TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: Hitler’s Final Victory

Source: German Federal Archives

Source: German Federal Archives

Hitler killed the short-stache (a.k.a. the “toothbrush mustache.”) Imagine that, almost 70 years after his death, he still holds power over people’s decisions about facial hair.

This is a misplaced take-away lesson. It’s the unbridled narcissism, the icy hatred, and the irrational exuberance in the power of evil of Hitler that should be abandoned (yet, somehow, those intangibles still quietly exist.) It’s not the superficial aspects of Hitler that should be shunned, but the ones at the bastard’s core.

I’m not saying the toothbrush-stache was a good look. On the contrary–as one who has had a mustache his entire adult life and has worn a beard now for several years–I’m a little offended by the lack of commitment to one’s choice of facial hair that the toothbrush-stache represents. (Incidentally, I feel the same about the sole patch and mutton chops.) In my mind, one should go full-stache or go home to shave.

Still, there being no accounting for taste, I think those individuals who would otherwise find the short-stache appealing (i.e. you know, indecisive types who wear culottes and eat with sporks) should revive the toothbrush mustache as a big fuck-you to Hitler–don’t let tyrants boss you around from the grave.

Toothbrush mustache admirers of world, unite!  (No, I won’t be joining you.)

First World Problems Are So Adorable

 

How deep is it? No one knows.

How deep is it? No one knows.

In the interest of enhancing global understanding and camaraderie, I’ve built a translator of common first world (FW) problems–putting them in terms of their Rest of the World (RoW) equivalents.

FW: This food needs salt.
RoW: This food needs food.

FW: My health insurance premiums went up $20 per month.
RoW: My right foot, which recently turned from purple to black, just fell off.

FW: My car is in the shop again.
RoW: My right foot, which recently turned from purple to black, just fell off.

FW: It’s raining again today.
RoW: My house was washed off its foundations and is currently floating down the Brahmaputra River.

FW: Looks like those devils from the other party got a majority in the legislature.
RoW: This coup was particularly bloody.

FW: Squirrels are getting into my bird feeder.
RoW: A tiger ate my family.

FW: A traffic jam made me late for Pilates class.
RoW: While limping through the Kyber Pass to get antibiotics for my right stump, I was socked in by an unanticipated blizzard.

FW: My GPS says this road cuts under the interstate, but now I’ve got to go around.
RoW: What’s GPS?

Rat’s Ass ≠ Flying Fuck

I get that nobody cares about the backside of a rodent. It’s clearly the toothy, gnawing front end that’s on people’s minds. So how is a “rat’s ass” synonymous with “flying fuck?” This isn’t a rhetorical question, people. I’d really like an answer.

So the fact that it’s preceded by “Who gives a…” makes me assume that a “flying fuck” isn’t anything that anyone much cares about. It’s like a rat’s ass, a goat’s gonads, or politician’s promise–no one cares. But wait. It seems to me that a flying fuck would be something that all parties concerned would take great interest in. Alright, I’m not  hip to all the maneuvers of the Kama Sutra, but I imagine  a flying fuck to be when a man with a woody gets a running start,  leaps up in the air in a horizontal configuration, and comes down so as to impale his partner’s lady bits. That’s like throwing a javelin to land a whole-in-one in the cup on the green of the 9th hole.

Is this a flying fuck?

Is this a flying fuck?

Even if I was a thrill-seeker, unconcerned about the threat of a sprained penis (it’s a real thing, look it up), I think my wife would care enough to be firmly opposed. If people weren’t scared of the flying fuck, it’d be all the rage.

Alright, let’s assume I’ve misinterpreted the term. Let’s say that a “flying fuck” really refers to being a member of the Mile High Club. Everybody cares about that. The man wants to celebrate it. The woman doesn’t want to be caught in a slutwalk of shame back to her seat. You can be damn sure the guy who’s locked out of the lavatory after having eaten a vending machine tuna salad sandwich from Concourse B cares greatly. Everybody cares about the flying fuck.

I can’t even imagine what else a flying fuck could be, but whatever it is I have trouble believing that nobody cares.

It can’t just be the alliteration.  Acrobat’s accountant, billionaire’s bunion, crooner’s cookie-jar, etc… are all alliterations that we care less about than a flying fuck.

