Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Horrors of Moving to London

I just found this on my computer. It was a post I put on MySpace in 2008, just after moving to London's East End. I had forgotten all about it, and I think it is damn charming. I'm not sure what the original title was. If I can find the other installments I will post them. By the way, as painful as this was, I had forgotten much of it, which shows why everyone should keep a journal. Unless you're angsty and prone to revenge fantasies, in which case it is best to forget...


What happens when you play a Mike Payne blog backwards? You get your wife and kids back.

Despite a plague of last minute complications, I managed to move to London. After a sleepless overnight flight, I hopped off the plane early on the morning of June 21st, smelling like American teen spirit. I had to grapple with a strange case of mistaken identity when picking up the keys (too hard to explain), but eventually made my way to the front door.

I walk in, and notice my “furnished” apartment has no mattress. Also, the refrigerator doesn’t work. The light inside the fridge is on, but the cold wind ain’t a blowin’. And to complete the disrepair trifecta, the shower has no hot water. Cheerio, mate!

I moved in on a Saturday, so I couldn’t get a hold of the landlady until Monday. Fine. Two days of indoor camping. I can survive this. I used to be a Cub Scout.

So Monday rears its ugly mug. I get the landlady on the phone, and she seems somewhat sympathetic. “Oooo, surry!” she exclaims. She promises to stop by that evening and check the hot water and fridge. She apologizes about the water, but implies that I just don’t know how to turn the fridge on. I admit I’m not handy, but “on” and “off” buttons don’t usually require intense electrical training.   

She shows up that night. After examining the apartment, she acknowledges that indeed, the fridge is not producing cold air, and in sharp contrast to its intended function, the shower is not producing hot water. I explain to her that in America, we have hot showers and cold fridges, and prefer them to hot fridges and cold showers. She shakes off the culture shock and assures me that a tradesman will swing by the next day to mend all my troubles.

We’ve now reached Tuesday. While at work, I get a call from the landlady telling me the refrigerator is now fixed, but unfortunately, the shower needs a whole new tap, and the repair guy arrived so late that by the time he realized what was needed, the supply store was closed. I will have to take another cold shower Wednesday morning; my fifth in a row. “Oooo, surry!”

I’m fuming but controlled. I tell myself that at least now I have a fridge, so progress is being made. I rush home that night eager to throw some groceries in Ye Olde Icebox. I yank open the fridge door and wait for the Arctic rush. To my dismay, I discover that just as before, the fridge light is on, but there is no cold air. None whatsoever. I begin to wonder if the tradesman actually came by.

I walk in the bathroom, and it becomes clear that a tradesman had shown up. How could I tell?  Because he had managed to track mud all over my bathroom, including all over my new bathmat.
 
I call the landlady.  “Oooo, surry!”

She assures me again that a team of professional repairmen will be by tomorrow, and this time, they’ll have all the right moves. I’ll have a fridge and a hot shower by Thursday evening. Early 20th Century, here I come!

Thursday morning I take my sixth cold shower in a row. The thing with cold showers is that they don’t get easier. Once you’ve had two or three in a row, you start developing Battered Bather’s Syndrome. You begin to fear the dawn, knowing you’re just a few hours away from more abuse.  By day six, before I could bring myself to turn the water on, I had to stand in the tub and give myself a pep talk about the hardships my forefathers faced in the untamed swamps of Virginia. Then again, at least with malaria, every shower feels like a hot shower.

If you read the second paragraph carefully, you’ll know that during all this time, I didn’t have a mattress either. Yes, the mattress in my “furnished” flat was as absent as the hot water and fridge. In the interim, I had a half sofa-half chair-all uncomfortable furniture abortion to sleep on. It was so skimpy that even at 5’ 5,” I couldn’t find a position where my legs didn’t flop over the side. Ever tried sleeping in a plus sized barber’s chair? No, you haven’t. There’s a reason.

Thursday afternoon the landlady rings. She’s SURRY again. Turns out the tradesmen couldn’t fix the water, because the tap they ordered won’t arrive until Friday. As for the fridge, it’s a “special” model. Not special as in the Olympics--though it’s defective enough to compete in those games and inspire us all--but special as in hard to find. She gives me another “Oooo, surry” before informing me that when she had a problem with her own special fridge, it took four months to replace. She then tells me in her best problem-solving voice that not having a fridge shouldn’t be a problem, because I can always “eat fresh.” 

I waited for the laughtrack to start rolling. Nothing happened. Once I realized she wasn’t playing to the back of the room, I replied that yes, I could eat fresh. I could also grow my own food. Anorexia would be another option. But all of those alternatives would defeat the purpose of paying extra for a furnished flat with a refrigerator.

