents? After all, most children in America know Christmas by that tradition more than any other - the gifts! Well, presents in American Christmas celebrations are usually associated with Santa Claus, and in Japan, Santa is not so much of a mascot for the holiday as he is a mere logo. While he's seen on advertisements and commercials, he doesn't visit shopping malls and ask children what they'd like for Christmas. Even so, there is still gift-giving to be found. Parents give presents to children, but children never give gifts to parents. This is because parents give gifts to children only as long as they still believe in Santa Claus. Once they stop believing, or more likely figure it all out, there's no need to keep giving them gifts in his name - and there's less need for children to give gifts in return since there's no one to return the favor to.

Gifts ARE given to that "special someone". Somewhere along the lines (and believe me, I'M still trying to figure this gem out) of tradition, it became a belief that Christmastime was the best time to declare your love for someone. The act of "confessing" to your crush is often SAVED for the Christmas Eve night, since it's rumored that you will have extra luck in having someone confess back to you if you confess to them on Christmas Eve. Call it a "Christmas Miracle", if you will. This led to the giving of expensive gifts, as a bonus alongside the confession of love, and couples will often exchange gifts as it is a merchandise time of year and when special seasonal gifts are available.

Oh, I'm sorry. Did I make it all the way full-circle to Marketing?

Well, you can't blame the holiday for that. Japan tried to incorporate as much of the Western tradition as possible into their idea of Christmas, and eventually it fell into the same type of rut that America has been in for quite some time, which is why my short answer to the question of Christmas in Japan will remain to be "Marketing" - even though I admit to the long list of tradition as the longer and sappier answer.

Some other Western traditions have not yet been fully tainted in Japan, as is evident by one of the other major traditions that I learned about in my research. Remember how I said that Santa doesn't do his little mall-tour act? That's because there's something more interesting in the malls aside from Christmastime sales and cake-peddlers. It's the haunting chorus of "Hymn to Joy". That's right, the American Christian hymn spread to Japan and it often sung in shopping malls by large choruses as the words are sung in English. It's certainly a nice change of pace from the same flood of sappy Christmas music about reindeer and sleighs and jingling bells that pipe over loudspeakers in Japan just as much as here in America. In fact, the Japanese refer to this tradition as "Daiku" - which means "Great Nine". This is in honor of the fact that "Hymn to Joy" (or rather "Ode to Joy") is the fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

Lastly, I'd like to mention that Christmas comes very close to the New Year holiday. Here in America, this fact is often drowned out by the Christmas celebration and festivities, as those last few days after recovering from parties and whatnot spark a quick interest in the American mind before it's time to find a partner to kiss at midnight and then make New Year's resolutions that are more than likely going to fail before February even draws near. In Japan, it's quite the opposite. While they may have fully embraced fried chicken and Christmas Cake and a bit of commercialism to back it all up, they overshadow Christmas with New Year's traditions. New Year's is really the time that they sit down as a family and have memorable get-togethers and a big feast and heartfelt joy. Christmas is a one-night fling that involves couples more than families and although they're reminded of it almost as long as we are here in America, the actual preparation for the event lasts as long as we Americans prepare for the New Year's Eve.

Even so, in conclusion, Christmas is a big deal in Japan - even without a large population of Christians to back it up. It's based on tradition as much as it is a spread of ideas passed down across an ocean as they embrace their long-distance neighbors' spirit for the holiday. Hopefully this humble article has instilled in you not only the knowledge of how and why Christmas came to Japan and continues there to this day - but also a little insight into the holiday itself and a few of the things beneath the surface. In turn, when someone asks YOU why you celebrate Christmas here in America - you'll remember that although the short answer to the question can often be seen as "Marketing", there's always a longer answer and a lot of thought to give to the "Tradition" and the spirit of the holiday itself.

MERII KURISUMASU to all - and to all, a good night.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Festivus for the Rest of Us!

*drags out the aluminum pole*

("...very high strength-to-weight ratio.")

And so begins the legend of Festivus!

"Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son.
I reached for the last one they had. But so did another man.
As I rained blows upon him I realized there had to be another way!"

"What happened to the doll?"

"It was destroyed.
But out of that, a new holiday was born!

A Festivus for the Rest of Us!"

"And at the festivus dinner, you gather your family around and tell them ALL THE WAYS they have DISAPPOINTED you over the past year."

"And is there a tree?"

"No, there's a pole. Requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting."

"Welcome, newcomers.
The tradition of Festivus begins with the Airing of Grievances.
I got a lot of problems with you people!
NOW, you're going to hear about it!

"And now, as Festivus rolls on,
we come to the Feats of Strength."

"Until you pin me, George, Festivus is not over!"


"It's a Festivus Miracle!"

And I leave you all with a quote from George Costanza in honor of the spirit of giving.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking, and this may be my chance to start giving something back. I'm serious. I think I could be a philanthropist. A kick-ass philanthropist! I would have all this money, and people would love me. Then they would come to me and BEG. And if I FELT like it, I would help them out, and then they would owe me BIG TIME!" Read more!

Dating Sites

For me (and all the other single men out there), we have a lot of options when it comes to dating sites. Luckily, there's a new website out there that is reviewing these sites to let us know what extras each of them offers and gives a nice full review of how the compatibility matches on each of the websites.

The site is called Prime Dating Sites, and so far they only have about ten dating sites up and reviewed, but I'm hoping they keep going at it and add more sites to the mix. My personal favorite isn't on there yet - hopefully they'll do a review of OKCupid soon.

I checked out a few of the reviews they'd done, and while they did a great job of describing the extra features and details that come with a full membership - I really wish they'd tell you what does NOT come with the membership. For example, on their page for Perfect Match, they list the detailed matching based on the site's Duet Total Compatibility System, but neglect to let you know that without an expensive membership payment, you have NO access to ANY search tools whatsoever. Also a lovely paragraph about being able to block annoying e-mailers, but no warning that free users can't even send e-mails, let alone see profiles - rendering it a moot point to the free users.

A better job of this was done on the page for Lavalife, though. This reviewer lets you know that with a free membership, you can do the "smile"/"wink" on other profiles to open them up more and let you see each other's profiles - while warning that you still cannot COMMUNICATE with each other. The bane of the single man's dating site, of course. The review lets you know about subscription plans and all of the bonus material, et cetera. Even a blurb about the "Backstage Pass", which I assume pornbots use to post lots of porn pictures and lure people to subscribe to Lavalife just to see them and be lured to THEIR porn site membership as well.

All in all, I feel it's a good site idea with a lot of potential. If they really want to be a site to compare and contrast dating sites being reviewed, there should be an overall page with common features and bonus features and checkmarks to show you which sites offer which services. Of course, including a similar page to list all FREE services offered would be even better.

