Thursday, January 31, 2008

New York--About to Be Stupid

I woke up this morning to NPR's story about congestion pricing in New York City, which is running the gauntlet for what seems like the 900th time since I moved here last year, only to meet almost-certain defeat in the legislature. The plan mirrors London's plan, and I remember following the debate about the London congestion charge closely. There was a huge brouhaha about it before it happened, and then immediately after it was implemented you never heard anything more about it. Londoners appeared to assimilate it with one or two minor bitches, and when I visited London after the charge was implemented, believe me, it had made a huge difference. You didn't even need any information about where the charge started--you could tell instantly by the fact that you could cross a street without feeling like you were taking your life into your hands. The noise, the traffic, and the stress decreased instantly the second you crossed the congestion charge border.

NPR thoughtfully interviewed some New Yorkers, most of whom deplore the congestion pricing idea. There were a dozen remarks, just to remind you that this may be one of the finest cities in the world, but that whenever someone's approached on the street with a microphone, their IQ probably drops 40 points. (I know this is true when I'm approached with a microphone--I say plenty of stupid things when I have a chance to think about them, let alone when I'm approached on the street.)

The grand prize was the woman who said, "I don't want to smell other people's smells or hear other people's iPods." Well, certainly, here you've hit on the chief allure of mass transit. God knows, there's not a single person on the subway who doesn't revel in the heady scent of someone else's armpit, or who doesn't prefer the tinny secondhand salute of the latest 14-year-old sex siren to their own music in their own living room. Guess what, lady--the congestion charge is for you--pay it with pride! If your personal comfort is that important to you, you can damn well pay a fine for the way that having thousands of extra cars packed into Manhattan every day makes the city less pleasant for the rest of us. And if you don't like that idea, you can just get over yourself and buy a metrocard. Does it take longer? Try reading--you might find out there's a whole world outside your carful of entitlement.

Excuse me, I have to go catch the subway so I can go smell some other people and listen to their iPods. 'Cos that's how I roll. It's better than coffee, let me tell you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Potato Head Update

Apparently Mr. Potato Head is a longtime favorite toy for your captive octopus. This article also explains what would possess a person to give a Mr. Potato Head to an octopus. It had occurred to me that it might simulate breaking into something's shell to eat it, but it hadn't occurred to me that it might keep the octopus from getting bored and thus engaging in self-harming behavior.

But also, some of the photos in this story are...less cute and a leetle more scary.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Danny, I knew it was you

The second I saw that there was a TV program called "How to Start Your Own Country," I thought to myself, "Danny Wallace is at it again." Sure enough, it's Danny, off starting a country and pissing people off in the very first episode by attempting to invade their island. Should you want to join his country (now located in the less contested area of his flat), here's his website.

The whole enterprise is less inspired than his cult (excuse me, his "collective") "Join Me," but it's still reasonably good fun.

Naturally, when you think of Danny Wallace (and who doesn't?) you think, "What the hell ever happened to Dave Gorman?" Well, apparently, Dave has been working on a little film called "America Unchained," about traveling across America in a used car without frequenting any chain restaurant, chain hotel, or chain gas station. Mom & Pops all the way. I can only hope Dave put on some weight before he set off on his latest adventure, because in his natural state, he's uniquely unfit to make the journey from one non-Starbucks coffee-house to another in America--and if he eschewed chain gas stations, he'd be doing some serious walking. It sounds like fun (to watch, anyway)--and in fact, the film won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Austin Film Festival last year. We love you, Dave. Go make Netflix carry the DVD of "America Unchained."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

First Class Really Is Different

Whenever I fly, I've always sort of wondered how different first class really is. I mean, we're all breathing the same air, and we're all equally late and deprived of a decent bathroom. How different could it really be?

Once my friend and I got pulled off a flight from St. Louis to London (the flight was overbooked and we were students, and, I now realize, dupes), and as a paltry substitute for the money and free ticket they actually owed us, the airline put us on the next day's flight to London in first class. Apart from the legroom and the free booze (which was constant), I didn't think there was anything really different about it. Now that I've seen this site, I wonder if they didn't feed us economy food.

The site features photos and reviews of airline food taken by people that Dave Barry would call "alert readers." If you don't already resent the people in first class as you walk by them and they refuse to make eye contact, take a look at what they get fed. Honestly, it's amazing. This, my friend, is why they won't look you in the eye as you struggle to your tiny seat.

Next, read a random review of a first class meal (usually the reviewer gives it ten out of ten--maybe 9, and a popular comment is that the wine is subpar or, in a particularly snooty review, "undistinguished"), and compare it to a random review of an economy class meal (harder to pigeonhole--they range from people who clearly think McDonald's represents the zenith of American cuisine to people who ruthlessly declare that there was nothing edible served to them the whole time they were in the air).