On a more serious note, as I’m stepping in all these booby-traps, I’m doing it alone. And without diversion.  In addition to having no friends in London, I was without the Internet. Or a TV. Or a stereo. I won’t bore you with the details, but a conspiracy of mini-crises befell me as I was getting ready to move, so I didn’t have adequate time to settle my affairs before skipping town. So with the clock ticking and the cost of international shipping so punitive, I wound up dumping most of my possessions on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. And contrary to what you may have heard from your friendly neighborhood blues singer, leaving it all behind isn’t as liberating as it’s cracked up to be. I left behind all of my comforts for an unfamiliar and so far, inhospitable place. Having a few more of my possessions around might have made things a little less dislocating.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog, already in progress.

Have I mentioned that my heaters weren’t working? Well, they weren’t. And even in summer, London can get cold in the morning and at night, especially when it rains. This is doubly uncomfortable when you’ve just stepped out of a cold shower. 

Appropriately, on July 4th, my new fridge shows up. I have to let the gas settle, so I’m not allowed to turn it on until the following day. When I do, it actually works. So on the two week anniversary of moving into my “furnished flat,” I can finally store food.
 
Around the same time, my mattress also shows up. Only it’s too small for the bedframe. Of course it is. My landlady also has a new couch delivered (admittedly, a very nice one), and hires someone to remove the sofa thing I’d been sleeping on (which you’ll recall was uncomfortable enough to fund the coke habit of a thousand chiropractors). However, when Delivery Guy removes the thing, he takes my blanket with it. So I come home that night to a cold apartment, and find that I don’t have even have a blanket to warm up with. I wound up sleeping on my new undersized mattress while wearing my winter coat for warmth. So there I was with no blanket no CDs to play, and no one to talk to, and all I could think was…I uprooted myself for this?

J'recuse

Social media has made it easier for the man on the street to weigh in on headline-grabbing tragedies. But instead of using their own language, it seems most people end up mimicking the pundits we've watched on TV all these years.

Some typical examples:

As a mother of three, I think we should...

As a father with a child in kindergarten, I want to see...


It seems many have decided that being a parent makes their sadness more acute, and that this increases the validity of their opinion.

Not so. If a space shuttle explodes, and my brother is an astronaut, thinking of him exploding may make me feel worse about the explosion than the average Joe. But it doesn't mean my knowledge of physics is greater than the average Joe's, and the fact my brother could have been the one in that shuttle certainly doesn't automatically make me qualified to opine on future shuttle launches.

Forget my hypothetical and just look at how juries are selected. People are screened out of juries all the time for having circumstances that make them "too close" to the facts of the case they would potentially be voting on. The thinking is that we don't want jurors who are likely to offer a clouded, purely emotional assessment.

If I were a parent who wanted to be interpreted as a measured observer as a opposed to an enraged vigilante, I would leave out the part about being a parent so that the sole focus would be on the opinions and prescriptions I was espousing.

And if someone were to ask me personally, I would open by saying: As an adult who doesn't own a gun, doesn't have kids, and doesn't remember kindergarten, I don't have a horse in this race and therefore...




Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Actions speak louder than calls to action

The much discussed climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, and with it, the image of NYC underwater due to climate change made its way into the global warming discussion.

That was almost seven years ago, and in this era of property market depression, NYC property prices have still at least managed some ebbs and flows (as opposed to just a straight drop).

One might ask: If people truly believed that NYC was due to be underwater in the near term, wouldn't you expect them to rent, or to perhaps buy in less flood-likely areas like Westchester or White Plains?

The US did not sign onto programs like the Kyoto Protocol, so there has been a perception that the rest of the world is working on climate change while Americans continue to plunge their heads in the sand. Strange then that there continue to be so many foreign (presumably climate change aware) buyers of NYC real estate.

And these sales are not due to crazy bargain prices. NYC real estate remains among the highest priced real estate in the country. If we assume everyone really believes in a potentially waterlogged Manhattan in the near future, why haven't property prices fallen like a broken elevator?

Perhaps the public's level of belief in the consequences of climate change aren't as deep as the headlines would have us think. Actions speak louder than calls to action. What you do is what you believe.



 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Office parties are more painful than actual work

If you haven't already had your office holiday party, chances are it is right around the corner.

Company holiday parties are designed to boost company morale. Yet what do people say when they tell you about their upcoming office holiday party? "Awww man, I've got to go to my company holiday party this week...it's gonna be a nightmare!"

So much for building camaraderie.

Nobody talks about their office holiday party with a dreamy twinkle in their eye. When they bring it up, their eyes go glassy and their bottom lip droops like a baby who just realized his pacifier is laced with arsenic.

Why do corporate higher-ups think these parties are a good idea? No one looks forward to them. They don't improve the office vibe and they cost money (which higher-ups are always going to crazy lengths to save). The kind of boilerplate imagination it takes to believe in these things is the same kind that drives so many companies into the ground.

Here's a message to the higher-ups from all us employees: holiday parties achieve the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. They do not lift anyone's spirits. They do not reinforce the mission statement. Think of it this way: We can't stand the sight of you when you're wearing a three piece suit. What makes you think we're going to hate you any less when you're wearing a Santa suit? A plate of red and green cupcakes doesn't make your jokes any funnier.

