The Internet [Verse in Tetrameter]

We've reached the place where screams aren't heard.
You'd think they'd build into a din,
but one can't grasp a single word.
It has become silent as sin.

The angry words are shot to black -
that inky void that's unpatrolled,
It's silent, yet all're struck by flak.
Still, no one admits being sold.

But each life 's a product consumed.
They wail away the night and day,
pretending they're not rightly doomed.
Some will say that it's here to stay...

True, but are we?

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.)

RANT: There’s nothing worse than hyperbole!

There's nothing worse than a dictator with an angry army of warcocks!

There’s nothing worse than a dictator with an angry army of warcocks!

I’m taking a stand against the phrase, “There’s nothing worse than…”

OK, feel free to continue using it for saying, “There’s nothing worse than…


-nuclear Armageddon.”


-catching on fire.”

-shrapnel in the face.”

-losing one’s job to a machine that isn’t even artificially intelligent.”

I’ll accept a bit of hyperbole because there’s no objective and universally-accepted way to determine who was worse, Hitler or Pol Pot. And it’s legitimate to exaggerate one’s personal crises–provided that crisis isn’t something like having the seat warmer go on the fritz in your SUV.

My problem is hearing,  “There’s nothing worse than…

-spotty cell phone reception.”

-when it takes 30 minutes to get your oil changed.”

-when a pay-per-view bout ends in the first round.”

-an empty Nutella jar.”

-when the elevator is broken and I have to walk all the way to the second floor.”

-getting in the line behind someone who still writes checks.”

Clearly, there are many things worse than any one of those things, or even all six of them happening on the same day. If you can’t think of one, you should get out more. I’m not saying one should be constantly comparing one’s problems with the biggest disasters in the world. Nor am I saying that, in the scheme of things, your  piddly-ass problems don’t matter. I’m just calling for perspective. It’s hard to take someone seriously who can’t imagine a fate worse than a cracked lid on a Starbucks half-caf latte.

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.

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.

TODAY’S RANT: DIY Home Improvement Videos, or Vishnu Wallpapering

So, I’ve been doing a lot of home improvement lately. My life, largely divided between having my nose to either a laptop or a book, has prepared me to  find out how to do any task in record time–in theory. Give me a few minutes and I can find out how to–in theory–install a cardiac shunt. That’s from a starting point of not knowing what a “cardiac shunt” is or even if it’s a real thing. The problem is that this background has in no way prepared me to interact with the physical universe. (So while I can find out everything one needs to know about cardiac shunts in a short period of time, and even probably understand [or look up] all of the arcane language in the scientific journals, I wouldn’t offer me $100 to install your cardiac shunt if I were you.)

I ramble. So I know how to optimize my search terms to find out how to do exactly what I need to do. Then I watch the video and I’m filled with great confidence, having seen exactly how easy it is. And then I wallpaper myself to the wall. The whole time the experts in the video are doing the task, they are filling my head with false confidence. “See how easy that was?… People think this requires an expert, but…”

It occurs to me that this might just be a strategy by such experts. My training as an economist invariably leads me to ask one question–from an economist’s perspective it’s the root question about any human behavior.  That question is, “What’s the incentive?” What is the incentive for a professional wallpaper hanger to make a do-it-yourself video? We don’t see travel agents (if such mythical creatures still exist) doing videos on how to use Orbitz, Kayak, or Travelocity. My training as a human has led me to be skeptical of munificence in all its forms. I think the strategy is to build false expectations. If one went into a home improvement chore knowing that it was going to be a hellish nightmare, one would have the right state of mind to get through it. However, if one thinks it’s going to be easy-peasy, then one ends up ripping one’s hair out and creating holes in the wall for an expert to–lucratively–repair.

That’s just one theory.  I have others. Now, I know that you are familiar with the common adage, “It’s a poor workman who blames aliens or Hindu deities.” Still, I can’t help but feeling that the wallpaper hanging experts in the YouTube videos had extra appendages that I couldn’t see due to some sort of psychic block or CGI erasure (i.e. like when they take the wires out of kung fu movies.) It’s my contention that one would have to have extra arms, like Vishnu, to keep the paper that straight and perfect as it’s applied. At one point I thought I’d made a breakthrough in string theory when I saw my wallpaper curl into more than three dimensions simultaneously, but it may have just been rage-induced brain hypoxia.

So why would multi-armed aliens, or Vishnu, make home improvement videos? How should I know. I can speculate that Vishnu might enjoy practicing Shakti, which–as I understand it–is the ability to make the impossible possible, the impossible in this scenario being effortless wallpaper hanging. The aliens might just be testing whether our species has the fine motor skills to challenge them in their impending takeover.

TODAY’S RANT: Puny Machines

When the machines rise up against humanity, I will be high on their list of Homo sapiens to put through the chipper-shredder.

You may be asking, “How can such an unimportant person make such a self-important statement?”

Here’s my confession: I have killed more than my fair share of consumer electronics. Let it be known for posterity that these were all cases of manslaughter–or, I guess, machineslaughter. I never once had malicious intent, nor did I ever engage in premeditation. Furthermore, in a way, I mourned the loss of these machines more intensely than I did the death of granny.

