Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

3 Inexplicable Phenomena

For the most part, I consider myself difficult to truly baffle. It's not that I'm particularly more intelligent than anyone else, but my particular cognitive specialties and academic training (in math, logic, law, etc.) make it hard to get much by me. The downside of this is that I regularly ruin surprise endings (like shouting out "it's twins" in the middle of The Prestige), trash the dreams of well-meaning friends getting involved in multi-level marketing, and generally don't like having anything peddled to me. The upside is that when I do get truthfully taken, it's almost always a visceral experience (thank you Coen brothers, Steve Valentine, and the writers of LOST). Almost.

There are also a precious few phenomena that are disappointingly inexplicable; signs of social and intellectual decay so poignant that they defy the alarmingly small amount of faith in humanity that I have remaining. So here they are, 3 things I can't explain away, but really wish I could:

1. The Tipping Point. For the record, I'm a good tipper. I almost always default to giving 20% on any food or beverage service, leave money for the maid at hotels, and tip every valet, no matter how closely he parked my car. But, I have a limit. There are some people I simply cannot justify tipping, and I truly resent being presented with a receipt where I have the "option" of leaving a gratuity in a situation where it is obviously not deserved. I know this is an option that is easily disabled in the software employed by the cash register system, so don't tell me it's a default setting. The thing is, I don't like feeling like a cheap bastard, even if I've got no good reason to. Leaving a "tip line" blank makes me feel this way, and it sucks. The most egregious example of this is the people who ring up my snacks at the airport. Because I can't bring a drink with me to the airport, and I like my Diet Coke in a bottle, I have to go pay three bucks for one when I fly at the airport terminal. I also have to pay a buck fifty for a banana. So after being raped for nearly five dollars on my meager breakfast, I'm presented with a receipt with a tip line on it for the person who, I'm not making this up, rang up my purchase. And then, deal with their disdainful glance after I leave it blank. I have no idea why this is the way it is, or why these folks expect a gratuity, but it really needs to stop.

2. Luke SlowWalkers. One might reasonably argue that the world is moving faster now than it ever has. Our time has become more and more precious, as the amount of things that can both steal and save our time has risen exponentially. As a result, the majority of us are usually in some sort of hurry. And by the majority of us, I mean, the urban/suburban set, so if you're on a farm in Mississippi and have a different opinion, you can save yourself an e-mail here, this doesn't apply to you. What's more, we have an ever increasing selection of services and service centers to assist in this maximization of time. Unfortunately, those civic systems in place to move us from place to place haven't enjoyed the same level of innovation. Sidewalks and side roads and highways persist, and we've still got to get around one another to get where we're going. What is not so obvious, in this high speed world, is why some people insist on meandering through high traffic environments as though they're on a nature walk in the middle of the forest. Sure, I'm all for stopping to smell the roses, but maybe not as much in airport terminals, shopping mall walkways, and urban sidewalks - where as it turns out, there aren't any roses! If you suddenly get the sense that everyone is walking past you shaking their head as they they've just witnessed something unbelievably stupid, either speed up, or get the hell out of the way.

3. The Politics of Hate. I have always understood American politics to be contentious. As a two-party system, there has always been a palpable tension between Republicans and Democrats, even as age and maturity begin to moderate our ideologies. There would be thinly veiled, though still intellectual, jabs thrown between candidates, incumbents & challengers, across the aisles and between the branches. Throughout it all, however, there was an air of civility, especially at the national level, which was emulated (albeit less successfully) at each level, from state to county to local governments. But seemingly overnight, this arena of intellectual dispute became a battlefield of raw vitriol; full of hate, contempt and disrespect. Decorum has been abandoned and replaced by hyperbole so grandiose that even the most mundane disputes draw comparisons to world wars, historical genocides, and unspeakable crimes. Ubiquitous access to the world's information has also become ubiquitous access to a world of misinformation, and most consumers are unable, or simply unwilling, to tell the difference. Mired in fear and mistrust, we are reduced to our most primitive instincts - deifying those who think like us, and vilifying those whose opinions differ in the slightest. I don't know when it happened, I don't know how it happened, and I surely don't know why it's happened. But I'm doing my part to put a stop to it, and saving all my own hate for a group that really deserves it. Can ya hear me Notre Dame?