So if you can shed some light, I’d be happy to hear an explanation. I do, truly, give a flying fuck.

The Deferential Calculus of Being an American in India

Every time I come home, the security man at the desk at our apartment building jumps to his feet and proceeds to stand at attention until I pass. This makes me uncomfortable, as do the many other ingrained acts of deference that occasionally border on obsequiousness. I’ve considered stopping to tell him he can be permanently “at ease” with me, but given the language barrier I’m afraid I’d just confuse the issue–plus have him standing at attention that much more longer. So, when in Rome…

If you’re an American, but not, say… General Pershing, you’d probably find this makes you uneasy as well. I think one of the reasons that Americans have historically excelled at technological development  is that we were in a hurry to have machines do our laundry, wash our dishes, or trim our nose hairs so that we wouldn’t have to have some other human apparently kowtowing to us. (This may be why the 19th century North was considerably more technologically advanced than its Southern counterpart, which had successfully rationalized a subclass of human being.)

There’s a guy who stands at the end of the lane and lifts a swing arm up and down every time a car (or, oddly, a pedestrian such as myself) comes down the lane. The first couple times I walked around the end in hopes of indicating to him that, “Hey, see you don’t really need to swing that thing up, I can just walk right around it, easy as pie.” I think I hurt his feelings, or–perhaps worse–undermined his reason for getting up in the morning. My point is that operating a swing-arm barrier is a perfect example of the type of job that has been completely mechanized in America.

I’m sure that cultural differences are the root of my discomfort. India is coming from the caste system, whereby who you were born to determined your status in a rigidly hierarchical structure. While Indians may have dropped the caste system, the underlying thought process dies hard. I, on the other hand, come from a culture which believes that on a fundamental level we are all equal. Americans are often stymied as to why we are viewed as being arrogant by other cultures. This may be a failure to see things in the same light. It’s not so much that we project that we are better than the average Joe, it’s that we don’t accept that the kings and holy men those cultures hold dear are above us. This is true. I don’t think I’m better than the door man, but I also don’t think the King of [Fill in the blank] is better than me. [OK, the perception of arrogance is also partly that we’re loud and expect a ubiquity of comfort that is simply not available in much of the world. There is that. And the fact that our leaders often think they can fix every problem everywhere, and–given this is not actually true–we have left a lot of chaos in the our wake since our rise to hegemony.]

So the whole culture thing is part of it. However, I also worry that the man who brings my food with a warm smile and a bow is spitting in it. I wonder if the lady who launders my clothes, and then goes the extra mile by ironing them (though they mostly consist of T-shirts and jeans), might be preparing an itching powder attack. I wonder if the security guy standing at attention is just waiting for me to lock myself out of my apartment so that he can exercise some passive aggressive payback. [I suspect this is why Indian bureaucracy is notoriously slow and prickly. It’s a desire to exercise the leg up on has while one is in other ways part of an underclass.] I heard a comedienne of Indian origin say that her mother always flew British Airways just for the delight of bossing a Brit around. All of this consternation is because I worry that they think that I think I’m superior to them, which I don’t.

Yesterday I was eating at an Indian fast food joint called Kaati Zone. It’s one of those places that you order at the counter, get your food at the counter, and take it to one’s table. (FYI- this set up is much less common here except for little holes in the wall where one stands to eat.) When I was done, I pitched my trash in the trash can and put my tray on top, just like one would at a Wendy’s. When I turned around there was a young woman with her jaw agape and eyes wide looking right at me. My first thought was that I had pitched my wallet or my journal in the trash. I did a pat down and found I was alright. As I left, it dawned on me that her surprise may have had something to do with my handling of my own garbage.

DAILY PHOTO: Mustache Machismo

Taken September 5, 2013

Taken September 5, 2013

India is the last bastion of the luxuriant mustache as a font of machismo. While the thick, droopy stache may have fallen out of favor with male porn stars and deep South State Troopers, it remains emblematic in Bollywood.

One day, when the Freddie Mercury mustache returns to its former glory, Indian men will be able to hold their heads high, certain in the knowledge that they never abandoned the stache.