OKCupid has it all for free still, including searches, communication by e-mail and IM, and various other goodies. I'm sticking with that site - but I'm glad I found this site to show me others that are out there. If you're willing to pay.

This is a sponsored post for Prime Dating Sites.

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Snowy Selfishness

This post comes from my "evil thoughts I have at random" file, thanks to a week or two of annoying snowy weather (which means in snows for two days and then panic and mayhem set in for another week at least before any of the snow can have a chance to melt away and let us calm the hell down.

Walking in the snow is a bitch.

I'm sure that driving in the snow is a bitch as well. Well, most of me figures that driving after it snows is NOT a bitch because you're inside with the heater on and warm dry feet - but the factor of putting up with the snow and how it affects your car BEFORE you're driving effortlessly through it later makes up in the bitch rating.

I understand - your car is covered in snow. The road is covered in snow. There's a whole lot of snow and ice around and it drives you mad having to deal with it the first time. You sit there and dust your entire car off. Then you have to de-ice things. Then I'm betting you have to dig a bit to allow space for your car to have access driving-wise to the road itself. And once you've pulled it out, you decide to shovel off the rest of the area so your car can theoretically pull back in without requiring post-worktime shoveling.

Here's where you lose me, car-drivers: putting your own property in the space you shoveled as though to claim it for yourself.

I've got news for you, Lewis and/or Clark: you're not a pioneer out claiming untamed wilderness for your own. You've done a nice thing by clearing out a parcel of land where a car could park, but you don't get to stick a flag in it and claim that country in the name of the Griswold family. You've dug up a fresh spot of public land, which is the opposite of private land, and it's open to the public.

While owning a home means ownership of that parcel of land, allowing old-timers the right to yell at kids to stay off their lawns, the street is up for grabs. Any city-dweller knows this, having undoubtedly spent ten minutes on various occasions to find one damned parking spot and it's three blocks away. Because the street parking is open to the public and you're not allower to tell people to move their goobermobiles just because that stretch of curb is the closest to your building and that space three blocks away is Goobermobile Parking Accessible.

Here's the insane part: putting private property on public property, expecting that it turns the public into private rather than turning the private into public!

You know where else you can find private property in public places? The alley behind buildings where furniture doesn't fit into garbage cans. And guess what? Open to the public! Hobos can root around for cans all they want, but that discarded kitchen set could go perfectly in a little crap shack like mine!

So why aren't there more people out there fighting the power?

You pull up to your block, and come caring individual has shoveled out a clearance spot that your car could fit perfectly into. I mean, if it weren't for those two lawn chairs in the middle of the space. What's stopping you from picking up that trash left in the street and tossing it elsewhere, making that parking spot PERFECTLY clear? And maybe those are some nice lawn chairs that would look great in your son's basement collection of crappy furniture on which he and his pot-smoking friends can waste their days lounging? Up for grabs, I say!

Oh, those were YOUR lawn chairs?

I'm afraid I'm going to have to cite precedence in the case of Finders v. Keepers.

Every post-snowday, I have this fantasy of riding in the back of a large pick-up truck and just grabbing all the furniture we can haul. It doesn't belong in the street, and it shouldn't be used as a flag to claim public land as your own private garage. That's why people built garages - to have a private property area to park their cars. I give it a ten-block radius and twenty minutes of driving and I could come home with thirty lawn chairs, fifteen orange cones, and a couple of bucks worth of scrap metal or fodder to start a post-modern art gallery and sell demolished parking-space holders for thousands of dollars.

And then I wake up from my daydream because the bus is here and I have to get to work.

Do you all have these same visions of chair-snatching grandeur? Or are you a car-parking menace trying to pass as an emissary who needs to claim this land in the name of your family? Read more!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Various Humbuggery

It's that time of year, and everyone is all a-twitter over the Christmas season (that started on November 1st). While I'm totally Jewish, I can still accept Christmas for what it is (or what it should be) and I can't avoid being dragged into it - since it's not like any of my friends are Jewish.

So as the season once again has pressed on and is drawing to a close, here are a few random thoughts I've been having. Perhaps you Christians out there can help me figure out some of these Christmas Conundrums or add to my humbuggery.

Conundrum #1: Christmas Shopping

I've discovered that the REAL humbug of doing your Christmas shopping is NOT the stores themselves! I keep hearing people yammer about how crowded every store is and everything's gone from the shelves and everything's so expensive and it takes forever - but I didn't run into that. I did almost all of my Christmas shopping in one night, no car, in moderately popular stores. I mean I was in Best Buy, for cryin' out loud! While there were certainly PEOPLE about, I still managed to not only chat with two different employees about items but spend only 30 seconds in line with my purchases before checking out at a cashier.

The REAL humbug is the mystery of who to buy presents for. Some would argue that it's more a problem of WHAT to buy for people, with the whole "thought that counts" argument and whatnot - I would have to disagree. Knowing who to buy for is the hard part - once you've got THAT list down, a series of gift card purchases at the very least will take care of that (the thought is in figuring out where to get the gift card). Some people will easily make your list: family, close relatives (if they will be attending some large function), closest friends. Once you get past that level and into the sublevels of interhuman connections, it all becomes muddled. You start having to base holiday purchases on the probability that that person used a similar probability and is buying something for you.

You know what we need? A website. Perhaps one already exists, but I'd like a website where you can tag people to let them know you're getting them a gift. Then they would know and could tag you back that you will be getting a gift. You could even have a wish list page to help people decide what to get for you. I bet that if you made it a sign-up site, you could work the HTML to display all items on the receiver's page if you're the receiver, and givers could tag items so they wouldn't display for anyone else. That avoids double-gifts, and the registry logging-in necessity makes it so that receivers can't see what's been blacked out on their own wish list (and certainly not by whom). The problem would be getting everyone you know to sign up for it - because without that, it's still useless. Probably best to make it an add-on for Facebook or something so your lazy friends and family don't have to sign up for anything extra.

Conundrum #2: Christmas Movies

Sure, you can lay claim that Christmas movies teach about faith and family and togetherness and the spirit of giving and all that jazz. Bells ring and angels get wings because it's a wonderful life and God bless us, every one. I'm talking about the lesser movies out there. The ones that make you really shudder during the holiday season.

Things I've learned from annoying Christmas movies:

- You will always get the present you want if you mention it enough times, despite its unavailability or expense or subjective nature or even the fact that you'll shoot your eye out.

- There will always be arguments between family members, but everything gets worked out in under two hours, give or take.

- The only reason caroling exists today is theft. Odds are that if carolers are at your door, someone is in your house taking your shit.