If you want to lift our spirits, just let us leave early that day.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Proper Format for a Suicide Note

Dear Mr. Payne,

I have been thinking of offing myself for years, but can't go through with it until I figure out my suicide note. I keep searching Google, but can't find the proper formatting for such a document. What are the grammar and etiquette standards for a suicide note?

Sincerely,

Crying for help about my cry for help



Well CFHAMCFH, this isn't really a Miss Manners column, but I'm always happy to help those in need. Let's go through your note step-by-step.

Remember, a suicide note is intended to add some theater to your death, so it is important to strike a balance between high drama and making others feel guilty about your miserable life. After all, the point of a suicide note is to make people sorry you're gone. A haphazard note that sounds like an outtake from American Beauty is just going to make everyone happy you offed yourself (as opposed to just your exes). I think we can all agree that there is nothing worse than a suicide dilettante.


The Salutation:

Do not address the note to a specific person. We live in the era of Twitter and Facebook, so if your note goes viral, you want to make sure everyone reads it all the way through. A specific greeting at the top will alienate most of your audience right off the bat. My suggestion: go with something like "To whom it may concern (OR NOT, HENCE THE NOTE!)."

The Body (Three paragraphs only. Suicide is show biz, and you always want to leave them wanting more):

Paragraph 1

Explain how you got here. If substance abuse is your problem, cite the specific drugs or drinks. Vague terms like "Mr. Brownstone" or "the monkey on my back" are hacky and make you sound like a common, dollar-store drunk. Instead, say something like, "I'm being slowly lynched by a man from Tennessee named Jack Daniels." It will make you sound poetic and reflective in death. It may even get you a few retweets from MADD.

If it is a string of artistic failures that has driven you to suicide, allude to a dumb society that doesn't get what you do. Remember, everyone thinks their taste in art is the correct taste in art, and that any person who disagrees with it only disagrees because they are too dumb to get it. This works in your favor if you word things vaguely enough. Say something like, "In a world full of Dogs Playing Pool, I am a Van Gogh playing cornfields." Van Gogh was a tragic artist who was universally respected, while dogs playing pool is  pretty much universally reviled. This will score major points with the back and front of the room. In fact, that line is so good I'm trademarking it as we speak. Don't cash it in until I've cashed your check.

Paragraph 2

Be sure to separate your exes into two distinct categories. Believe me, it is every person's dream to drive someone to suicide. I think it was Cleopatra who said: "Wow, you mean you killed yourself because you couldn't live without me? Flattery will get you everywhere!"

Announce that the people you dumped were precious jewels. And stupid you, you dumped them so you could focus on the losers who needed someone in their life, you know, because you're charitable and stuff.

And who are those losers you wasted your time trying to save? Why, the people who dumped you, of course! This approach will redeem you two ways: the people you dumped will suddenly like you again, and will no longer bash you for dumping them. In fact, they will forever go around saying that in hindsight, you were actually pretty great. Lucky you, you may even become their "one that got away."

And the ones who dumped you will not only be insulted one last time, but will also think to themselves, "Ohhh, so that's why he kept doing [insert annoying trait]. Because he wasn't really into me in the first place." Suddenly all of your obnoxious traits will be seen through the prism of "That wasn't the real him," which gets you off the hook and makes you look far better.

Their next horrible thought will be "Wait, so does that mean I'm a loser?"

C'mon, who doesn't love the thought of leaving an ex with that maddening internal monologue?

And even if the people who dumped you try to turn it around and say that you're the one who sucked, the fact that you got them first will make everyone else suspicious of their insults. Everyone will say, "Oh, they're just saying that because they were losers who needed pity sex."

Ingenious, isn't it? If you were this brilliant you probably wouldn't be killing yourself right now. But I digress...

Paragraph 3

List only two family members. Be sure to single out one relative who was helpful, so as to create tension among those still alive (it is no small feat to ruin Thanksgiving from the grave). Also reference one distant relative in an ambiguous way, so that for the rest of his life he and the rest of your kin are left confused about what kind of impact he could have had on you. This mystery (everyone loves a riddle!) will ensure that the family doesn't try to sweep your memory under the rug like they so often do with relatives who commit harakiri.

By the way, don't say things like harakiri, or else some suicide snob will read your note and say, "Well actually, harakiri is a ritualistic form of suicide. Worst note ever!"

The Closing

Just stick with Goodbye. No "Goodbye cruel world" or "See you on the other side." Those sound like bad teen poems and will cancel out all the suicide street cred you have built up to this point.

And remember, you've got all the time in the world to be dead, so by all means, take a few seconds for spell check. Unless your name is Lazarus, chances are you won't be able to return from the dead to change that "your" into a "you're."


Happy hanging!


Read my Tweets before you permanently turn off the lights: https://twitter.com/greatMikePayne

Monday, December 3, 2012

The less intelligent of two evils

One of the major tactical blunders conservatives have made is focusing on individual politicians rather than on ideas. This seems to have started with Clinton (maybe because by then the Cold War was over and that had defined much of their platform?). When Clinton took office, the primary criticisms we heard from conservatives related to his personal life; his eating habits, his marital pitfalls, etc. Very, very little discussion of his actual policies. The conservatism "opposition" to Clinton was more like a roast than a movement.

