Friday, December 31, 2010

The true origins of Moses (on South Park)

Who is this Moses (pictured at left, at Jewish camp)? Is he a glowing dreidel of holiness? Some sort of strange Max-Headroom manifestation?

Nope. According to my peerless (and unverified) research, South Park's Moses turns out to be based on none other than the lead villian in the Tron movies (at top right). It's called the Master Control Program (MCP) and he looks... like Moses.

That's all I have to say in this post, for which I expect to be nominated for numerous journalistic and SunLight Foundation awards.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In Defense of Enya

It takes a brave man to defend the culturally unpopular.

I am a brave man.

I like Enya.

You know them. They were in a VERY popular Crystal Light ad in the 1990's with their song Orinoco Flow (here's the song). Enya is ambient music - it uses soundscapes and melodic, airy vocals to create atmosphere. Story or narrative are secondary, and often besides the point. It's relaxing music.

It also happens to be in the maligned category known as "New Age." It's associated with old women, wimpy men and the culturally castrated. Witness some snippets from blogs on the subject:
  • "Enya Sucks So Much More When It's 4:00am at Wal-Mart"
  • "Jazz music called.. they want their scat singing back."
  • "Listening to Enya is like being old."
  • And the fledgling "I hate Enya" Facebook group
The lead singer (also known as Enya) also got lots of flak when she decided that singing in the English language was too "obtrusive" to the mood she was trying to create, so she made up her own language to sing in.

Whatevs. Music is always personal to a degree, and personally I like Enya. Why? Because many years ago when I was still in journalism, and the 70+ hour weeks were crushing me emotionally, Enya was pretty much the only thing that could calm me down after a terrible workday. I still lived at home at the time, and my mom suggested I listened to an Enya CD to relax. I turned out the lights, poured myself a glass of ginger ale, put on "The Memory of Trees" and passed the hell out.

P.S. Enya also wrote a song for the Lords of the Rings movie. And she's sang in Elvish, too. That's nerd cred.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Let's disprove evolution!

Or try, anyway

This guy is slightly more successful, but not in the way you'd expect.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I love reading shitty yelp reviews

Someone wrote a great post about reading 1 star reviews for the world's most famous and loved books, like The Giving Tree, The Diary of Ann Frank, etc.

So I thought I'd do it local-style, and check out the Yelp reviews for miserable dining experiences we've had in the DC / Arlington area.

Here are a few:

Ibiza Nightclub: "DO NOT BUY A TABLE HERE. This club is hood.... purchased a table in VIP, BIG mistake, it took 45 minutes to get our liquor... $350 for a reg. size bottle of grey goose.. WOW... We saw a few GIRLS in the club with jeans and timbs on and black tank tops, like they just got off a construction job, while we were wearing colorful cocktail dresses, we were definitely out of place."

Whitlow's on Wilson: "I don't think there is anyone in all of Arlington who dislikes this place more than me. I call it $hitlows... If every awful Clarendon cliche was combined into one super-Golem of 'according-to-my-birth-certificate-I'm-an-adult-bu t-I'll-never-tell, check-out-my-new-haircut, college-never-ends-just-the-classes-do' hellishness, and then it pooped on your face... You'd know you were at Whitlow's."

Clarendon Grille: "In the Clarendon Sea of Restaurants and Bars, the Clarendon Grill is a rather brackish backwater... I've seen plenty of cover bands, and they definitely scored high on the ole suckitude meter. The clientele struck me as very YSS (Young Starched Shirts), wannabe Hipsters without the hip."

Bar Louie (DC Chinatown): "We all walked in to the restaurant & the hostess was having a personal conversation with another employee about her boyfriend... I said excuse me but we would like to be seated if possible. One of the young women said to me can't you see we are talking! ...We all tasted the water and immediately requested bottle water only to be told they didn't have any as the staff had drank all the bottled water and they would not be getting anymore water till Monday... PS: I did ask to speak with a manager about our issues only to be told that they didn't have time to speak with me."

Hops Restaurant Bar & Brewery: "Have you ever wondered what it'd be like if Applebee's started making bland, formulaic beer? Of course you have. Who hasn't? Hops is your answer."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seeking creative ways to hurt yourself

My sister thought this would be a funny Hanukkah gift. And I guess pain and death do have a funny side... somewhere.
Anyway, so now I have a 600,000 Scoville bottle of liquid death in my fridge. Any ideas what to do with it?
And yes, you saw that correctly - the bottle does come with a skull keychain on it. How delightful!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thoughts on telling people to 'Get a job'

It's said that you grow more conservative as you grow older. I may be seeing it now in regard to panhandlers.

Flash back a few years. I am walking down Hope Street in Providence with my friend who works at the JCC gym. He sees a man asking for change outside an ATM. This man is missing teeth, looks strung out and in pretty sad shape. My friend knows him, gives him a few bucks and we leave. He tells me, "Yeah, I know the guy and I know he's addicted and gonna spend it on drugs, but my mother always told me to help people in need, so what can I do?"