Whether you're talking about the food or the people, there really is a difference.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

This is Cute and You Can't Tell Me Different

How cute is it that a cephalopod likes Mr. Potato Head? (Does he see the resemblance?)

Louis, an 18-month-old Pacific octopus living at an aquarium in Cornwall, gets very excited when he sees Mr. Potato Head, and seems to like his shape and color. There is a picture, people, of Louis playing with Mr. Potato Head. I've been scared almost every time I've seen an octopus or a squid, ever since my dad lured me into a huge room of some museum where the entire ceiling was (if memory serves--I was very small) a preserved giant squid (at Yale, maybe?). I had no idea I was in the presence of a giant dead squid until I looked up and saw it there--good times! Still, I have to admit the photo is pretty darn adorable.

The keepers feed Louis fresh crab by putting it inside the Mr. Potato Head (sort of like a kong). He plays with Mr. Potato Head for about an hour at a time. I sure hope someone puts footage on YouTube.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Garbage Is Officially Forbidden

This has never happened to me before. Indeed, I never thought it would ever happen to me. I have run out of plastic bags.

I'm not talking about the plastic bags you buy to put your garbage in, although I'm out of those, too. I'm talking about the bags you get when you buy things. You know the ones I mean--you can't stop people from giving them to you. You practically have to threaten a shopkeep with bodily harm to prevent him from giving you a plastic bag with your purchase. They used to breed under my sink with an alacrity which, given my usual sex life, I frankly envied.

Well, I must have committed the ultimate act of sacrilege by breaking up my last breeding pair, because there are no more plastic bags under my sink. I'm kind of excited by this, because it means I've been successful in my enterprise to stop letting people give me plastic bags, but at the same time, I need something to put in my kitchen garbage can. If I take my garbage out to the communal garbage can without tying it up neatly in a plastic bag, there will be a nastygram from my super on the front door of our building. And although I'm fond of the nastygrams, because I really like my super, it's one of my missions in life to provoke as few of them as possible.

So now I'm in the unique position of probably needing to go to the A&P something. Maybe a couple of somethings, so I can install a new breeding pair of plastic bags under my sink. With maybe some mood lighting.

Why don't they address this issue when they hawk their "I Am Not a Plastic Bag" fashion statements? What are those fashionistas doing with all their garbage?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Aaaaah, Poetry

So yesterday two accountants I work with were talking to each other. Here's how it went:

Accountant 1: Did you figure out what that $1.6M was?
Accountant 2: Yeah--we've still got $300k in there, but we'll need documentation for the allocations before I put it where it belongs.
Accountant 1: $300k doesn't worry me. We shit $300k in a day here.
Accountant 2: Thanks, that's...pretty.
Accountant 1: Then we take another $300k and wipe our asses with it.
Accountant 2: [Weeps with uncontrollable laughter]

When I left the literature Ph.D program after I got my master's, there were people who said it was a big mistake, that I wouldn't hear poetry at work every day. How wrong they were!

This is what makes me laugh

When I'm awake at 2:30 in the morning, sometimes I can't stop laughing. Today this is what did it.

Then I got the e-mail from the grocery delivery, saying that my food order is "on its way." Holy shit. I've got to get to bed.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Here it is!

Ok, well I couldn't wait. I didn't scan the bookmark, instead I found the same slogan on a frisbee! I mean this is even better, right? What could be cooler than a flying disk encouraging our youngsters to reach for the stars, not drugs!

So short story long here. My daughter, who is 6, brought home a bookmark from school with lots of pretty colors and a bright letters encouraging her to REACH FOR THE STARS. Cool. Then, right underneath, a smaller and less impressive admonition: "not drugs."

At which point I died laughing. I mean I suppose I should be grateful. Here I was, thinking I should be responsible for teaching my 6-year-old to avoid drugs! But no, thankfully that task is not mine! It belongs to the bookmark makers! And now I find, also, the frisbee makers. Whew, that's a load off of my shoulders, let me tell you. But then I think, wait, even if it's not my job anymore to help keep my child from using drugs by say, talking to her about drugs, telling her not to use them or maybe even, gasp, no, trying to make sure she's got the mental resources to avoid being trapped by drugs anyway; even then, something bugs me. A niggling doubt. Just a glimmer of a concern. What could it have been. Was it, oh I don't know .... Satan! No, no, wait, sorry, wrong skit. Not Satan. But maybe something like, Stupidity!