That's the problem. When you make the opposition all about individual politicians, what happens when that politician leaves? The foundation of your movement is suddenly gone. It is like the difference between spending and investing. While conservatives have been spending political capital focusing on the short term quirks of individual politicians, Democrats have been investing in the long term by making their opposition mostly about ideas that transcend individual politicians (climate change, "affordable healthcare,").

Yes, when Bush II was in office, there was plenty of focus on his accent, his speech pattern, his wild youth. But there was also constant discussion of his tax policies, social policies, and towards the end, his warmongering. Contrast that with the conservative obsession with Obama's birth certificate and alleged allegiance to Islam. Even the bashing of Obamacare largely came down to the idea-free slogan: "Obama's a socialist!"

The conservative focus on individual politicians isn't isolated to individual Democrats. They make their own campaigns about individual Republicans. Every campaign speech from a conservative mentions "Reagan Republicanism." No discussion of anything Reagan did; just a constant repetition of his name. Again, this is totally ineffective. An 18-year-old potential Republican voter doesn't care about Reagan. He could be made to care about a Reagan-related conservative idea...if one were actually presented to him.

In order to win a War of Ideas, you have to have some actual ideas. The closest thing Republicans have had to an idea is the War on Terror. And as voters have tired of it, all Republicans have done is double down (especially in '08).

Once more: climate change is a spreadable idea. Obsessing about Al Gore's personal carbon footprint isn't.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

What would it take to make comedy feel exclusive again?

Before the 1980s, stand-up comedy wasn't speckled all over the airwaves. Apart from outlets like Carson, stand-up was mostly a sport that could only be seen live. When people talked about going to the Catskills to see comedy, it was kinda literal.

Then in the 80s we got HBO and all kinds of stand-up shows. Suddenly it was everywhere. You didn't have to go to a club to see a wacky take on marriage. You didn't really even need a cablebox. It was everywhere.

Cut to today. Now not only do you have specific comedy channels and tons of talk shows featuring comedians, you have YouTube*, which gives you access to more stand-up than you can shake Charlie Chaplin's stick at.  

All the things that usually mesmerize people; comedy impressionists, for example, you can now see instantly and without payment. I just typed "Sarah Palin impression" into YouTube. 498 hits. In the old days, if you wanted to see your favorite impression, you had to go to a comedy club. Now every conceivable Sarah Palin impression is just a few clicks away.

If anything, this should devalue Sarah Palin impressions. You don't need to stay up late to watch The Tonight Show or drive to a comedy club to see someone do Sarah Palin.

So does that mean there is more funny out there? I just think there is more volume. Everywhere you go, you get the same three opinions, only now they are truly everywhere. Those same three opinions barrage you each day on Twitter, Facebook, your smartphone, your tablet, your television. Everywhere. The brain can only handle so much, so literal cognitive overload is bound to kick in. Eventually you're just worn down into accepting those same three opinions as fact. Perhaps without even knowing it, you come to expect them to be the template for all the comedy you watch.

If I want to escape the tidal wave of sameness, if I want to hear angles outside of those three acceptable opinions, there are probably around twenty people I can listen to. There are obvious names like Louis CK, and lesser known names like my friends Andy Kline and Dan Goodman.

With technology being where it is, there really is no reason to go to a comedy club unless one of the twenty or so distinct thinkers is on the bill. Otherwise, I'm bound to sit there frustrated while someone regurgitates the same point-of-view I could read in the New York Times seven days a week. Why should I shave, apply cologne, safety-pin a smile on my face, and pay a two drink minimum to sit through 60 minutes of the same three opinions that have been buzzing on my smartphone all day?

In order to get a break from the tidal wave of consensus thinking, I really have to sift through the noise to find my way to the comics who aren't regurgitators, which in a way, kind of makes the search for comedy feel exclusive again; maybe a little like it felt going to a comedy club in 1975.

It is as though this small league of comics with distinct angles is an accidental aristocracy. Maybe that should make me optimistic; aristocracies have a tendency to produce great art.



*Speaking of YouTube, you can use it to hear hours of unacceptable opinions from the late, great philosopher Patrice Oneal.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Multiverse Chorus Multiverse

"How can life have any meaning in such a giant universe?"
 
This is a public domain opinion held by most Bad Deep Guys, ages 17-23. It is often accompanied by American Spirit smoke, a scarf fatter than a boa constrictor, and a Nintendo shirt (because even in a giant universe, it is still important to romanticize Mike Tyson's Punch-Out).
 
Here's the thing, Son of Sartre; once you decide that existence has no meaning, why would the size of the universe matter? Big or small, the universe is still chaotic, random, and amoral (at least when viewed through the human prism).
 
If the universe were the size of Delaware, your existence would still be an impersonal accident. And something tells me you would still find a way to be a Bad Deep Guy: "How can life any meaning in such a cramped universe?"
 
