Friday, September 26, 2008

The Sound and the Fury

My political leaning doesn't really have an official name, but I guess I'd describe it as the "Contrarian Party."*

What this essentially means is that I automatically take the opposite stance of the person I'm talking to, the strength of my beliefs scaling to match that person.

I wish I could say that I stir up such turmoil as some grand political statement, or perhaps as an exercise to bring about a genuine discourse on current issues. But the truth is that it's almost a compulsion, fueled by two things:

1. I'm deeply annoyed by anyone who believes fervently that they are right, and other people are wrong because they're too stupid, naive, or uninformed. This accounts for about 95% of politically-minded people, and only half of those would admit to it.

2. Making those kind of people angry is really, really funny to me.

The problem is that politics are so much like college football.

-Large numbers of people follow it, and can't believe that anyone in this country doesn't.

-Everyone who's into it has a side that they champion. The side they choose is conveniently in-tune with the people in their community and/or family.

-By taking a side, people automatically defend that side no matter what, while simultaneously demonizing all its opponents.

Just watch a political party convention, then watch a Saturday afternoon game. Flip the channel to CNN, then to ESPN, back and forth for a couple of hours. The stakes may be different, but you'll see the same sociological mechanisms at work. The only real difference is that most sports fans know their biases are mostly arbitrary.

So that being said, can't we just decide the election with a football game? Does it really make that much less sense than having the guy who you saw spit out of his truck today filling out a ballot?

I mean I'm just saying, we could have all this BS resolved by tomorrow.

*I've seriously considered starting a "Don't Vote: It's Bad for You" campaign, simply because it's the only position that would make both sides mad.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Have I written a post yet today?

I've been accused, usually while playing my Nintendo DS, of needing constant stimulation. As I sit here in front of my dual monitors, each completely taken up by GoogleTalk, YouTube's assortment of old "Kids In The Hall" sketches, the latest Penny Arcade post, and of course WinAmp, any counter argument is going to fall flat no matter what I say.

So I might as well go the full route and tell you that I listen to audio books in the shower. In fact, I bought extra speakers and connected them as a "B" set on my home theater receiver, then hung one in the bathroom and the other in my bedroom, just so I could listen to audio books.


Because when you add up all the time I spend showering, flossing, brushing my teeth, shaving, dressing, etc., that's like an hour out of every day spent either getting ready for bed or bringing myself to a state where I won't be tempted to crawl back INTO bed. And I feel that time is wasted.

In short, I'm weird. Moving along.

So, one day I was taking a shower, listening to my audiobook. Probably a Discworld novel or one of Christopher Moore's intriguing-but-ultimately-unsatisfying-because-dude-just-can't-stick-the-landing works. And all of a sudden I started hearing music.

At first I wasn't surprised. Some audio books will use a little music here and there, especially as a chapter break. But this music just kept going. Once I realized it wasn't part of the program, I thought maybe it was coming from outside the bathroom window. Certainly, after the night the drunk people started up a leaf blower at 3:30 AM, I wouldn't be surprised by a little music at 8:10.

But it wasn't that either. I was hearing music, and I had no good explanation where it was coming from.

Once I finished my shower, dried off, and walked through my apartment I discovered that I'd set my 2nd alarm to "radio" instead of "off," and that's all there was to it. But for those few minutes, I had to ask myself a serious question: "Am I going crazy?"

And I didn't meant that question in any sort of rhetorical, "oh ha ha" way. Not remembering where you put your keys is the right venue for that sort of humor, but hearing music that's not there? That's a little more serious. 

It's like the music they play in the dentist office. Sure it's peaceful, but you know they want you peaceful because something really bad is coming. Imaginary music is your brain's way of covering up the drill noise.

Questions, especially big questions like that one, are always more fascinating than answers. The idea that a mind in the midst of crumbling could pause to wonder if it is functioning correctly is pretty weird by itself, but there are others too. I especially like the questions that answer themselves. For instance, if you ever ask:

"Do I want another slice of pizza?" 

Then the answer is no. If you wanted it, there would be no question. The mere presence of the question disproves one of the answers.

And it's the same way with:

"Am I a terrible person?"

The answer is automatically "no," because a truly terrible person would never bother to ask.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Money? Baseballs! . . . Office? Submarine!

Greetings from

Please be assured that this is not a form letter, but rather a personal and unique response to your EMAIL COMPLAINT SUBMISSION about one of our TELEVISION AND ACCESSORIES products.

I apologize for the delay in responding to your message. All of us are working very hard to get out the door by 5, and we strive to dismiss you in the most efficient, sterile way possible.

I am sorry for any inconvenience caused by the blatant lie we posted about the cost of one of our TELEVISION AND ACCESSORIES items. At any given time, despite our best efforts (please see attached legal document for definition of "best"), a small number of the millions of items on our site maybe be mis-priced, listed with features that are not technologically possible, or completely imaginary (as with our "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Real, living Hippogryph!" promotion).

These situations are the result of technical and human errors, which is to say complete incompetence, and I am truly sorry for the inconvenience. Not sorry enough, mind you, to make good on the offer we extended to you in the first place, but still, as sorry as I can be without financial burden.

We realize that this may have been disappointing, but we want to make sure that your decision to make a purchase with us is based on the most accurate information possible.* Which seems weird, since the whole issue is that our information was not accurate.

I am truly sorry for condescending you, then following it up with a bizarre contradiction.

If you want to return this item, please let us know so that we may begin the return process, because the best way out of a legal contract is for everyone to pretend that it never happened.

I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. As before, I don't regret it enough to do anything useful, so unfortunately, we will not be able to offer any additional compensation with this TELEVISION AND ACCESSORIES item and rebate.

We've appreciated your business and hope to have the opportunity to serve you again in the future (please see attached legal document for definition of "serve").

Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:

If yes, click here:
If not, click here:

Please note: this e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming e-mail, so there's no way I'll ever have to deal with you again.

Best Regards,

Smarmy Customer Service (see attached legal document for definition of "service")

*Actual wording.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Recently I sat and drank a Slurpee on the edge of the International Fountain in Seattle. It was a clear, warm, sunny day, which the city gets almost a dozen of over the course of every year or two.

If you've never had this experience, I have to recommend it. The fountain itself is pretty remarkable. It's essentially a giant stone bowl, a least a couple hundred feet across, that dips down into the ground. Were it not for all the water coming out of the silver dome in the center, you'd think it was an amphitheater. Sometimes the fountain sprays at random, other times its streams are choreographed to music, but understand that that water isn't really the important part. What makes the experience are the people around the fountain.

There aren't any signs that say, "Hey kids, go play in the water!" And there are no plaques that read, "I wonder if you could run up and touch the silver dome without getting sprayed!" Yet every time I've seen the fountain, there are the children, getting sprayed and laughing.

And that's what blows my mind.

This is just metal and concrete. It's a curious configuration of pumps and tubing. In all respects, we should look at it and see a void, cold, lifeless thing. It is an object.

Yet the fountain is beautiful, not because it has some artful aesthetic, but because it draws a certain response from people who see it. Children look at it as a big toy, a giant sprinkler with no signs or barriers to keep them away. Their parents find a conveniently placed concrete bench that circles the fountain, where they can sit and relax for a while. And so an atmosphere of relaxed, comfortable life surrounds the place, all because someone who knew a lot about people put in for a large order of concrete and water pumps.*

*This post is about the Penny Arcade Expo.