- Christmas decorations are never a celebration of Christmas spirit. They are a means of competition with neighbors. Overelaborate displays are only beat by more overelaborate displays or a Hatfield-McCoy prank-filled rivalry - never with a noise violation or other form of citation.

- Any string of Christmas lights can support an adult male's weight. This can either save his life from falling, or allow him to perform awesome swinging stunts - probably after they've saved his life.

- Santa always has more trouble with random problems than with visiting every child on the planet in one night. Seriously, it's either a marital dispute or something going wrong with the elves or the reindeer or not enough people believing in him or he's kidnapped or rendered unconscious or something. Never about the whole stress of his job description - always the little things that get him into hot water.

Christmas Conundrum #3: Christmas Music

I want to shoot every executive at every radio station involved in the "let's be the first to switch to all-Christmas-music this season" idiocy. It's one thing to play a few Christmas songs once the commercial season starts up - maybe play an hour's worth once or twice a day. Devote maybe the entire 24-48 hours before Christmas to the all-Christmas-music notion. But seriously - there's just not enough Christmas songs to make this a feasible plan. And for fuck's sake - these are PLACES OF BUSINESS having this tripe pumped in.

It's bad enough that I go to have lunch somewhere and realize that my lunch hour for two months is going to be in the presence of 24-hour Christmas. Then I have to feel eighty times more sorry for the poor employees who work there and listen to it for their entire shift, day in and day out.

I honestly can't believe there aren't more Christmas-music-related shootings come Thanksgiving time, let alone around the 20th of December.

"I swear ta God, Mabel, I hear 'bout mommy kissin' freakin' Santa Claus one more goddamn time, I'm puttin' a bullet in mah head and y'all can finally let me be at peace!"

Also, I'm sorry, but I can't stand Barbra Streisand singing Christmas carols. I love Barbra as much as any heterosexual male can, and I know she's got an awesome singing voice, but you can't hear a single one of those songs without thinking, "This voice is Barbra Streisand, and these are Christmas carols, and my mind wants to evacuate my head out any possible orifice so it can stop having to make this mental connection." At least I can't.

Any shopping anecdotes or commiseration over gift-giving?
Any movie lessons you'd like to add to my list?
Your favorite and least-favorite-mind-numbing Christmas songs?

I'm all ears. After all, 'tis the season! Read more!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Santa and Obesity

We all know by now that the things that piss me off the most tend to be people making decisions based on stupid ideas without taking five seconds to continue thinking it through to the next logical step and realizing it's a stupid idea.

Today's mind explosion comes from some 80-year-old guy in a Santa suit who refuses to stuff his suit with a pillow. Because it's supposedly making our children obese.

He claims that children have been seeing Santa as a "chubby role model" and then they grow up thinking it's fine to be overweight. Seriously, he's making the "what would Santa do" argument that a lovely magical holiday spirit is turning kids into milk-and-cookie-loving fatties. When the kids and parents start asking questions about why Santa is so thin, this guy claims Santa's been on a diet and the parents agree that it's a good idea.

Hey, are you all too busy "thinking about the children" that you've forgotten to THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

What happens when they go to a different mall and see a different Santa, one who's apparently yo-yo-dieted his way back to his old college weight of "belly like a bowl full of jelly?" Doesn't changing the figure to conform with reality just detract from any possible magic left in the holiday? If you want to argue that Santa needs to go on a diet because of obesity and the risks of heart disease, what does that say about the fantasy itself? Santa can't get heart disease or clogged arteries or suffer from a myocardial infarction because he's FUCKING SANTA CLAUS! He's FUCKING MAGICAL, you idiotic jackaninnies! Does he need to wear a goddamned face mask while popping magically through chimneys because of the creosote buildup in the fireplace and he could get lung disease?

Here's what pisses me off the most: judging and altering Santa based on one tiny facet and ignoring the rest of it all because it's not the hot-button issue that has the country's knickers in a twist, so to speak.

Santa is overweight, so we must make him skinnier and say he's on a diet or else children will become obese since Santa is their role model? Fine, what about the fact that Santa only works one day a year? Do we need to make up a day job for Santa so children don't grow up to be slackers and bums? Should we have a police force out patrolling the streets to let kids know that breaking and entering is a crime, even if it's to give presents to good girls and boys? What about the misdemeanor of peeping since he sees you when you're sleeping? How about a gestapo of lawyers monitoring Santa to file suits if his naughty/nice decisions are determined to be racial profiling? Why isn't someone tackling the issue of elf slave labor or cruelty to reindeers having to pull a sleigh? Any global warming bitchfests about having to live at the North Pole even though the icecap his home and workshop are on must be melting away to nothing?

Anyone trying to ruin the magic of Santa Claus by making him follow reality instead of the spirit of Christmas is a Grinch who needs to be shot in the face. Put in your pillow and crank up the jolly, you old bastard. Kids have enough reality being jammed in their faces and enough bitching about diet and exercise from all angles throughout childhood. It's Christmas. Give them a fucking break and go have some eggnog.

Yes, I'm Jewish. But I'm also nondenominational and open-minded enough to know that you don't go fucking with Santa Claus.

(Don't be this guy.) Read more!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Baseball Steroids

There's a huge buzz going on over some report that says what we've all pretty much known for the past 5 years: there's a lot of steroid/drug usage in the game of baseball. And it tries to shock us with the fact that it's been going on a lot longer than the 4 years that MLB has been having to test for steroids - even though all of the cases involving players with steroid involvement have been saying things about steroids being used for a long time.

So in essence, this report tells us more details about what we already had the gist of but didn't care enough about to investigate the matter ourselves.

I personally dislike baseball. I wouldn't shed a tear if this or some other huge steroid scandal or report shut down the game of baseball entirely. Not one tear. Well, unless superfans of baseball learned how much I dislike baseball and my future nonchalance over its demise, then beat me up with baseball bats. Then I might shed some tears. But they'd still have little to do with remorse or mourning for the deceased sport.

My thinking is that we shouldn't give a damn about steroids being used in baseball. Frankly, the whole operation is hogwash, and if the sport itself can't maintain a control - how can it expect its players to follow the rules? I know, that sounds confusing and nonsensical. Here's my thought process:

The argument about steroids (aside from its illegality) is that it gives certain players an unfair advantage over other players. This leads to the whole "it's unfair, so this player shouldn't be allowed to win things or hold records because it's unfair" argument/complaint/whine-fest.

My thinking is that you can't argue about one type of unfairness or advantage unless all the others are eliminated as well. It all becomes a moot point. It's like trying to complain about your chess opponent moving pieces and cheating WHILE THE CHESS BOARD IS ON FIRE. The game is already useless, so why argue about its further uselessness?