If you decide that scale does matter, it would be easier to argue that given how enormous the universe is, and how rarely the necessary infrastructure for life seems to occur, the strange fact that Earth has life at least makes us unusual. You know, limited edition.
 
So, Bad Deep Guy, why are you here?
 
I ask myself the same thing each time you open your mouth.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Viagra killed the almost porn star

I used to do a bit in my act:

You know who I feel bad for when it comes to porn? Fluff girls. Fluff girls are women who stand off camera and perform sex acts on the male porn stars in order to get them excited for the shoot. But here's my question, why don't fluff girls just become porn stars themselves? Because think about it, the only requirement for being a porn star is that you're willing to be a porn star. The only credentials needed are a few holes in your body. And depending on the fetish, sometimes not even those...

How hideous do you have to be to be relegated to fluff girl status? When a porn director makes you a fluff girl, what he's really saying is: "Look, we're willing to put any sex act on tape...just as long as it doesn't involve you."

The bit went through a few incarnations, but I was never happy with it.

Anyway, last year I tried bringing it back with a few new tweaks. After a show a woman came up to me and explained that she worked in porn (behind the camera, I'm sad to report). She explained that my fluff girl bit was all wrong. According to her, the advent of Viagra had made fluff girls obsolete.

This led to an intriguing conversation about some of the technical aspects of porn, but no discussion of the acts themselves. And certainly no talk of me going back to her place for some porn reenactments.

I hope at my funeral they make this story part of my eulogy. It sums up my entire life. My comedy finally leads to a conversation with a woman who works in porn, only she works behind the scenes and only approached me so she could correct one of my bits. It figures that my sole run-in with the porn world would resemble an encounter with the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons (only with smaller tits).


http://twitter.com/greatmikepayne

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pimping is easy. Explaining it isn't.

Older male celebrities can pull hot, young women. And they do. All the time.

This includes male celebrities (usually pompous actors) who like to make a big showing of being male feminists. You know the type: the actors who pretend every female director is a genius and spend half of every interview bloviating about how they like being in movies with strong female characters. And if you watch the special behind-the-scenes commentary, you may even get to hear them say that the reason the flawless looking actress they're co-starring with is famous is because she has a "really sharp acting mind."

Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap! Boy, I'm so glad he said that. Hollywood needs more guys like him. He just seems like a really good guy.

Then you see the 19-year-old nymphomaniac he's shacking up with and suddenly your male Cinderella and his carriage of nonsense turns into a big, hypocritical pumpkin.

No one should blame older male celebs for shacking up with young bombshells. If you're walking down the sidewalk and you see a Rolex and a Swatch side-by-side you're going to grab the Rolex and kick the Swatch into the gutter.

What's great is watching these frauds squirm when an interviewer asks them about their better half being half their age. They always try to explain it by saying, "Sure she may be young, but she's really mature and wise."

So are women your own age. You're with her because she makes Betty Boop look like Rachel Maddow, not because she has a Buddha vibe. Don't these dopes realize they're just drawing more attention to their jailbait-loving ways by pretending their girlfriends' luscious young looks are just a side note?

You'd think an actor could come up with a better excuse. At least try to spin it by changing the subject back to her mind: "Well as you know I really value a woman's mind, and women my age are just too forgetful!"

This way you can also get points for being self-deprecating.

Boy, he just seems like a really great, humble guy. Good to see fame hasn't gone to his head. Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Quotes that are actually useful

I bet at some point one of your co-workers had a daily quote calendar on his desk. You know, those calendars that deliver a brand new slice of affirmation each and every day!

For those who go paperless, your daily dose of cornball may come in the form of a daily quotation email.

Regardless of how they are delivered, what these lists of quotations normally amount to is a bunch of hokey affirmations with no absolutely no utility. Half the time they don't even make sense: White bread is just wheat bread waiting to be born!

And after spamming you with positivity, they will always insert one mildly cutting Mark Twain quote; you know, for all you affirmation-loving cynics out there!

Vomit.

Here are some quotes that you may not always see, and that may have some actual utility in your descent through life:

Arthur Schopenhauer:

If you want to know your true opinion of someone, watch the effect produced in you by the first sight of a letter from him.

Men are by nature merely indifferent to one another; but women are by nature enemies.

The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.

A man can be himself only so long as he is alone.

HL Mencken:

EM Cioran:

Anyone who speaks in the name of others is always an imposter.

Oscar Wilde:

Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.

A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally.

An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.

There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.

Ambrose Bierce:

Future. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.

Bertrand Russell:

Liberty is the right to do what I like; license, the right to do what you like.

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country.

Sin is geographical.

One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Nietzsche:

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.

There are horrible people who, instead of solving a problem, tangle it up and make it harder to solve for anyone who wants to deal with it. Whoever does not know how to hit the nail on the head should be asked not to hit it at all.

Raymond Chandler:

The law isn't justice. It's a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be.

Murray Rothbard:

It is easy to be conspicuously 'compassionate' if others are being forced to pay the cost.