* * *

In the end, a little mystery is good for the soul. I don't imagine I'll ever tire of the enigmatic nature of women (though some simply call it insanity), the beauty of the twist ending, or an age-old question, that even through centuries of debate and study, still can't be answered. After all, what fun would the world be if we really could ever understand it all? But that being said, we ought to seek out and eliminate the ludicrous, the under-informed, and the downright stupid, and fix it. If the only plausible explanation for someone or something is that they don't know it's wrong - perhaps we ought to work on simple telling them - in a way that sounds less like argument and more like, well, sense. After all, the inexplicable is only really fun if doesn't make you want to slap someone.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

3 Lie Detectors

I'm normally not a fan of network television programming. Because it's made for the masses, and the masses seem ever more predisposed to consuming mind-numbing, pandering, and senselessly over-glamorized fare, I'm often left feeling dumber after watching it, so I choose not to. Sometimes, however, an intelligent and well-written show sneaks through, and though they sometimes survive (e.g. LOST), many times, the vast quantities of minimum-wage stares they generate amongst the aforementioned proletariat leaves them not long for this earth, and they end up canceled, in lieu of yet another iteration of Survivor. This will likely be the case with Lie to Me. A FOX show based on the life and work of Dr. Paul Ekman, a real life human lie-detector, with a life so fascinating that fans of the show often don't believe me when I tell them it's all real.

I've read Dr. Ekman's books, and I'm a huge fan of him, the show, and Tim Roth. It's intelligent, interesting, well-written, and intellectually entertaining - which is why I expect it's only got a season left before we get to see another extension of Prison Break or reincarnation of Melrose Place. But it's gotten me thinking about other sure fire ways to tell if someone is lying - even if you haven't conducted decades of facial expression study, or even the wherewithal to read about it. So here they are: three lie detectors that anyone can use:

1. Get Smart. If anyone ever declares to you how smart they are, you know two things about them instantaneously: (a) they're lying - and will probably continue to do so, especially regarding their personal description; and (b) they're not smart. Here's the thing about smart people, they never tell you how smart they are. They don't have to. Because, you'll either figure it out, or it likely doesn't matter to them whether you think so or not. People who know they're stupid, on the other hand, have a vested interest in not letting this information get out. It's not the smartest thing to openly declare how smart one is, as a preemptive strike for whatever mindless nonsense will come stumbling out of their mouth subsequently - but remember these are dumb people we're talking about. What did you expect?

2. The Sixth Sense. If you ask someone what they're looking for in a significant other, and one of the first things about of their mouths is "a sense of humor" - as above, you already know two things about them: (a) they're lying - and probably wouldn't know a good sense of humor if it walked up to them in clown shoes and slapped them; and (b) they're shallow bastards. Do you know any stand-up comics? I don't mean your friends that do the open mic from time to time, I mean the real thing. Well I do, and they are, nearly without exception, profoundly lonely people. The ones who achieve a celebrity level of success and financial stability can be found in relationships, but so can anyone who achieves a celebrity level of success and financial stability, funny or not. The reality is that "a sense of humor" has become the politically correct way of declaring that you're not simply looking for someone to satisfy your hedonism, but someone with some substance. Unfortunately, if you can't find any other way to say this, it's a fairly reliable indicator that you don't mean it.

3. The Goods. If someone is asked to describe someone and the first thing they come up with is "he/she is a really good guy/girl" - just like the two "detectors" before this, you already know two things: (a) the person you're asking doesn't know the person they're describing very well, and (b) that person probably isn't "good" at all. Somewhere amidst the myriad fables, fairy tales and behavioral axioms that we were bombarded with as children, we learned that if we don't have much to say about someone that we know, we default to saying something nice. As adults, this becomes "he's a really good guy." This is offered up as an alternative to a single memorable attribute or anecdote that we might be able to come up with - or even worse - as an alternative to how much of an untrustworthy ass they know them to be. The latter usually comes up as a matter of gender solidarity, but not exclusively. It's the descriptive version of "what's up" as a greeting. We don't really care to hear what's up, it's just how we say hello without sound like we just wandered out of the 1950's. No matter which way you slice it, this is an unmitigated lie and usually a reliable red flag.

* * *

According to Dr. Ekman, "Every person tells 3 lies every ten minutes." It's staggering when you think about it, really. We lie to ourselves, we lie to each other, we lie ubiquitously. We lie to be selfish and we lie to be unselfish. No matter what you believe, to whom or how your pray, or where you are from - none of us are truthful creatures, and the stigma attached to untruths in the abstract is undeserved. Looking for salvation in truth or lies is just as foolish as searching for it amongst rocks and rivers. The best thing you can really do is listen, and regardless of the veracity, factualness or rectitude of what's being said, you will learn something. And if you can tell the difference between what's real and what's not, you'll learn a whole lot more.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

3 Good Riddance

So, for those who don’t know it, I’m just a few weeks away from ending my five-year Los Angeles project and my eight-year California project - which has been, for the most part, a success. The trip that brought me here - from Florida to the west coast - was a journey across more than just miles; it was trip to a new degree, a new career, a new image, a new life, new friends, new loves, new losses, new perspectives and a new and completely unexpected chapter in my life. My time in California was nothing like I imagined it to be, and I was disappointed and pleasantly surprised in equal part.