Let me say, in my defense, machines are weaklings. The good news is that I don’t worry about them taking over just yet because you can always take out a marauding terminator with a can of soda–and even make it look like an accident.

The rant part of this post has to do with the divergence between what is advertised, and what is true.

Below is a video that Lenovo has put on YouTube to show how robust their computers are.

Here was my experience, avoiding the lunging paw of a hyper cat, I spilled a drop of milk the size of a quarter onto the upper mouse buttons. This killed my mouse instantaneously (I’m aware of the irony of me killing a mouse while my cat looked on in horror.) My entire laptop died a few weeks later from what I assumed to be related causes.

Your Experience May Vary

Your Experience May Vary

Since my last machineslaughter, I’ve  quelled my killing spree by implementing three simple rules.
1.) I don’t eat in the same room as my computer.
2.) I don’t drink within 12 feet of my computer.
3.) I must close the computer any time I leave the room, if a cat is present. (This is not so much to save the laptop as to prevent the cat from composing a witty coded email such as, “a;oreanrpwipfvchaqewutheiuancvpiwe. wpn2qeyt028hnfqv-,” and sending it out to my entire email list with his butt.)

Do I resent having to walk on eggshells around consumer electronics? A little. I’d like to be able to listen to my transistor radio while taking a bath. (Research notes: Do radios still have “transistors?” Do they still make radios?)

However, what I really resent is the manufacturer making it seem like its product is indestructible when, in fact, it’s really pretty puny.

That said, I like the fact that people are tougher than the forces of robopocalypse by virtue of the fact that we can get wet.  (Of course, by that logic, fish should be our gods.)

Until next time, keep your can of Coke at the ready (but don’t drink it, that stuff will kill you.)

TODAY’S RANT: Ambiguous Signage

Everyone sends an email or leaves a note on occasion that makes perfect sense to the writer, but which could mean any of a dozen things to the reader. That’s the price of doing business in a hectic world. However, if your job is making signs, it seems to me like cutting through the ambiguity would be important. Take the sign below, whose intended meaning is completely unclear to me.

Taken in Helsinki

Taken in Helsinki

A few of the possible meanings that sprang to mind were:
– “Give a girl a fist bump!”
– Pedophile-friendly zone
– Go Zone (i.e. they are walking away, so from that point you may only “go” and never “come”)
– Take Your Dad to School Day
– Midget Dating Allowed

Below is one that I think I comprehend, but you may disagree.

Taken in Phnom Penh

Taken in Phnom Penh

I’m pretty sure that it means, “Limbo dancing will be punished by God.” Granted I’m illiterate with respect to the squiggly language used in the caption and so maybe it says, “Watch out for falling snakes.”

Some signs seem to make perfect sense, but the context throws one a monkey-wrench. The sign below was seen on a little door of about 6X6 inches on the side of a tour-bus.

Seen on a bus in Helsinki

Seen on a bus in Helsinki

Now, obviously, this sign means, “Moose Fornication Zone.” However, how would you get the moose through that six-inch square portal?

Sometimes sign-makers add verbiage to reduce the ambiguity. This inevitably succeeds in making the sign more confusing than ever. I saw the sign below in a restaurant on Rue Sherbrooke in Montreal.

Taken in Montreal

Taken in Montreal

Now, seeing the photo, I was jonesing for some fatty, spicy pork product. However, every hetero male knows that you don’t ever want to be caught at a sausage fest.

I had a similar problem trying to decide whether to go into this gift shop at the Ming Tombs in China. The store bore this sign:

Taken at the Ming Tombs near Beijing, China

Taken at the Ming Tombs near Beijing, China

While I favor economic liberty, I’m willing to shop at a store that is state operated. However, it occurred to me that it could be the souvenirs that are state operated. What if they supplied a balding civil servant to operate the music box I bought there? That possibility was too creepy to consider.

Some signs are clear both pictorially and verbally, but, at the risk of digressing, one has to wonder if the sign is necessary.

Taken in  Budapest

Taken in Budapest

If there’s a completely opaque film of diarrhea floating on the water, do you really need to tell people not to go for a swim?

It’s true that some times ambiguity is strategic. Who would go through a door, if they saw the sign below posted on it?

Taken in Xian, China

Taken in Xian, China

Well, people do go into the DMV, so I realize there are some sadists who might be into being clubbed, starved, burnt, or being subjected to particularly fierce animal–such as an ill-tempered gerbil.

As I try live my life in a positive manner, I’ll leave you with an example of a sign-maker who got it right.

Taken in Arequipa, Peru

Taken in Arequipa, Peru

Now this is a sign that is completely unambiguous. Clearly, this sign was located at a Baptist church, and it means, “Boys and girls doing the twist in the same room will go to hell.”

TODAY’S RANT: The Lonely Omnivore

My salami has a first name, it's B-E-S-S-Y.

My salami has a first name, it’s B-E-S-S-Y.