Fitzgerald:

After all, life hasn't much to offer except youth, and I suppose for older people, the love of youth in others.

Often people display a curious respect for a man drunk, rather like the respect of simple races for the insane... There is something awe-inspiring in one who has lost all inhibitions..

Gogol:
(On preferring cash over other gifts): “It's a thing which can't be beaten anywhere, for it wants nothing at all to eat, and it takes up very little room, and it fits easily to the pocket, and it doesn't break in pieces if it happens to be dropped.”

Shakespeare:

Speak low if you speak love.

Diogenes:

As a matter of self-preservation, a man needs good friends or ardent enemies, for the former instruct him and the latter take him to task.

Plato:

No one ever teaches well who wants to teach, or governs well who wants to govern.

Hannah Arendt:

The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.

In order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism.
If you notice some overlap between some of these, perhaps it is because as the already quoted Schopenhauer said:

The wise have always said the same things, and fools, who are the majority have always done just the opposite.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Merry Holidays!

We are heading into the holiday season. Notice I didn't say Christmas. In America, everything is holiday this and season's greetings that. Christmas, Hanukkah...seldom mentioned by name.

It isn't like this everywhere. Despite being very politically correct, and probably even more totalitarian in its enforcement of PC dogma (at least for now) than the US, in the UK (still a pretty close relative of the US) people still say Christmas. Go to a UK restaurant website this time of year and you will see advertisements saying, "Book your Christmas dinner now."

This is even true in London; probably the most multicultural city in the world.

Is this because UK residents are more religious than Americans? No. In fact, the opposite is true. Regardless of which survey you view, the UK is always ranked as being more secular or atheistic than the United States.

I wonder if these two trends might be related. Perhaps because in the UK it is assumed that few people truly believe in God or G-d, the word Christ doesn't cause so much discomfort. In the US, where a lot people really, really believe, there seems to be a fear that any allowance of Christ into the conversation is a slippery slope on the road to theocracy.

Once the divine component shrinks into the background, Christmas becomes just another generic good will holiday. Maybe the "War on Christmas" will fade when Americans stop believing in Christ.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Romney should have used some of his money to buy a calculator

Today I read a line in the New York Times saying that Obama's easy win is the result of the "McGovern coalition coming of age." I would say the victory is the result of trends predating 1972.

Forty+ years of turning public schools into factories for manufacturing politically correct robots has worked. Doctrinaire egalitarianism now starts in kindergarten, not college. College is merely the honeymoon after thirteen years of egalitarian courtship. Today even cultural conservatives unthinkingly use the language their opponents have prescribed for them.

Why haven't conservatives won a lasting battle in thirty+ years? Under Bush II, when supposed conservatives had all three government branches, the government expanded dramatically. The clock was hardly “turned back.” Why?


Because the war of ideas was lost a very long time ago, through the children. The very premise of even nominal conservative government could only be upheld so long as there were enough Americans with a less jaundiced view of pre-sixties America to keep voting to preserve what was left of it. They are now dead or outnumbered.

Home schoolers comprise a very small sliver of the population, and they are viewed with some suspicion (even by some conservatives). The vast majority attend public schools, where the war of ideas is long over. Yet conservatives continue to pat themselves on the back each time some minuscule home school "victory" happens somewhere. And they complain about liberals being unable to do math...
The conservative platform as it now exists can't be effectively transmitted to children. Vague lines like "class warfare" and "We're on the road to socialism!!!" aren't ideas, and certainly have no resonance with kids. Liberal principles are easily converted into talking points that can be repeated and spread. Example: Climate change and its implications is an idea. Saying it doesn't exist isn't. A kid can't really make an "I don't believe in climate change" macaroni and paste mosaic for his parents' refrigerator (and if he did his teacher would flunk him).
As for entrepreneurship being "the American dream," most humans don't have the constitution to be entrepreneurs. Most people hate their boss (they see themselves as the little guy oppressed by their boss), so pinning your fortunes on a campaign that emphasizes bosses as "the backbone of America" is numerical folly. Saying "entrepreneurs built this country" makes many younger people automatically think wicked robber barons. Saying "rugged individuals built this country" makes many younger people automatically think murderous pioneers (famed "pioneer" state Colorado went to Obama). Thus, building your platform around these memes is a horrible strategy. America is a mob rule republic. Numbers matter.
Nearly all of the money and cultural influence now resides in NY, MA, DC, and CA. The most conspicuous liberals are elected there; Pelosi, Schumer, etc. These politicians roughly reflect the opinions of those who set the national agenda. This doesn't look likely to change.
The war of ideas is lost for conservatives, and with it the numerical battle. John Galt ain't gonna show up to save anybody.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Inconvenient Truth About Jealousy

Self-help books are worthless, the people who read them are hopeless, and the authors who write them are shameless.

Self-help books about relationships are the worst. Much like economics books, they espouse advice and theory while conveniently ignoring that the situations they're discussing involve human actors.

A typical one size fits all nugget from these tomes: Jealousy results from low self-esteem.