Baseball fields/stadiums aren't built to the same code. Here is proof-positive that the game itself is useless because the fields aren't the same, as referenced in Wikipedia:

Unlike the majority of sports, baseball playing fields can vary significantly, within certain guidelines, in size and shape of the field. With the exception of the strict rules on the dimensions of the infield, discussed above, the official rulessimply state that fields built after June 1, 1958 must have a minimum distance of 325 feet (99 m) from home plate to the fences in left and right field and 400 (121 m) feet to center. This rule (a footnote to official rule 1.04) was passed specifically in response to the fence at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which was not originally designed for baseball, and thus was only 251 feet (77 m) to the left field pole (1 foot [0.3 m] over the bare minimum required by the rules). Major league teams often skirt this rule. For example, Minute Maid Park's Crawford Boxes are only 315 feet (96 m), and with a fence much lower than the famous "Green Monster" at Fenway Park which is labeled as 310 feet (94 m) away and 37-foot (11 m), two-inches tall. And there are no rules at all regulating the height of "fences, stands or other obstructions", other than the assumption that they exist. However, teams are required to obtain approval from the League Office when constructing new stadiums, or when proposing alterations.

Because of this flexibility, there are numerous variations in park configuration, from different lengths to the fences to uneven playing surfaces to massive or minimal amounts of foul territory. The differing styles create a unique sense of ambiance in each location, something that many fans find alluring (and even a source of civic pride). All of these factors, as well as local variations in altitude, climate and game scheduling, can affect the nature of the games played at those ballparks. Certain stadiums eventually get labeled as either a "pitcher's park" or a "hitter's park", depending on which side benefits more from the unique factors present. Chicago's Wrigley Field can be either, depending on the wind direction at any given time. This is due to Chicago's close proximity to Lake Michigan. The wind provides drag or lift to the ball depending on whether it is blowing "in", or "out" or "across" the field. When the wind blows "in", it can lead to more fly ball outs. When the wind blows "out", an ordinary fly ball is more likely to wind up a home run into the bleachers or even reach the streets. When the wind blows "across", a fly ball can sail into the bleachers for a home run, or carry away from the bleachers for an out or a simple extra-base hit.

In the end, the lack of a consistent, standardized playing field has caused some debate, particularly when comparing players statistics and career records. For example, hitting a ball off the Green Monster in Boston results in a hit, where at San Francisco the hit may have been caught.

So the size of the stadium is not consistent, and has an effect on the outcome of the game. There are many other biased factors in the game of baseball, too. For example, gravity doesn't remain constant. I'm fairly sure that the Denver stadium is the highest in altitude, which leads to a slightly lower gravity and (probably more of an effect) thinner air, which leads to longer hits in that particular location. I think the lowest in altitude is in Arizona, but I could be wrong. I'm not willing to do the research on that one at this moment.

So now that space and physics are unbalanced in baseball, why not add on the imbalance of the time continuum itself? In the game of football (not the soccer kind of football, although this is true for that sport as well), the game is rigidly timed. You get four 15-minute quarters, one sudden death 15-minute overtime, and if the score is still tied, the game is still over. I think that in playoffs, this rule is abandoned, but the point remains that MOST of the time, the game is rigidly timed. That means that one player has a certain amount of time, give or take, to amass points and and distances and playtime in order to acheive a record. In baseball, there is no definite end time. Every game can go off into infinity. How can you have a record for something in baseball if one player plays only 9-inning standard games, but one player gets to be in 14-inning games or 18-inning games?

My point is that baseball is a stupid game that means nothing, is completely useless, and steroids are the least of their worries. If steroids were really that important of a factor in winning or breaking records, teams would be hiring professional wrestlers as ringers. Have you ever seen these Ironman competitions with people PULLING TRAINS? Give one of these monsters a baseball bat and see what happens.

What we need is either actual regulation for these things and enforcement of those rules, or the foundation of the WLB: Whatever League Baseball. Anyone can play, using whatever advantages they want. I think a team of those World's Strongest Women Competition entrants would be an exciting game to watch. Plus, more 'roid rage means more chances for violence and injury, which is what drives most of us to watch real sports.

The whole game of baseball is stupid and worthless. I didn't need a report about steroids to tell me that.

(An article about the steroid report, in case I haven't fully convinced you to stop watching baseball entirely)

Read more!

Christmas on the CTA

I saw this, and had to share. I know, it's wrong of me to post hilarious things that I didn't write (and have no idea who the original author is) - but if you live in Chicago, you'll hopefully crack up as much as I did and forgive me. I've seen it on this awesome blog and originally on a post in this LJ community post.

And if you're not living in Chicago, maybe it'll give you some insight into our horrible world, full of Doomsdays (and apparently a supposed walkout on Monday that will leave the city crippled with no CTA, RTA or PACE).

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there

But St. Nick himself, plump and brimming with joy
Hit a snag on his last stop: Chicago, Illinois

For Rudolph the reindeer, whose nose led the way
Suddenly fell ill and could not guide the sleigh

Santa said “Well, just one option remains
I'll finish my route using CTA trains”

He gathered the reindeer and sack full of toys
To give to Chicagoland good girls and boys

And though well-equipped, CTA card in hand
He'd soon find their trip wouldn't go quite as planned

The train that they rode went from four tracks to one
And wouldn't move fast 'til construction was done

Right then, Santa's joy changed to derision
Saying “It'll take 3 damn hours to reach Clark and Division”

“We normally fly through the air with such speed
But this subway, it moves like a turtle on weed”

The seats were all dirty and beyond repairs
The reindeer stood in urine, which for once wasn't theirs

And Sally's new doll, it would just have to wait
Her Brown Line stop's closed until 2008!

Yes…Santa, he trudged and he slogged and he groaned
It seemed that his Doomsday would not be postponed

But he made a vow on that cold Christmas night
“I must do my job, and do the job right!”

He rode on that Red Line, and then on the Blue
Plus the 36 bus and the Clark 22

He rode on the Orange Line, rode on the Green
From O'Hare to East Side and all homes between

And despite the delays at a few of those places
He did all he could to put smiles on kids' faces

And when he was done, he sighed with relief
Though the trip had been rough, it was worth all the grief

He delivered those presents, he was true to his word
He looked at his watch…..it was January 3rd.

They all flew back home once Rudolph felt better
Mrs. Claus fetched his hubby hot tea and a sweater

Then St. Nick sat down in his favorite chair
And thought all about the entire affair

He hoped that the CTA would succeed
In getting their present: the funds that they need

And I heard him exclaim, as exclaiming's his habit
“Merry Christmas to All! Next time, f**k it, I'll cab it!!!!”
Read more!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Letter to RedEye: Micro-Racism

Technically this is about Wednesday's articles, but since I didn't get to complete a response, I finished it today. I dislike doing that, because it leads to very disjointed arguments if I'm not careful. My arguments one day differ greatly from my arguments the next day - after they've had time to stew and mutate from my radioactive brainwaves or something...