It should be noted that the power of the stache goes way back here. On the elaborately towering Hindu temples, one will see such figures. I have yet to learn which deity sports the stache (often along with a pot belly,) but it’s not Ron Jeremy–that much I know for certain.

Lies My Tuk-Tuk Driver Told Me

Taken Sept 5, 2013 in Bangalore, India

Taken Sept 5, 2013 in Bangalore, India

Tuk-tuks or Autorickshaws  are the ubiquitous three-wheeled vehicles-for-hire seen throughout South and Southeast Asia. (Note: Owing to their evolution from walking or pedal rickshaws, they’re sometimes just called “rickshaw” for short, or even “pedicab” or “petty cab”–the latter likely a corruption of the former.) They’re an essential way to get around in the big cities of Mega-Asia, but almost everyone has a bad experience with one at some point.

Let me point out that I’m not suggesting that most tuk-tuk drivers are amoral liars, but as a tourist (or someone who looks like one) the drivers that approach you probably will be. The vast majority of drivers are honest, hard-working men (and the elusive woman) just trying to put food on the table. That’s why my key advice to people on the subject is, “Pick your driver, and don’t ride with the ones who pick you. Then always negotiate your fare–or make sure they will use the meter– before you get in.” The drivers who pick you often have rationalized that it’s alright to treat foreigners like crap. And I’m not so much talking about charging you a little more money (which I personally don’t mind), but more that it’s alright to waste your time or take you places you didn’t ask to go [and potentially much worse.]

Well, without further ado, I’ll share some of my interactions with drivers. This is inspired by a whooper I was told yesterday.

1.) Driver: “The Temple is closed.”
Me: “But there’s a line of Caucasians and Japanese people with cameras going into the place right this moment. I can see them as we speak.”
Driver: “Uhh, monks and nuns.”

2.) Driver: “That road closed. Big protests. Throwing stones. Very dangerous!”
Me: “But I can see all the way to the corner where we need to turn, there’s nobody there.”
Driver: “They hide. [Pantomiming popping up over a wall] Throw rocks.”

3.) Driver: “Meter[ed fare is] 200 Rupee, but I’ll take– only 150 Rupee.”
Me: “I just took a trip yesterday that was 50% farther and took twice as long, and the metered fare was 50 Rupee.”

4.) Driver: “But traffic very bad, VERY BAD. Premium rate time.”
Me: “But it’s Sunday morning at 8:00am. I haven’t heard a horn for half an hour, and I happen to know that there’s no such thing as ‘premium rate time.'”
Driver: “It’s new.”

5.) Driver: “You can’t get from here to there, except go past travel office.”
Me: “Sure you can. It’s one block over and then a straight shot of five kilometers. The travel office is four kilometers out-of-the-way.”
Driver: See lie #2

The Mythical High Performance Sock

All my socks do is sit and plot their escape.

All my socks do is sit and plot their escape.

The day before I flew to India, a guy in the hotel’s guest laundry room told me that he’d almost gotten in a fight once when a pair of socks turned up missing. We all know that socks are the great self-emancipators of the garment world; they go Steve McQueen from the dryer all the time. Begging the question, why would anyone get so upset over the disappearance of them.

He must have seen the incredulity in my face, as he went on to tell me these were “high performance” socks.

I don’t know if got my second level incredulity as I thought, High… Performance… Socks? The things you wear on your feet to mop up sweat?

A sock is essentially a foot-shaped bag for your feet. As near as I can tell, the acts it “performs” are: 1.) warming the foot a little, 2.) drying the foot a little (theoretically)–though it can also keep the foot wet longer than it otherwise would be, and 3.) producing stink.

In the military we were instructed to wear two pairs of socks. The sock closest to the skin was a cotton sock, and the outer sock was wool. This rationale for this foot sauna was that the cotton sock would wick moisture away from one’s skin, and the wool sock would keep one’s foot warm even when wet. Incidentally, this works great if you are in a cold environment–unfortunately, we haven’t fought a war in a cold environment since 1953.

So when I thought about the “performance” at which these socks excelled, I assumed they must keep one’s feet toasty. Wrong! The material seems extra thin. So, they must keep the foot extra dry, perhaps they are embedded with talc or something like that. Wrong again.