I once wrote:

In the end, much like the balance of California, which enjoyed its initial national prominence as a result of the promise of gold for anyone with a shovel and some fortitude, L.A. is a city of promise unfulfilled - built on the golden hopes of those who would never strike it. It is also a place, however, whose endless springs of opportunity yield many, among us, who have found their way, despite it not being the one they initially set out on.

And so it’s gone with my own way, right out of world’s most famous state, and into the waiting arms of Nevada - off to a great new job, with a great new company, and an opportunity so rich and exciting that I can hardly believe I’m a part of it. There are a great many things I will miss about California. Most assuredly more than three (and I imagine there’s some more writing to be done on that matter), but there are a select few things that I will definitely not miss - and as luck would have it, there are three in particular:

1. The Flakes. During my first six months of living in Los Angeles I was stood up on seven dates. Seven. In the preceding 30 years of my life, I had only been stood up twice (and I thought that was a lot). It was a harbinger of things to come. I began to attend gatherings with 100 invites, 50 affirmative RSVPs and 10 actual attendees. I would call new friends to meet up, and find out on my way there that they wouldn’t be able to make it. And ever so gradually, I began to accept the “flake” culture. In Los Angeles, it is your inalienable right not to show up, especially if you’ve promised to do so. This forces people to overbook their evenings out like the last Southwest Airlines flight out of Vegas on a Sunday night - and then begin to broker which of the opportunities that actually do pan out will actually provide them the greatest social value. This search for the BBD (bigger, better, deal) has turned the previously enjoyable time spent socializing and “going out” into a complex science of social and actual economics, and rendered the majority of the social interactions a very well-heeled, tastefully decorated, and woefully overpriced networking event. In short, the only true way to relax in LA is just to stay home - which is why most people, no matter what they’ve planned or promised, just choose to do so.

2. The Traffic. How could I not mention this? Honestly, the Los Angeles highways have all the functionality of a Bangladeshi street market. The second largest city in the nation has a less effective mass transit system than Portland, Oregon (the 29th largest and less than 1/7th the size). Greed, ignorance, and dysfunctional local politics have rendered even the most modest road trips impassible parking lots - and if you expect to get from the north part of town to Orange County (about a 35 mile trip) on a weekday evening, you’d better leave yourself most of three hours to do it. And that’s on the 4 lane highway headed that direction. LA’s traffic compared to other cities‘ is like their winters compared to ours. Listening to people gripe about a five minute delay on their 20 mile work commute in other states and cities makes me want to slap them with a rake. There is nothing as maddening as bumper-to-bumper traffic caused only by poor civic planning, driver incompetence and just too many damned people; I’ll be much happier to move somewhere where traffic jams are caused by accidents, road construction, or actual severe weather (and not the light rain that brings the LA streets to a crawl).

3. The Price. The cost of living isn’t just high in Los Angeles, it’s downright insane. It’s a place where a six-figure income renders you lower-middle-class (and for dating purposes, the equivalent of a pizza-delivery guy in any other city). Buying a home that’s within fifty miles of the city that wasn’t built before 1920 is a million-dollar proposition. And by that I mean, you’ll need to have an actual million dollars to do so. And keep in mind, that’s not for a nice house. Gas prices are nuts, taxes are inexplicably high (for a state government that can’t seem to balance a budget), and a decent night out (i.e. dinner and a movie) is going to set you back a couple hundred bucks. It is estimated that the total cost of living in LA is 40-50% higher than many major midwest cities. That’s right, your money goes twice as far if you’re willing to tolerate an Ohio winter. That’s the kind of money what warms a lot more than your heart. The idea of owning a modest single-family home before age 40 shouldn’t be a fantasy.

* * *

Listen, I know I’ve left some things out, hell I couldn’t even begin to list the horrors of trying to date in the City of Angels, and Hollywood alone produces more easily identifiable absurdity than any similarly sized municipality in the world. And I’m only beginning to process the things and people that I will miss dearly as I plant myself just a scant 270 miles to the northwest, in a little township called Las Vegas. And don’t worry, that essay is coming - more than likely as the return of Tru Love. But, for now, I’m taking a few parting shots - call it a good laugh to save from crying. And so for anyone who was considering a move here, and wanted to me sum up the appeal of this crazy city in just one sentence, I’d probably tell them: “Los Angeles - Hey, it sucks, but it’s sunny.”