Anyway, the articles were about Micro-Racism, and are available online at:
The racist in all of us
Micro? What about the macro-racism?
Racism on campus

(As usual, it's all in italics, and anything they actually print I'll put in boldtype later in an update.)

Micro-Racism on Whose Part?

So I read all of the articles about micro-racism, and while some incidents were truly signs of racism (with little "micro" about them) - a lot of these things seem like the racism was only in the victim's mind. The white guy cutting in from of the black guy at a reception desk - is that really about race? Which is the more likely scenario: that a white guy cut in front of a black guy because he thinks so much less of black people or that they "don't matter" enough to wait, or that one person is a jerk and doesn't want to wait in lines with other people? This is just one example of "micro-racism" that I'm pretty sure is only racist on the victim's part for thinking that racism was a motivation for an incident. Why can't the question "Where were you born?" refer to a state or city in America? Why does it have to be implied that the questioner was asking about an Asian country of national origin just because the questionee happens to be of Asian descent?

When will people learn that stereotyping isn't always an "evil racist menace" - because it's just a common necessity for our human brains to work? To the brain, a stereotype is just a simplified collection of all your opinions for a specific subject based on experiences, hearsay and logic. It's okay to stereotype an elephant as large and gray with big ears, isn't it? Unless you've seen elephants that are NOT large or NOT grey or with SMALL ears, that's just how you're going to stereotype them. If you were beaten up by tall and muscled kids during school, you're likely to stereotype all tall and muscled people as potential threats. It's not because of anything personal against them or what they look like or who they are - it's just what you're used to and what you've experienced. If you really want to tackle negative stereotypes, you'd have to get people to stop doing those negative things the lead to the association.

Of course, any attempt to stop groups of people from doing the negative things they are associated with would almost certainly be seen as evil stereotyping or "racism".

Aaron Samuels, 24, Bridgeport

Any thoughts from my readers? Am I wrong? Read more!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Science Project Battle Royale

Sometimes it takes a lot to get me focused on one thing and one thing alone - focused enough to come up with enough material to write about it, anyway. Sometimes what's even harder is keeping that train of thought either moving forward until I can type it out, or at least pulled into a specific station where I know it will be waiting for me to board once again after rushing about elsewhere.

My mind is often like a little dog, rushing about and distracted by shiny objects, never quite sure how it got to where it currently is, but no matter because there will always be more shiny objects and - look, shiny!

The analogy is more apt when put in the context of how much time my brain apparently devotes to thinking about things that (in the context of the analogy) are like a dog wading nose-deep in crotches.

That out of the way, I can hop a trip back to my particular train of thought and share my thoughts, for those of you anxiously awaiting something about science projects, battle royales, and not mind/dog/crotch analogies:

I was sitting on the train (I can usually procure a seat after the Roosevelt stop) and became aware of the three boys across from me who were talking about South Park. I wasn't paying attention to their conversation, mostly because I had my iPod on, but I couldn't help but gawk at the blast-from-the-past on the seat next to them. It was one of those cardboard science project things. You know, those obnoxiously-large cardboard stand-up deals that folds out to allow papers and "data" to be strewn about it as it borders some display and stands on a table in a gymnasium and is subject to the ridicule of every passing human being - whether you like it or not. Rage built inside of me, a nostalgic rage (if such a thing can exist) brought about by year after year of mindless science fairs.

That's when a thought entered my head: "Who MAKES these things, anyway?" Not the projects, because the answer is an obvious "fifth-graders" or something, but the actual cardboard things. I expect there are factories churning out these bastards, day in, day out. Working with shipping logistics as an analyst, I wondered for a brief moment if they experience seasonality, like a "science fair season" when revenue skyrockets as so many childhoods fall into the abyss of science fair depression. The moment was fleeting, and I was back to thinking about the factories.

There really can't be that many of them, right? Let's say that with the various companies that make them (since there are multiple varieties, as any fifth-grader could tell you) - there's maybe 50 that deal specifically with these sizes and styles of boards. That's one per state in America.

So here's my question:

Who would win in a fight to the death: all of the factory workers in each factory or all of the fifth-graders in that state?

I chose fifth-graders for this scenario because I think it makes it a fair fight. While practically every child from 2nd grade through high school is probably subjected to science fairs, I think that fifth grade is when you're old enough to be expected to know enough about the scientific method to make an actual experiment - but still young enough to be forced to do one and yammered at about not having your parents do it for you. Plus, fifth grade seems like the nice balance between being old enough to fight to the death, but young enough to not know how to play dirty. Which gives the factory workers the advantage. They're probably outnumbered at a 100-to-1 ratio, which raises the question of whether or not each worker could take out 100 children each.

The maelstrom would be fantastic.

My money is riding on the children. They would be hungrier for it, to be honest. With no boards, there could be no science fairs. The workers must perish. Or, I suppose, stop working at the factories. If they all quit, the boards couldn't be made, and it's likeliest that a worker who hears that a mob of bloodthirsty children will kill all the workers would just quit and find a new job that won't result in death-by-anklebiting. Though if the workers all banded together and created traps and schematics and fought dirty - they would certainly stand a chance. There's something to be said for power in numbers, but even numbers would probably succumb to a well-executed rapid-fire nailgun situation.

It wouldn't take long for the children to locate tools and for the smart/crafty ones to operate them and increase their killing potential. Which is why my money still rides on the army of fifth-graders.

I suppose that in the end, mass murder of adult workers would probably be more devastating to the average childhood than any science project. You could call it a moot point. I prefer to think of it as an experiment with no control and no repeatable results. A science experiment, if you will.

Now if only I had some kind of cardboard device with which I could display my findings...

Party-stopper question: Who would win in a fight to the death - All of the cardboard project-stand factory workers or all of the science-project-hating fifth-graders? Read more!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Apparently, today I was the victim of a pickpocket. I didn't notice until it was too late, and I can't identify who it was that picked the contents of my pocket. I only know what's missing, and that's the annoying part.

He took my fucking breakfast.

I'm really not sure what emotion to feel right now. Which is probably why I'm calmly and rationally able to put this all down in words. I'm sure that if I were feeling some emotion too strongly about the ordeal, I'd be too emotional to write about it.