Well, for starters, not giving him money sounded like a good idea. I think the altruism of helping a needy person is canceled out if you are reasonably sure they are going to blow the money on drugs or alcohol (which, according to various studies, is what happens 50-90% of the time). I already believed this back then, and had as my policy to only give people food if they asked for money. It's a pretty good policy, I think.

But now I'm wondering if I've moved past that point. A few minutes ago I just past a bearded young guy sitting outside a CVS in the very cold weather. He most likely did not have to be sitting in the cold on a main street without wind-breaking walls at that particular moment. Just like the homeless man I pass every day on the way to the metro doesn't have to sit in the open street where hundreds of people pass by - there is an alleyway just a few feet away where he'd be warmer, or I'm sure there are other slightly better options if he looked. He may be poor, but he's not stupid. He chooses to sit there because he has a reasonably good chance of getting money if he asks. It's outside the Rosslyn metro stop, and there's a lot of money here, so that's where he sits. If there wasn't money here, he'd move.

Now, I always thought telling someone to "Get a job" was pretty callous. I'm sure if it was that easy, they would have already gotten one, right? But not necessarily. There are many options for people who are at that level of destitution - being a Street Sense vendor and selling the local Homeless newspaper is just one well-publicized option that they are already aware of. How do I know? The shelters where they usually sleep have them publicized there. And by subjecting himself to the harsh winter winds rather than finding a warmer place to spend his days (the library, overflow shelters, heck - even a subway grate) he's increasing his chances of becoming ill or even dying.

So I'm not sure what to make of this. While it is clearly a good deed to feed a hungry person, what if by giving them food or money you are enabling and encouraging them to beg, and therefore contributing to a poorer lifestyle? Clearly not a new issue, but a difficult one.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

DC's gay community, you let me down

I figured I was smart. I heard that the Senate had used cloture to stop endless bickering about Don't Ask Don't Tell and force a very unusual and very historic Saturday afternoon vote. I remember being at Busboys and Poets and watching the 2008 Presidential debates, and the fever pitch and the emotion that was in that crowd. I figured this vote would be equally momentous to the gay community, and so I rushed off to a gay bar / restaurant to bask in this seminal moment.

I honestly don't believe the fact that I was starving and lightheaded had anything to do with this logic. Now that I am full once again, it still seemed like a reasonable idea.

I drove over to Freddie's Beach Bar & Restaurant on 23rd Street in Alexandria, a gay bar / restaurant I had passed by many times. The outside is adorned with pink umbrellas and pink flamingos. A child's pink motorized car was mounted on the back of the restaurant. Flyers of drag queens were at the front door. I figured I had found a great place.

I went in past the many signs that said "21 ONLY: ID REQUIRED" and stopped short. The inside was as lively as an abandoned warehouse. A few overweight men sat at darkened tables staring into their lunch plates. Patsy Cline played weakly over a PA system. There was a sad buffet with potatoes and other items. The TV's played music videos from the 1950's. There was no excitement, no movement, and no seeming interest in the vote at all.

So did I miscalculate? Or did D.C.'s gays miss out on a chance to build community and entertain ME? I'm voting on the later. I had $20 to spend on brunch, which ended up going to Caeser's Diner. They had excellent seasoned fries, even if their TVs played a IQ-busting Tyler Perry movie.

The origins of the Family Guy skyline

Thanks to Wikipedia, per usual.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Good reasons for girls to hate shopping (via guest blogger Dianna)

Rubin on Wry, while ruled ruthlessly by yours truly, still enjoys giving the podium to worthy souls with a worthy message that has import to my vast and varied audience. Here, then, is a piece by my awesome girlfriend on shopping. - Ed.

Let me start off by saying that I hate shopping, independent of my apparent invisibility. I'm cheap, hate crowds and am indecisive when it comes down to two almost identical items but one is slightly pinker than the other. Can't deal with it. If I'm out shopping it means one of two things: I really, really need something. Or I am buying something for someone else. And when I actually summon the energy to hit the mall, it means that I'm a woman on a mission. I know what I want to buy, and I know that I have the funds to buy whatever it is.

So, it really grills my cheese when salespeople ignore me. No, I'm not a high roller who is going to drop $30,000 on a single item. But I'm still spending cash! I get that I look young. I get carded pretty much every time I go out. A lot of people at work think I'm fresh out of college (I've stopped correcting them because it's not worth the battle). And, no, I don't expect salespeople to fall over themselves to help me. But it would be nice if I ask a question, if they help me.