Monday, March 8, 2010

3 Sour Notes

I've always been a music guy. Not a musical guy, mind you - my personal playing aspirations died in the 6th grade band when I hung up my coronet. No, I was into the listening, the playing, and the experience of music. In a strict household, there were few unadulterated freedoms, but the visceral escape offered by music was amongst the few and the most treasured. I remember my parents' LPs and 8 tracks, the 45's and cassette tapes that I saved my allowances for, and dubbing songs off of the radio. I became a DJ at an early age - not loving the art of the mix nearly as much as I simply loved having all of the music at my fingertips; being able to create any mood at any moment - with the touch of a button. But, I was never a music snob - I've loved my one-hit-wonders as dearly as I've loved my classics - cherished my Mmmbop like I do my Freebird. But there have always been a precious few musical genres, artists and songs for which I can't even muster the slightest bit of appreciation; collections of sounds and words so devoid of any value that I can hardly stand to listen to a moment of them.

Lately, this occurs far more often than it used to. The music industry, desperate to adjust to the demands of the digital consumer, has decided to crank up its output volume rather than its associated quality. Decent acts are rushed into rapid production of full albums with one hit, and follow up albums with none, and more often than not, poor acts are rushed into production with even the smallest bit of commercial appeal - peddled to us with the fervor of fight promotions and used car sales, and ultimately leaving us even emptier than had we simply settled for the silence. So, from this music lover, whose eclectic taste spans from metal to mash-ups, here are 3 things they'll never get me to listen to:

1. Justin Bieber. I have no idea where this kid even came from. I don't know what he sings and I'm not certain I'd recognize him if he walked right by me. But I do spend my days in front of a computer, so I am unable to avoid the phenomenon that surrounds him. What I do know is that he was discovered, like all great talents, on YouTube, is from Canada (which makes me like him a little less, given all the post-hockey-gold-medal gloating I've seen), and looks a lot like a 13 year old girl with a bad haircut. In fairness, I can count the number of 16 year old boys that I can stand on one hand and have five fingers left over. The fact that he performed for the President at the White House Christmas special was even more disappointing than watching Obama shake hands with Khloe Kardashian (during the Lakers' visit). I'd like to be able to say I've never heard him sing, but due to the worst decision about an introduction since Gerardo's "Rico Suave", I heard this lovely little lady inexplicably lead off the otherwise great remake of "We Are The World".

2. Taylor Swift. If the music industry was trying to force this artist on me with any more frequency or force, I'd consider filing a rape complaint. I can't turn on my radio, listen to Pandora, or even watch CSI without having this country Britney Spears up in my face like an drunk Irish guy in a Boston pub. I even like country music and can't stand another moment of this girl. I haven't heard an act with more similar sounding fare since Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz released the same song under three different titles. Country hasn't had a female vocalist this easily hate-able since Shania Twain, and it's not as the the genre can afford it. Country music is to the music industry what the NHL is to sports - it's there, but you have to look to find it, and it's one disaster away from disappearing altogether. Seriously, this forgettable waif with her forgettable voice and forgettable songs very nearly deserved to be upstaged by Kanye, and her winning country music's biggest honor (Entertainer of the Year) is the biggest award show disappointment since Marissa Tomei got an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny.

3. Miley Cyrus. There are so many things to dislike about Miley Cyrus that I hardly know where to begin. You can certainly make a case for the apple not falling far from the tree - "Achey-Breaky Heart" is the most embarrassing American fad this side of "Ice Ice Baby" and "I'm Too Sexy", so what could you expect from a kid growing up in a house with that gold record on the wall? Well, the combination of the Disney tween hype machine, the Polanski-esque oversexing of a pre-pubescent girl, and some of the worst song writing since the New Kids on the Block have produced the least tolerable artist in recent memory. I'd rather sit through back-to-back N'Sync concerts in a crowd full of 13 year old girls than watch Miley Cyrus perform a single number. Listening to her croon about her "struggles" in life, make it ever-so-obvious that she's no more writing her own songs than she is actually singing them in concert. When questioned about which Jay-Z song she was referring to in her latest inexplicably popular record, she was quick to note that she couldn't even name a single one, because she hadn't written it. Wow.