So here's the story. I'm at home, pondering what outerwear I should use today, since it's "freezing rain" outside and I'm already wearing mismatched clothing already (because I'm a guy, have no fashion sense, and pick my outfits in the dark). I have a black shirt on with dark blue pants. I'm certain that some women over the course of my life have informed me of blue not matching with black, but I've never been stabbed over it, so I'm not too worried. I decided to go with my overcoat (to protect against rain, and overkill against the "freezing" part) and pair it with my knit cap, so give some barrier for my head. At this point, I decided to crack open a fresh bag (bought yesterday) of blueberry bagels and liberally apply some cream cheese.

I looked at the clock, and I was almost going to run the risk of missing my "late bus". That's the bus that I have to take when I miss my "early bus", which still puts me on a route to arrive at work 30 minutes early. So 'late' is really a relative term. Not that anyone in my office would really know if I arrived late, since I'm scheduled to start work 30 minutes before most everyone anyway. I grabbed a plastic bag, tossed bagel inside and shoved into coat pocket and dashed out the door.

The bagel did NOT fall out of my pocket.

I know I had it with me on the bus, because I sat down and wanted to pull it out and eat my bagel, but I've grown a new respect for the "no eating on the bus" rule and a new disrespect for those who don't abide by it. I think that the only reason I'd ever want to be a cop is to assault and humiliate and and punish those idiots who fuck around in my presence. I'd never want to be on-duty and risking my life. I just want to be an off-duty cop who still has the power to ticket and fine and forcibly remove scofflaws from my presence. It was at this point in the daydream that I realized we were pulling into the station, so I got up and picked up a RedEye and headed to the train platform. Wasn't long before my train arrived and I boarded.

The bagel did NOT fall out of my pocket.

I know I had it with me on the train, because I wobbled when the train started up and I felt for it to see if I'd squished it in any way. I was looking forward to digging into that bad boy once arriving in the office. I whipped open the paper and began reading. We got to the next stop, Roosevelt, and I felt people pushing against me. It's a busy stop, and there's always people shoving to get to the doors long before the train even stops or the doors are getting ready to open. Just rushers and impatience and idiocy. I turn the page as the doors are opening, and that's when I notice that one side of my body is off-balance. I have lost a ballast. I immediately consider that the bagel fell out of my pocket.

The bagel did NOT fall out of my pocket.

It was nowhere on the ground, and I looked up to the crowd of people by the doors that were now open, and I see this one guy who looked about twenty, nervously twitching his leg while waiting for the crowd to disperse so he could leave the train. It really seemed like he was in a rush. Or nervous. He had on a bluish Columbia jacket, and a blue lunchbag. He was also gone before I mentally made any connection and there was nothing I could do (or had the energy to do at 7am) about the situation.

I mean, it could have been someone else. But I'm pretty sure it was this college kid. And I'm sure it was taken, because it never fell out of my pocket. I may be a dumb male who stereotypically would assume something was stolen before admitting that I'd lost it - but this is not the same thing. I keep tabs on my breakfast. I think you all KNOW a fat guy like me knows where his food is at all times. And by now, it's in someone else's belly.

They took my breakfast, and I'm mad as hell.

Okay, I'm nonchalant as hell.

But I'm certainly hungry... Read more!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stairway to?

I'm sick and tired of stairs and the people who use them at a speed I find inappropriate.

Hopefully in the future, there will be no stairs and we can all use vacuum tube networks to arrive at various destinations, or at least at various altitudes in the same location. Hopefully in the less-distant future, all stairs will be escalators. Preferably weight-sensored escalators so the energy-whiners can be placated by the fact that they only turn on and use power when someone's actually on them.

Of course, before that happens, we would need people to stop and remember WHY we have escalators. In case you're one of those nitwits who forgot, we have them so that we don't have to climb stairs. Sometimes I wonder if it's just the fact that they look like stairs that triggers these people to automatically mandate, "I see stairs - I must climb them," even if the stairs themselves are already moving.

I can succumb to the age-old excuse of being "in a hurry". Of course, I plan my travel time accordingly so I won't have to be in a hurry. I'm one of those weird people who tries to keep to a schedule and understands how long it can take to travel somewhere. I expect delays and leave home accordingly, as opposed to some people I know who recall one miraculously-quick travel instance and rationalize that every trip will be that short. They're the ones perpetually late to everything. I can more willingly accept the excuse of "immediate rushes", like when the train is pulling into the station and it will be leaving shortly so moving up the already-moving stairs is an attempt to catch the train. Fine. But when there are NO trains at the station, the act is absolutely ridiculous. There's nowhere to go, buddy!

A similar situation would be those asshole drivers who cut you off and weave haphazardly just to gain an extra carlength or two while the light is red. So you get to swear a constant flow of obscenities at the car that almost got you killed, just to be 20 feet closer to a RED LIGHT.

There are times when I'll scrunch myself to one side and let a rusher pass by. This is usually a factor of my mood at the time, the environmental conditions, and the situation of the escalator. For example, in my office building at room temperature on an escalator leading to places of meetings and businesses - I will let someone pass by if I notice them rushing up. When it's 18 degrees and you're shoving people on your way to an empty train station platform - you can go to hell, because I'm not budging.

Manual stairs are just as annoying at times. And the only way I can find to correct the current situation is to have everyone approach the stairs in the order of speed they plan on being able to ascend/descend them. Most stairs where I find bottlenecking only allow for one person moving at a time, though two can theoretically fit in the space. This is more apt for one person ascending to pass one person descending. Trying to pass in the same direction is dangerous at best and potentially-deadly at worst.

I am a slow person when it comes to stairs (did you notice my hatred for them yet) - but I know my place and I take proper measures. I hold back when waiting in a group to use the stairs. I can identify who is obviously faster than me or looks hurried and should obviously be traversing the staircase before me, lest I clog up the works. And yet there are still those exceptions that sneak by - usually an older woman who seems rather spry rushing her way to the turnstile, and yet hobbling awkwardly and sluggishly down each step, one-by-one, like she were a stunt double for the "I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up" lady.

Is she just old enough to stop caring about what other people think or anyone other than herself and where she's going? If she had one iota of guilt about the 8-person traffic jam she's causing, wouldn't you think she'd do everything in her power to stop, scrunch and let everyone else pass? Nay - she hobbles along, hip jutting into potential passing space. She is essentially the ambulatory version of an "elderly driver" sterotype.

If we can't replace all the staircases with escalators soon, then my other idea is to widen to allow for AT LEAST two full lanes of person traffic (and yes, I'm smart enough to account for the average American being wider today than back in the 50's when most of these current stairways were built) - and designate lanes like highways (fastest lane closer to the middle, slowest by the shoulder/handrail). Faster people would know to take the inside track, and slower people would be over on the right - trying to attain a "passing lane" possibility with wider lanes to account for jutting hips and larger people.

At least those are MY ideas.