I mean, really, reach for the stars, not drugs!?! WTF? "I was about to hit the crack pipe again but THEN I remembered "reach for the stars, not drugs" so instead I joined the Corporate America Dad!" How exactly is that one going to work? "Just Say No" didn't work. Isn't that great, by the way? Here is the DARE program, the program of the nation to keep kids of drugs. And it consisted in large part of telling kids not to do drugs. That was about it. And it didn't work. Sorry Nancy, but the facts is the facts. But I think I know now why it failed .... Wait for it ..... Yup, the frisbees. I can't remember any Just Say No frisbees. Or bookmarks. Silly buggers were just asking for failure when they forgot the frisbees.

But still, even with the frisbees, and the bookmarks targeted for 6-year-olds, I think our slogan manufacturers have a hell of a job wiping out teenage drug use. So perhaps we can help them! I think "Reach for the stars, not drugs" is a good start, but we can do better! What else can we come up with?

I'll try a few, and you can all join in as you think of them:

"Give a hoot, don't pollute (or do drugs)"

"Let's take a bite out of crime (and not do drugs)"

"When the going gets tough, the tough get going but without drugs"

Surely you can see the potential here?! Help me out, post a few of your own new anti-drug slogans and we can all take a bite out of drug use! (Yuhmmmmm, pot brownies).

One little caveat I just have to put in here (damn guilty conscience). I realize that what I typed above may sound really belittling about drug problems, and that was not my intent. Drug addiction can be really incredibly awful in some people's lives, and it is a complex problem that has, among other things, social, psychological, and economic roots that are not necessarily solved by "good parenting." I guess my point is mainly that as complex as it is, I'm just really really sure it is not going to be solved even a little by good slogans. Or even bad slogans. The whole thing just reeks of people not having the knowledge or will to take on a really difficult task and so falling back on moralistic platitudes so that they can say they've "done something." Yuck. But I still want to hear your slogans. Reach for the stars!

I've got a great one coming...

I just saw a bookmark that I just have to blog about. It's awesome. But it's so awesome I want to scan it and paste it, so you'll all have to wait a day or so. Yes, it's an actual paper bookmark, the kind you use in books. The paper ones. Remember those? Before the days of Netscape and Firefox?

So anyway this is just a teaser and a reminder to myself - write about the bookmark!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Money, Women, and TV

So the other day I was cleaning with the TV on in the background (I like to watch "How Clean Is Your House?" because although my home would never ever look like that, I almost understand how it happens to people, and boy, nothing makes me more motivated to do my laundry than seeing what would happen if I just didn't do it). My Tivo started watching "Sex and the City." I'm torn about the show. On the one hand, Carrie Bradshaw is often so vapid she makes me want to vomit, but on the other hand, Miranda is actually interesting.

This episode was on the first hand. It's the one where Aidan leaves Carrie (because she cheated on him) and serves her with papers saying she either has to buy the apartment or vacate it so he can sell it. Carrie despairs because although her apartment is huge and cheap and although she has money to buy shoes and to spend on cab fare (because she can't walk in her expensive shoes), she has no money for a down payment. Carrie thinks it's cool to live by the seat of her pants, and she thinks it's normal (she's shocked when all her friends have savings). And I think we're all supposed to think this is sympathetic--mostly, as far as I can see, because the seat of Carrie's pants is inhabited by the adorable ass of SJP, who's just too cute to be mad at.

Unfortunately, I'm heterosexual, so SJP's wiles do nothing for me, and I think it's pretty goddamn disgraceful. I suppose in today's dollars, Carrie would deserve a big old high-five for not having thousands of dollars of debt. But then bitchy Carrie goes one step further by being all pissed that Charlotte doesn't offer to help her buy her apartment. Charlotte says it's not her responsibility to fix Carrie's money problems. Right on! But then the show clearly shows that Charlotte was Wrong by having her give Carrie her wedding ring (she's divorced) to pay for the apartment, thus salvaging their friendship.

Is this an isolated incident? Society at large surely isn't saying that if a woman is pretty enough, she shouldn't have the self-respect to be responsible for herself, right? Well, I'm not so sure. A very different show, "How I Met Your Mother," recently revealed that adorable Lily racked up so much shopping debt that she and Marshall barely qualified for a mortgage. Marshall's response? Basically, "I love you, so I love your debt." Wow. That Marshall is just so good he's almost fictional. (Although I will say I know such people do exist.)

Women of America, this is bullshit. Get off your gorgeous fannies and take some responsibility for your own financial futures. Pass up a pair of shoes and pay down your credit card or start a savings account. Contribute to your 401k. Balance your damn checkbook. Because it just feels good to look after your own future and not rely on "good fortune" or on finding a Marshall. Screw L'Oreal. The 401k is because you're worth it.