* * *

Okay, so it's no accident that these are all current pop artists whose target audience is young enough to qualify as possible children I've fathered (for the record, that's a joke people). I expected that as I grew older, I'd get more and more out of touch with the younger generations' music, and start to act like my parents listening to Elvis and Barry Manilow while I longed for Motley Crue and AC/DC. But, to be honest, there's plenty of great new stuff that I do enjoy listening to, even some of the pop. However, it feels like the entire music industry is designed to make me appreciate the few great artists I have discovered by producing mountains and mountains of crap to compare it to. And maybe that's it after all. I used to wonder why on earth I'd pay nearly twenty bucks for an album, when I could just download the singles I wanted - but if that purchase included the opportunity to burn one album of each of the artists above (with the consequent subtraction from their sales numbers), I think I just might do it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

3 Ladies Magazine Lies

A few weeks ago, I took on the bevy of men's magazines that seem to offer up the same needless and ill-considered advice month after month - and while I had previously believed that we were the only gender so easily duped by glossy pages, catchy prose and the promise of the company of the uber-attractive, it turns out I was wrong. Women's magazines seem to have been in abundant supply for much, much longer than their male counterparts. Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Elle, Marie Claire and more seem to have been on the newsstands as long as there have been newsstands. But, as it turns out, the smarter, more mature and better looking gender is also being fed a steady diet of mistruths, misconcpetions, and misinformation by these storied publications - just like their more contemporary male counterparts.

And so in the interests of equal time, gender equity, and an excuse to peek in Cosmo, here the 3 biggest lies told by women's magazines:

1. Leave the Tip. I don't think I've walked by a womens magazine in the last decade that hasn't offered, with varying degrees of ambiguity, tips for women in the bedroom. I really cannot imagine how this helps to sell magazines. First of all, the male orgasm is easier to achieve than a hit in Tee-Ball. It's akin to the "instructions" on a shampoo bottle (i.e. Find the hard spot; Stroke; Repeat). If this is the type of knowledge you think of as a "trick", I'd advise you to get a magic show with all due speed, you're really going to have your mind blown. Second, the vast majority of these "tips" are things so awkward and deviant that they're likely to (a) attract the sort of neck-tattooed circus freaks that you're better off avoiding, and/or (b) scare off the "normal" guy you're sleeping with faster than talk about ovulation. If you need tips in the bedroom, you don't need a magazine, you need a new man.

2. Shape No-wear. The only thing that would be more disappointing to find under a woman's clothing than Spanx, control-tops, torsettes or any of the widely-proffered "shapewear" peddled endlessly in these magazines would be a penis. Seriously, I cannot imagine the level of self-loathing that it takes to squeeze one's self into full-body elastic rather than simply buy clothing that actually fits you, but I know it's the sort of thing that should be being treated by a professional. I'm all for flattering lines, cuts, etc. (and for the record, I still don't know why thin girls wear anything with an "A-line"), but this sort of lying nearly rises to the level of conspiratorial. If anyone suggests that you put yourself into something like this, it's a fairly safe bet that they don't like you. If a magazine does it, it's a fairly safe bet that they think you're stupid. Take it from someone with three and a half decades of bachelorhood - the sexiest thing you can wear under your clothes is confidence.

3. Fashionably Hate. Letting a magazine which is largely sponsored by the fashion industry tell you what you should be wearing is like letting a used car salesman tell you what you should be driving. The fashion business appears to have become a monolithic and unstoppable amplifier and enabler for the warped and drug-fueled visions of a few crazy Frenchmen. Inexplicable trends become global phenomena, with price tags to match. This insanity has caused us to suffer through the rebirth of the poncho, the horror of couture sweatsuits, and the footwear failings of the gladiator sandal. What impossibly thin, six-foot-tall French girls or impossibly rich celebrity actresses are wearing is no more a reliable guide to looking good than matching Warren Buffet's stock buys will make you rich. There is something inherent in the female brain that knows what looks good and what doesn't. Use this instinct, and leave the couture obscure.

* * *

Ladies, it's no secret that we men have to rely on you to be the leveler-headed gender. We spend the vast majority of our lives as slaves those very same hormones that make us both capable of moving furniture, opening jars and changing flat tires, while still being unable to form coherent thoughts when a sufficiently attractive woman walks by. We have to count on you to not fall victim to charlatans, false prophets and snake oil salesmen. So the next time you're paging through one of these women's publications, remember, be careful how much of them you take to heart - because there's no one to save you from any bad advice you might receive. Sure, we secretly pick them up when you're not around, but just like our own magazines, mostly just look at the pictures.