Surely these socks aren’t better than average at producing foot stench?  No. That’s not it.

Then I realized there was an other factor on which a sock might be judged: its ability to get people to hand over money in exchange for it. An average pair of socks can garner $3 or $4, but high performance socks can get people to shell over $17 or more. That’s some high performance.

Now, I know someone out there will be wanting to tell me about the orthopedic benefits of said sock in supporting one’s arch. This sounds like sock oil salesmen shtick. Is there any fabric known to man that can support your body weight so as overcome in adequate arch support in your shoes? Unless you are Tinkerbell, I doubt it. Perhaps, these socks do have physics-defying properties; maybe we should use them to mend bridges.

The Force of Nature

This video begins on the peaceful banks of a river in a nondescript Japanese town. The first minutes of footage is unremarkable except that the water level is quite low, but as it might be in dry season or low tide. Then there is a shrill siren and an urgent warning by loudspeaker–events that will replay periodically throughout the video. Twenty-five minutes later, the camera is fixed on throngs of people trapped on a rooftop across the river. Dawn slinked in and it would be too dark to see these rooftop refugees, but they are silhouetted by the glow of the fires that rage in the background. In the footage in between, one sees houses and ships being carried by the water as if they were a child’s toys washed away by an overturned bucket of water–but brown, debris-laden water that is roiling and churning. Eventually, we see the river reverse its flow.

Someone posted this on Facebook yesterday. I watched all 25 minutes of it. Who watches 25 minutes of shaky, hand-shot home movie? Not me, normally, but I was compelled by the force of nature. They say that one of the things that differentiates humans from even our closest primate brethren is that humans routinely achieve the identical physiological state emotionally from remembering tragedy as from experiencing it first hand–or sometimes even through being exposed to them remotely.

I thought about this force of nature, at first in the literal sense–a pedestrian bridge swept away and freighters swept up a normally unnavigable river. Then I wrote the first 1,000 words or so on a short story entitled The Ghost Ship Onryō that was inspired by watching the tsunami and remembering the news stories it triggered. The story is quite dark, as matched my mood for much of yesterday. Such is the force of nature, to compel me to change my plans and to morph my emotional state through ripples that continue to expand years after the event.

Sharknado: or, the Rock Band or Cheesy Movie Game

Somebody on Facebook made an offhand reference to Sharknado the other day.  I had no idea what a “Sharknado” could be, except the mind-numbingly stupid idea suggested by the phonetics of the “word.” It turns out that is exactly what it was. Despite the fact that sharks exist in places like Florida and tornadoes exist in places like Oklahoma (not a lot of overlap there), the movie is about tornadoes that pick up sharks and throw them through the air at unsuspecting people. (The sharks are, of course, still alive and hungry contrary to everything we know about biological entities that get picked up in twisters.)

I once wondered why the “Sci-fi” channel changed its name to the “Syfy channel.” I now know that it must have been the threat of false advertising lawsuits that spurred this change. (Of course, this doesn’t explain why the “History channel” isn’t the Sasquatch Alien channel.) Sci-fi is short for science fiction. Let’s break that down. First, the reference to “science” means one would expect some speculative universe which is constrained by scientific laws–either the laws of physics as we know them or some reasonable set of scientific principles by which a universe could be held together. It is not a magic universe, as required by Sharknado. The target demo for science-fiction is geeks and nerds (said in the most complimentary sense of those words)–in other words, people who overthink (or, at least, think.) The target demo for Sharknado seems to be pubescent boys failing science and in need of an opportunity to masturbate to Tara Reid.

Second, fiction is a creatively-engineered story, and I’m not even sure Sharknado qualifies on this front either. The creative component seems to be limited to cramming two things that terrify people together into one word or phrase. This may work in some cases, such as with the term “divorce lawyer.” However, the two concepts that one smashes together have to have some credulity as a unified threat. The fact that motherf#$%ing Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t save Snakes on a Plane, should have made this apparent to all.