Party-stopper question: What do you think can be done to alleviate the staircase traffic situation in our downtown areas? Read more!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Correlation and Causation

Sweet Jesus, I am so incredibly pissed off over seeing yet another failure of a researcher producing yet another failure of an article based on some half-assed finding! Okay, so the person writing the article isn't exactly a "researcher" - more likely a journalist who was abysmal at every subject in school other than lying to the bullies to avoid getting beaten up or forging doctor's notes to get out of gym throughout high school.

Either way, a complete dipshit.

The article is about a study that showed a correlation between people who said they drink diet sodas and the subjects being overweight. That's seriously it. 41% of respondents who said they consume diet soda were overweight.

And the journalist immediately blurts out things like: "One recent study has shown that people who drink diet soda still have a 41 percent chance of being overweight."

Right off the fucking bat, with the ONE piece of real actual honest-to-goodness fucking SCIENTIFIC DATA and it's just slathered in make-up and given a skimpy bikini and made into whatever fashion of whore the journalist cares to make it out to be. They're actually implying causation IN THE CORRELATION!

It's not that those who consume diet soda have "a chance" to be overweight - it's simply that this percentage WERE overweight. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other, unless you feel like conducting THAT experiment to test THAT hypothesis!

Sure, they then go into some blather about "halo effect" and how you think you're being better to your body with certain consumables and it leads to overcompensation down the road for daily calories as a result. Again, nothing to do with the 41%. You can't just staple a fact to a scientific result and expect the resulting blood pool to be a testament to how the fact is represented by the lies you've made up about the data.

Not once did they ponder the notion that the obesity came first. Not once did they randomly speculate that instead of the consumption of diet sodas causing overweight participants that it MIGHT be the case of the participants being overweight causing them to consume diet sodas! I'm not saying that's the case - because I know better than to assume that correlation is grounds for causation - but I'm throwing out a tat for their tit in the grand scheme of Devil's Advocacy.

I happen to be overweight. And I happen to try and consume more diet soda as a result of being overweight. To hopefully see the result of being LESS overweight.

No matter what some bogus idiot decides to claim about the mangled remains of a once-adequately-scientific study.

(Judge the article for yourself!)

Read more!

The Big 'Nuk!

The holiday of Hanukkah is shrouded in mystery for most people, some Jews included. Over time, the celebration has become a bit deluded and competitive with Christmas in the category of traditions and merchandising. It vies for contention in the mentioning of winter holidays - and few people know a single thing about the holiday itself.

For starters, how to spell it.

The most common spelling out there is Hanukkah. H, not Ch - one n, two k's, and another h. Some versions opt with the Ch for that gutteral sound like the Hebrew letter used in the Hebrew name for the holiday. Some versions go with double n's, some a single k, and it's rare - but a few spellings drop off the h at the end for some reason. My unofficial name for the holiday stems from the few things all spellings agree on:

"The Big 'Nuk"

The 'Nuk, like Christmas, has roots going far back in history - with an original storyline that often gets twisted up into things pretty enough to make a gift card with or tell to a youth at bedtime. Christmas has its Santa Claus - the 'Nuk has a miracle of oil.

It all began long long ago, around 168 B.C.E. (That's 'Before the Common Era', since Judaism doesn't have much use for B.C. and A.D.). That was when the Seleucid monarch, Antiochus IV, declared that Judaism should be abolished. Jews were massacred, and soldiers literally went around "uncircumcising" people. (If you thought the idea of circumcision was painful, imagine a forceful method of "correcting" that!) Amid the slaughter, the Holy Temple of Jerusalem was looted and desecrated. Eventually, Antiochus IV demanded that an altar to Zeus be erected in the Temple, and the rebellion officially started with Mattathias and his five sons: John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah. In the rebellion, Mattathias was killed and Judah took over as leader of the rebellion, complete with a new title, "Judah Maccabee" - or "Judah the Hammer".

The Jews proved, as usual, to be a feisty bunch and in 165 BCE, the revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. They stormed the Temple and celebrated the "chanukah" - the "Rededication" of the Holy Temple. (That's where the holiday gets its name.) This is the point where the celebration gives birth to the holiday legends. In all the historical accounts, there is no "miracle" - other than winning a rebellion against a monarch's rule with such a small militia. The books simply state that the rededication celebration lasted eight days.

This eventually became a legend of sorts, to further explain WHY the celebration lasted so long (aside from pure jubilation). The legend goes on to say that when they went to rededicate the Temple, the amount of holy candle oil left undesecrated was only enough to last for one night, yet the flames lasted an entire eight nights - the amount of time necessary to produce and bless a new batch of oil for lighting the menorah in the Holy Temple. Another explanation for the eight-day celebration was that the rebellion had lasted so long that another important holiday had been passed by - the celebration of Sukkot, which lasts eight days. Upon the end of the rebellion, the Jews celebrated a belated Sukkot for those eight days. Either way, due to the miracle of the oil story or the importance of candles/lights in the spirit of the Holy Temple's rededication - the holiday is also known as the "Festival of Lights".

So the celebration of the miraculous oil, or just the rededication lighting of the Temple's menorah, sparked the tradition of lighting the chanukiyah for eight nights. This as well was debated. There were two schools of thought regarding the lighting of the candles: one that starts with eight candles and reduces by one each night, the other starting with one and adding one each night. Eventually, the addition of candles was the winner of the debate. More specifically, the tradition is that the first candle goes on the far RIGHT, and added candles extend to the LEFT. HOWEVER, the candles each night are lit (by the "shamash" candle) going from LEFT to RIGHT, lighting the newest candle first.

Looking for MORE candle-related traditions?

On the Sabbath, the candles that are lit are the last flames created and are therefore used as a source of light, sometimes as a heating element, and cannot be extinguished except by naturally dying out. On the Big 'Nuk, the candles are purely for the purpose of celebration. They are NOT to be used as lighting or heating or anything other than enjoyment and looking pretty. For this reason, it is okay to put them out - should the need arise, though I'm not sure why one would...

While the tradition of giving presents is modern, and usually attributed to competition with Christmas, there are historic traditional foods that are eaten - and make this holiday #2 of my favorite Jewish holidays for the food aspects. Of course, when the celebration and ensuing miracle tales are all about the usage of OIL - the traditional foods of the Big 'Nuk are all FRIED! Fried potato pancakes ("latkes") rank the highest, but another traditional fried food is "sufganyot" - JELLY DOUGHNUTS! As for chocolate coins, that tradition is based on the games with dreidles and that coins/money were given to children as holiday gifts. 20th-century chocolatiers created the gold-foiled chocolates, which replaced real coinage - and present-giving took over thanks to competition with Christmas.

Let me end this with the traditional THIRD prayer said over the candles on the FIRST night of Hanukkah (tonight):

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu, v'kiyemanu, vehigi-anu laz'man hazeh.
Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us in life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.