You could just as easily argue the reverse, that the reason some people don't experience jealousy is because their self-esteem is so low they don't think they deserve the person they're with. Therefore, they don't feel jealousy. It's odd that the self-help/psychobabble coven has taken this stance on jealousy. After all, every other exit sign on the self-help highway reads "You're not doing _____ because you don't think you deserve _____."

But not jealousy. For some reason that brand of self-preservation automatically signifies "low self-esteem."

What if you're just really in love and have visions of the agony you'd feel if you lost that person? It's crazy to have concerns about that? People take elaborate steps to avoid disaster in other parts of life. They buy flood insurance in areas that seldom flood. But in your love life it is a sign of low self-esteem to sometimes imagine a worst-case scenario? 

[Obviously, I'm talking about jealously in moderation. If the word jealous automatically makes you think Raging Bull, you're already too deep in the Oprah-Dr. Phil abyss to contribute to humanity and I forbid you to read further.]

Sometimes jealousy comes from being realistic. Sometimes you know your significant other could have done a lot better than you, and you don't want to lose your lucky break. That lucky break could very well be the only good thing in your life. So is it irrational to have some anxiety about losing something you were lucky to catch in the first place? If anything, by being realistic about your lover's superior appeal, you are practicing self-actualization, an exercise most self-help parrots recommend.

Let's say you're a stunning couple, a couple comprised of two knockouts...a little jealousy still makes sense. After all, if your partner is a stunner, you know that other people are going to be even more dogged and ruthless in their attempts to seduce that person (being a stunner yourself, you'll have experience with this). Knowing this is the case, is it so neurotic to be a little vigilant? When you have an Aston Martin in your garage, you take steps to protect it.

Another reason being a little suspicious doesn't necessarily mean you have low self-esteem: infidelity is on the rise. Traditional monogamy is taking a beating here in the dying West. Who is to say your mate isn't going to be a trend follower? Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

William Shakespeare, who may have coined the expression "green-eyed jealousy," wrote Othello, probably the most enduring take on jealousy. It contains quotes like:

Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ.


But really, a more useful Shakespeare quote about jealousy would be:

For love, thou know'st, is full of jealousy.

That's from The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Haven't heard of it, have you? Exactly. Ironic, considering The Two Gentleman of Verona sounds like a bad self-help call-in show.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Only the Good Vote Young

When political commentators discuss voting blocs, the age of voters is often a key focus. But political commentators don't treat age blocs equally. Here are the narratives we are given:

When old people vote as a bloc, we are told it is out of fear. And the politicians who target them by demagoguing Social Security and Medicare? They are accused of cynically pandering to the fears of elderly voters.

But when young people vote as a bloc, we are told they are simply making their voices heard! It is the beauty of the political process! And the politicians who pander to them by making impossible promises about issues like education? Why, they are simply paving the way for a brighter future! No cynicism here, friends.

I think this is because the media is enamored with the narrative of the 60s youth movement; the narrative that says young people rose up as one warm and fuzzy voice to cuddle a broken nation. So whenever young people appear to be voting as a bloc again, the media always frames it as "a moment."

Funny, all we ever hear is that today's youth are stupid, lazy, ignorant of history, blah, blah, blah, but when those stupid, lazy youths rise up to force their stupidity, laziness, and ignorance of history on the rest of us via the voting booth, we're supposed to hail this as a wonderful thing.

Pandering is pandering, whether it is lying to deathbed voters about saving Medicare, or lying to young voters about making education cheaper. In either case, one generation is shifting the cost of its preferences onto another. So why does the media present one as "progress" and the other as "fear-based?"

Every move made by every politician is politics, and every promise, no matter how much faux optimism is lacquered on it, and is designed to generate votes from a specific group. Whether the target is old or young, there is always an element of fear:

"Unlike my opponent, I understand the needs of our seniors, which is why I'm going to preserve _____."

"My opponent wants to cut _____. But I know what our young people need to compete in today's global economy, which is why I'm going to invest in _____."

For some reason pandering to the fears of the young doesn't spark accusations of fear-mongering. Maybe politicians should change FDR's phrase to: "The only thing we have to fear is the AARP."



Monday, October 29, 2012

It's the Quiet Ones You Gotta Watch

What can silent horror films teach us about what makes horror work? Why should any modern horror fan watch a silent horror film? Though I'm glad the talkies fad is still going strong, I do think silent horror films have one minor and instructive advantage over their talkie counterparts.

When you are watching a silent film, much of the narrative is transmitted through title cards (the original text messages). Yes, action is happening, but often the context of the action is unclear until the title cards explicate it. Some silent films don't have many title cards, so the action can persist for quite a while without explicit explanation. In the case of a silent horror film--the almost silent Vampyr, for example--the mood can build and build as you await the next title card, the next slice of dialogue, to interrupt the momentum of gloom. And as time passes, every movement on screen becomes part of a slow burning, dream-like anxiety; where every dart of the eyes and every cautious step forward seems to have tremendous import. You forget that it's just a scene with a guy walking through a field.