As a thought exercise, let’s try some examples:

1.) Which of the following terror-inspiring dualities are devices around which a movie plot could be built, and which are just awesome rock band names?

a.) Clown-Pirates

b.) Hobo-Scorpions

c.) Black Mamba-Teen Driver

d.) Bear-Proctologist

e.) Spiders in a Tuk-tuk

f.) Karaoke-Mugger

g.) Robo-gynecologist

h.) Newborn-Arsonist

i.) Mother-in-Law / Attorney-at-Law

j.) Anthrax-blizzard

By the way, if the Syfy channel comes out with any of the above movies or series, please shoot me an email so I can claim my Executive Producer credit. It’s more likely this will be the starting line up for Lollapalooza 2025.

Bear with bubbles

RANT ROOM: Robots Calling

698px-Alt_TelefonThe phone rings. I pick it up. A robot starts talking in my ear. Well, not a robot, but an electronically recorded voice. I hang up. This happens about seven times a day.

I’m on a no-call list, but there’re so many loopholes so as to make its value questionable. First of all,  the politicians exempt themselves–of course. Only a politician could be so megalomaniacal as to think that a person who expressly requests not to be bothered by anyone by phone is secretly awaiting his robo-call.  Second, charities are exempt, whether it’s the March of Dimes or the Irritable Bowel Syndrome Defense Fund.  There seem to be more charities calling than ever. Or, perhaps, they’re like Phnom Penh urchins– if you give one of them money it induces a swarm. (Or, more likely, they make all the big money by selling contact lists to other charities.) Finally, any business that you’ve ever done business with is exempt  (even monopoly phone companies and utilities, for which you had no choice but a third world existence), as well as the parent companies that bought a company that you did business with once 20 years ago.

People who know me will tell you that I don’t even like to talk on the phone with human beings that I like, what hope would a machine have? Answer: “None.”

Now, let it be known that I’m not anti-machine. In 200 years, when they unfreeze my brain after the Terminator Wars, I’m not going to be one of the douche-bags standing on a picket like to prevent little T8-Y0 from going to school with the human kids and super-intelligent dolphins. I just resent someone calling me, intent on taking up my time, without even having the common courtesy to be intelligent–artificially or otherwise.

Some will say, “But, Bernie, you’ve called me and said not a word that was remotely intelligent.”

To that I say, “Nuh-uh, stop being a jerk-head.”

I almost always meet the technical definition of “intelligent” (self-aware? I’m self-obsessed!) when I call someone on the phone, and that’s all I expect of others.  I would pass a Turing test because the evaluator would say, “Any machine would maintain a train of thought better than this guy. He’s all over the place. He must be human. Plus, he can’t do math for shit.” [If you want to weed the androids out of your life, ask them to divide 49  by 18. If they answer automatically and correctly to two decimal points, stake them through the oil pump. If they are one of those “Human Calculators,” they deserve it for betraying their kind–but I’m not speciesist.]

Still, this brings one question to mind, how lonely do you have to be to listen to a machine blather on? Obviously the companies using robo-calls have sufficient success to keep paying their phone bills. That means that some people have to hear the robot voice and say, “What the heck? Let me hear what R2-D2 has to say.”

Who does this? I’ve heard that some people have guilt issues with hanging up on people because they were “raised right.” I can’t claim to understand this. It’s not an affliction that burdens me. I will hang up on anyone who assumes they can make demands on my time without compensation in about two microseconds. Yes, I said it, Mom. (Just kidding, I’m really talking to cable companies, natural gas providers, credit card companies, etc.)

Still, even if one feels guilty about hurting the feelings of a person, why would the same guilt apply to machines–which do not have feelings to hurt.

I mean, does this person think the caller might be a T-101 calling from the future to warn him that a mean T-1000 is on its way to poke him to death with a memory metal finger? I guess that sounds reasonable… no, no it doesn’t.

Alternatively, do people sit around thinking, I wish someone would call me up and tell me what I want, because I have no idea.

Maybe I just don’t understand this mindset. No person has ever convinced me to make an impulse buy by yapping. I’ve never said, “Gee-whiz, you’re right, I definitely need this product or plan that I didn’t know existed five minutes ago.”

It has occurred to me that I might be taking the wrong tack by hanging up on these calls instantaneously. By doing that, I am helping them weed out an unlikely sale in as inexpensive a manner as possible. The next time a robot calls me, I think I’ll put the phone down next to the radio–playing easy listening, of course–and then walk off. I encourage you all to do the same.