I’m a member of a group that has long suffered the bitter pill of discrimination. How is it–you may ask–that a white, heterosexual, suburban, graduate-educated male knows the foul taste of discrimination? I love meat, but my wife is a vegetarian.  This makes me a lonely omnivore.  When I go to the market, I can’t find meat packaged for my kind. No individual could cope with such quantities of meat as packaged by supermarkets. Well, that is besides those not averse to contracting colo-rectal cancer from the rotting carcass wedged in his transverse colon, e.g. Adam Richman.

One option–the healthy option–would be for me to go vegetarian. Did I mention that I love meat? I love bacon and beef and poultry and pork and rabbit and reindeer. I would eat meat on a boat. I would eat meat with a goat, and then I’d make a stew out of the goat. Cut off the beak and the bung, and you’ve got yourself a customer. You say you got horse meat in my beef? Sounds tasty. So option one is a nonstarter. I’m out of the omnivorous closet. I’m here; I eat steer; get used to it.

Another option is to find the store butcher and ask him to wrap me a solitary steak.  The problem is two-fold. First, the butcher is never just hanging out at the counter, and so there will be a PA announcement. In the 1950’s, before computers with Facebook and solitaire, the butcher would hang out at the counter, but now he’s in the back–presumably goofing off like 90% of the workforce. The announcement will be quick and neutral, but it will sound enough like the following to garner widespread attention, “Attention in the meat department, there’s a pathetic soul with no one to love him who needs steak for one, I repeat STEAK FOR ONE.” Then everyone in the store has to take a peak at the lonely omnivore. Don’t stare, Johnny, it’s just a hobo.

The second problem is that, while the butcher is smiling and polite, I know he is thinking, We have half a mile of prepackaged meat, and you really want me to take a break from my hectic schedule of playing solitaire in the back office to cut you one steak? Haven’t you heard of a nifty invention called a “freezer?” It should be located somewhere in the general vicinity of your refrigerator  

The third option is, of course, the freezer. If you had any idea how disheveled my mind was, you wouldn’t even suggest this. Using the freezer would require that I anticipate that I will eat again in the future so that I can take the meat out to thaw. Here’s how it really works. I’m sitting here typing and think, That steak would really be good about now! However, presently it isn’t a steak, it’s a block of meatcicle. So I take it out of the freezer. I stare at it for a few minutes, hoping to use my ill-developed Superman-like powers of heat vision. Then I try running hot water on it, but it remains crystalline on the inside. Then I leave it and go back to typing. Then I check on it in three minutes. Then I go back to typing. Then I check on it after two minutes. Sensing the beef will never thaw, I break down and make myself some unsatisfying but filling Top Ramen. The next time I see the steak it’s a soggy and unappetizing lump hanging out in my sink.

Now if you’re an outline-and-note-card kind of writer, you may wonder how a writer could be so unskilled at planning. I’m not that kind of writer. If you haven’t guessed it, if it hasn’t shown through, I just make shit up as I go along. For me, writing is a process of paginated diarrhea, with an admittedly messy cleanup process.

My final option is to go to one of the huge “farmer’s markets” that we have in the area. (I use quotes because I’ve never seen an actual farmer there, and the food is as likely to be from Armenia as it is from Americus, Georgia.) These markets have heaped slabs of meat on ice, they’ll and cut it however one wants. I do this sometimes. There’s a very cool thing about these places. Because they serve such a diverse population, they hire a lot of immigrants.  However, while it’s cool that my butcher is a native Lao speaker, it can be problematic for me as a non-Lao-speaking English speaker. Inevitably, my desire for ONE PIECE of meat is translated into ONE KILO of meat or ONE CRATE of meat. I know, you’re saying that there’s one simple and obvious solution: learn the Lao language.  The problem is that the next time I go I might get the Urdu-speaking butcher.

I don’t like to complain about my plight [which is why I have a regular series of posts called TODAY’S RANT], but we should make room in our society for those of different meat needs.


Sleeping CatsI’m driving along, my mind roving, the droning radio only faintly registering in my subconscious, and suddenly I’m ripped from my reverie by a shrieking siren. I punch the brakes, slowing from a present speed that, unbeknownst to me, is two miles an hour below the limit to an octogenarian crawl. I hear the screech, and look into my rear-view mirror to see the black behemoth, an  SUV, becoming ever bigger. The driver’s solitary finger pressed up against the window, not pointing  at me accusingly, but rather straight up in the air. The SUV slows just enough to not ram me. We travel onward in our respective soiled underwear, I not looking back, her boiling rage now just a flush face and a fading headache (or at least that’s what I expect from my vast experience in her shoes.)

I’ve been punked by a stranger, an audio tech who likes to put background noises into every news story or ad spot to gain the attention of an ADD -riddled populace. Yes, I should have been more in the moment; that’s how they get you.

I would be remiss if I didn’t act as a mouthpiece for another individual wronged by similar antics. I have a cat that only gets about 20.5 hours of sleep per day, and he’s inevitably robbed of precious slumber whenever he hears a “BING-BONG.”  This is another much beloved sound effect for the wicked curs in radio. This particular cat can comfortably ignore any other sound in the universe–including my high-volume rants about use of various personal possessions as a scratching post. I don’t know why our cat knows what a doorbell is. Does he get lots of visitors when we are not there? Who is he expecting? These are questions that I cannot answer.