Okay, I believe that covers everything! Anything I left out? Anything??

Oh yes, Hanukkah Harry and the Hanukkah Bush - purely modern holiday-wannabe hilarity.

And my #1 favorite Jewish holiday, since the 'Nuk ranked #2?

It's called "Purim", and is practically a combination of Hallowe'en and St. Patty's Day - combining costumed parties with the celebration of getting so drunk you can't tell "Mordechai" from "Haman". And that's PRETTY drunk!

But that's another story, and another rant, for another day. Happy Hanukkah! Read more!

Bad Acting and Prophetic Dreams

I am usually not one for dreaming up prophecies, or having dreams that literally come true. I have a lot of deja vu moments during the average week, though - and most of those times it's because it feels like I dreamed about it at some point in the past. It feels even weirder when the moment itself is incredibly boring or routine - which means that I have been dreaming about my dull and boring life.

Last night / this morning, I got of got this shock. I'm pretty sure I'd hit the snooze button once or twice, which leads to very vivid half-awake/half-asleep dreaming, but the message was loud and clear. Let me take you to my crazy dreamworld. Well, before that I'd better let you know what I did last night (since dreams are just short-term memories being downloaded into long-term memory, for those of you who didn't take a boring Psychology class like I did).

If you've ever seen the show Jackass, you'll have a base understanding of what I'm talking about. If you've also seen the show Viva La Bam (technically a spinoff of Jackass, I think), you're right on track. Basically I've recently been watching the CKY movie series. CKY (or Camp Kill Yourself) is most of the original Jackass group and all of the stunts they were pulling long before Jackass even made it on the air. In fact, a few scenes from the CKY movies are almost certainly worked into the first season of Jackass. It's wild. Anyway, last night I watched the film "Haggard" - which is basically the entire cast of Jackass (well, the entire cast of Viva La Bam) trying to do what SEEMS to be an authentic full-length feature film. Seriously. The acting is crappy and spotty, all of the characters are like weird personae thought up by the actors, and the plotline is almost decent. Rather full of holes, but still passable as a storyline.

Cue up the dream sequence, and the dream itself was full of bad acting. There was something about a field trip back at my elementary school, and lots of spreadsheets were involved. Combine a boring job with a bad-acting movie and that's apparently what you get. The end of the dream is what I remember most vividly. I'm in the back seat of my parents' car as they're picking me up from this field trip. They're talking about something, asking me some questions about how it was and if I had a good time. We get to the end of my elementary school's driveway, and my mom turns around and says, "Ethan is braindead." and that just jolts me completely out of sleep and the radio alarm goes off.

Ethan is the name of my cousin. And I sat there in bed for several minutes trying to acknowledge that I was having a dream. Some of my dreams involve long conversations about important things, and then I have to get out of bed because I know that I'm obviously not talking to anyone because my phone is nowhere near the bed and these people are obviously not in my room. But it all feels so REAL.

So now I'm sitting here at the office, wondering if I should call home and ask about my cousin.

I know that if something WERE wrong (like him being braindead or something happening to him that would cause such a thing) - my parents would have contacted me to let me know. Do I risk sounding like a paranoid freak of nature and call to ASK if something's wrong? Do I share my vision of impending doom and give yet another item to add to their list of reasons why I belong in professional psychological therapy sessions.

It later occurred to me that I know of a few Ethans, not necessarily my cousin (the first one who came to mind). My friend's nephew is named Ethan - I hear her talk about him all the time. Babies are just as vulnerable to brain death as teenagers...

(Update: It's the mid-afternoon and neither my mother nor friend have mentioned an Ethan or braindead states. I think it really was all a dream.) Read more!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Letter to RedEye: Smoking Ban

Still trying to get published again. I'll let you know if anything comes of this one.

(UPDATE: Got published! As usual, everything in bold is what they printed - you get to see the entire unedited version!)

I think that the smoking ban is a horrible idea. Banning the use of something that is approved for sale is a ridiculous notion, even if it's for the supposed "greater good" of preventing secondhand smoke. The product can be sold at any establishment and is regulated by the federal government, but with this ban anyone purchasing that product is like a pariah. That makes as much sense as saying, "Here is your cupcake - now go outside if you want to eat that because you're offending the other customers with your cupcake-eating. You're putting them all at risk of being killed by getting crushed by a fat person!"

While I'm not going to turn a deaf ear to all of the scientific research about secondhand smoke and its effects, my gut is telling me that most of the secondhand smoke damage is done either at home over a prolonged period of time, or working in a previously-smoke-friendly location - not having to be in the same area as a smoker during lunch a few times a week.
My gut also tells me that I inhale more poisons into my body from crossing one traffic-filled street downtown than I would by spending an hour in the non-smoking section of a restaurant (even if the entire smoking section were filled with chain-smokers). And that's just one street-crossing. So unless the government plans on foolishly trying to remove all cars from the downtown area (oh wait, Alderman Burke proposed a downtown toll) or removing all the buses as well (oh wait, Doomsday in January's got that covered) - I'd prefer if lawmakers started focusing on real crimes and enforcing laws that keep real dangers from harming me. Stop taking away our liberties. Oh, and just for the record, I'm a non-smoker.

Aaron Samuels, 24, Bridgeport
Read more!

Monday, December 03, 2007


I think I'm starting to understand why bears hibernate.

Winter kind of sucks, for the most part. Don't get me wrong, I hate the heat and sun of summer and I love it when the temperatures get down below 60 degrees. It's just that once they drop below 30, it's like everyone else shuts down. Nobody wants to go anywhere, nobody wants to do anything, nobody wants to leave the warm sanctuary of their home. Which kind of leaves me isolated in my cave with nothing to do but sleep.

I used to have TV as a fall-back, but the internet has spoiled me when it comes to having to watch commercials, and the writer's strike has meant nothing of quality is available to watch fresh now. The biggest alternatives are eating (which doesn't work, because I like having something to watch while I eat) and sleeping (which totally works whenever).

Hence, I think I slept a majority of the weekend away. And loved it. I think I seriously got like 30 hours of sleep in this weekend. And I'm still tired. I'm loathing being at the office right now and I'd much rather be in bed, in dreamland. Wake me when it's almost spring.

I'm also starting to understand why bears are grumpy to the point of being godless killing machines.

Drag a bear out of his cave before the spring thaw and see what happens to your limbs. I bet mauling and gnawing come into play very quickly. I expect similar flares of anger coming from me today, whether I want to control them or not. Some Mondays, you just have to realize that you're dragging several bears out of their caves a few weeks too early, and the consequences will be dire.

Winter should really be prone to 80-day weekends. Read more!