What it comes down to is misdirection. In a talkie horror, with the constant dialogue (and with it, explanation), things are much more on the surface*. The advantage of misdirection that you find in silent horror films can also be found in effective horror novels. There are all kinds of distractions; minor characters, minor character details, location details. These distractions help magnify the story's ending because you're diverted by all the dead-ends and false starts leading up to the ending and therefore less likely to see it coming.

When you read horror short stories, there is less room for misdirective details, so the ending and direction of the plot is easier to guess. Same goes for horror anthology TV shows like "Tales From the Darkside". Because of time constraints, the expositions are necessarily abrupt. The dialogue must come right out and announce what is happening. There are no extraneous details to obscure things, so you fixate purely on the story. And let's face it, it can only end a few different ways. And because the story is so predictably compressed, you know that after that last commercial break, it has to end somehow. And if you have seen a few horror anthology episodes, you can pretty much guess the ending to all of them.

I think these mechanics partly explain why there are so few decent (let alone great) horror films, and why there are so few horror anthology episodes that are even worth watching all the way through. There is a reason why every classic horror film list pretty much has the same handful of titles on it...not that many classics to choose from.

 

*The Blair Witch Project and the Bela Lugosi Dracula are two talkies with creepy, silent film-like pacing. Many early talkies of all genres were short on dialogue as the medium made the transition out of the silent age.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I always vote for "apathy"

“If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.”

--Emma Goldman
I don't vote. I also avoid conversations about voting, because when I mention I don't vote, otherwise reasonable people respond by shrieking like a freebasing hyena.

Man travels in packs; even supposed !INDIVIDUALISTS! feel better when they can be part of the mob. Voting helps sate this craving, and trying to argue the herd out of herding is like giving the finger to gravity. Doesn't accomplish much.
Still, the sanctimony of proud voters during Presidential races is so feverish I can't help myself.
The least impressive argument I hear from voters: People died to give you the right to vote.
So what? People also died defending the Third Reich. Their dying for a cause doesn't alter the merits of the cause one bit. Dying isn't a big deal. People die running themselves over with their own riding lawnmowers. Their death doesn't elevate my view of them.
Look at how progressives react when a Christian tells them Jesus died for us. The progressives laugh, gag, or squawk (not a bad name for a game show). What they don't do is start going to church. Progressives--or just non-Christians in general--don't feel any obligation to Christ based on his dying for a cause.
I remember once speaking to someone--a proud progressive, AND SHE VOTES!--who couldn't leave well enough alone. She kept serving big, clichéd bowls of "It's your civic duty to vote" chowder.
Finally I said something like, "I don't believe in the political system, so by not participating, I am being the change I want to see in the world."
If anyone should appreciate my mentality, it should be progressives. Or so their slogans--Think globally, act locally--would lead us to believe. I don’t believe in voting, so by not voting, I am being the change I want to see in the world. I am thinking globally and acting locally. I am following Ghandi's advice.
George Carlin said it best:
I have solved this political dilemma in a very direct way: I don't vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, 'If you don't vote, you have no right to complain,' but where's the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote — who did not even leave the house on Election Day — am in no way responsible for what these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The only horror tales you need to read

Robert Aickman, the third best horror writer of all time, once said: "There are only about thirty or forty first-class ghost stories in the whole of western literature." If it weren’t for Aickman’s contributions, forty would probably be on the high side.

There are many reasons why a memorable horror story is so tricky to pull off, but right now I have no interest in mining my remarkable brain for the answers.

Halloween is almost here, and it comes but once a year, so here is a nearly complete list of the only horror tales you need to bother with (some are novellas/novelettes, so I am bending the rules a bit). I am going to leave out Poe and Stevenson because they are taught in school, so people get plenty of exposure to them. I’m trying to highlight writers that non-horror fans might not otherwise encounter.

Lovecraft
The Call of Cthluhu
The Music of Erich Zann
The Outsider
The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Colour Out of Space
Robert Aickman
Ringing the Changes
The Hospice
The Cicerones
Meeting Mr. Millar
Your Tiny Hand is Frozen
Thomas Ligotti

My Work Is Not Yet Done
Purity
Our Temporary Supervisor
Algernon Blackwood

The Willows (Lovecraft called this the finest weird tale ever, and I can’t disagree).
The Wendigo
M.R. James

“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”
Casting the Runes


Mary Elisabeth Counselman
The Black Stone Statue
The Three Marked Pennies

Metamorphosis by Kafka (Kafka is obviously taught in school, but this is a great weird tale that is often soiled by shaky literary analysis, thus robbing virgin readers of potential enjoyment).

Mimic by Donald Wolheim

Night Wire by HF Arnold
Nackles by Curt Clark (AKA Donald Westlake)
It's a Good Life by Jerome Bixby

The People of the Pit by Abraham Merritt

The Canal by Everil Worrell

The Voice of the Beach by Ramsey Campbell
N by Stephen King.
The Geezenstacks by Fredric Brown

Pigeons from Hell by Robert E. Howard