Last week, I went to my guiltiest pleasure: Sephora. Now, I never really NEED anything at Sephora. It's more like an "ohhh, shiny!" moment for me where I am blinded by the sparkly things that promise to cleanse my skin, depuff my eyes or make me look like Reese Witherspoon. When I approached the Philosophy display, I knew the three things that I wanted to buy. Naturally, these are the things on the high shelves that I can't reach. So it takes me a few minutes to see what I want and grab at it. During this time a salesperson came over to help another customer, who wanted to try a free sample of something. Please note that she wanted a FREE FLIPPIN' SAMPLE, and I was picking up things for purchase. The salesperson opened up the giant drawer below the display and fiddled with it for about 10 minutes, blocking me from picking up the things I wanted. When I finally said "Can I just grab one thing?," the salesperson looked me up and down and said "I'm helping a customer." Uh, I'm a customer too. Plus, she gave me "the look." It's basically a sigh, combined with an eye roll combined with a sort of glance off to the side. Then the trudge along to find whatever product I want. Service with a smile, it is not.

I don't know their reasoning in particular, but I assume, I think fairly correctly, that it's because I look young and they assume I have no cash to blow. There was a time when I was younger and would buy a bunch of things just to prove them wrong (obviously this only helped them, rewarded them for bad behavior and left me with a bunch of stuff I never actually even wanted. Way to show 'em, Dianna.)

The really ironic thing is that this is probably some sort of karmic retribution. When I was 16, I had a job at an awful perfume store. I worked on commission, so whenever someone was wasting my time and smelling samples of items they'd never even buy, I'd get snippy and try to ditch them. And yes, when fellow 16-year-olds came up to me to ask for help, I was less than friendly. So payback is clearly a bitch.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dianna's Super Power

It's not fair. I've read thousands of comics, know the real names, powers, and various aliases of hundreds of fictional characters, and yet Dianna is the one that ends up with a super power.

I didn't believe her at first. I went with her to department stores to see if she was actually "invisible" to the sales staff. They immediately said hello to us when we walked in, and offered to help us (and her) find anything. So I discounted it.

However, I am a poor scientist, and my presence was affecting the experiment. You see, when we walk in as a couple, they recognize that we are in a relationship and therefore might be worth catering too.

But when Dianna shops solo, one of her greatest assets - her beautiful youthful looks - works against her. Shopkeeps think she is about 16 years old, and therefore has no disposable income to spend on clothes, perfume, anything. So they avoid her. If she asks them for things, they will give her minimum service, then flee. If Dianna is in front of a display, they will rudely push or nudge her aside, as if she's a blockage rather than a customer.

This sucks obviously on many levels, but the worst is that this superpower never manifests itself when I'm around. I would LOVE to lay into these people, but their shitty behavior flees into the shadows when I'm around, like.... say....Mobius the Living Vampire flees from holy water.

Sike! That was a trick answer! Mobius the Living Vampire is not actually affected by holy water or most vampire weaknesses.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cryptography: What all the chicks are into in 2011

OK, enough pussyfooting around. It's time to talk about what's really important.

Random cryptography facts.

I don't know much about codebreaking, besides what I saw in Sneakers and Weird Science. (I guess there is a subtle difference between hacking and codebreaking, but whatever). In my non-existent understand of the subject, I always figured that breaking codes involves "backdoor," secretive, cool tech to probe the inner working of the program and then find a weak point.

And maybe some do, but a lot do it in a simpler (and lamer) way: The simply try to guess every conceivable password with a really fast computer. This is called a Brute Force Attack, and is obviously inelegant, although sometimes effective.

So if you read tech blogs from time to time, you may have come across someone extolling the benefits of "256-bit encryption," a code so complex that it is virtually unbreakable. Apparently the code level weaker than this, 128-bit encryption, is good enough for the U.S. intelligence community, so this 256-bit stuff must be really ridiculous, right? Yup. A code on this level has 2256 possible solutions. That is a 2 followed by 256 zeros, a number larger than the number of particles in the universe, or more than number of seconds between now and when all the suns have burnt out.

Here's the point I like best: But surely with our awesome computers we could check all these numbers really fast, right? Nope. From Wikipedia:

A device that could check a billion billion (1018) [numbers] per second would in theory require about 3×1051 years to exhaust the 256-bit key space.

For some reason, I find exponentially heavy numbers that describe impossibly large things to be very cool, like the word "Bedazzler" (but not the product, obviously).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

This Jew says: Bring on the Christmas trees

When I worked in the Rhode Island Jewish community, I pretty much only saw Jews day in and day out. And when Christmas came around, it was pretty much Christmas everywhere except in my office. So Christmas decor - the pine trees, the winter, the red and white and green everything - was this "other thing." Back then, I preferred to have no holiday decorations, or the non-denominational "holiday party," in any public spaces.

Now, I'm older, and I've chilled out. When you work in the "regular" America, people really love Christmas.

Like, really love it.

It's more than just a holiday, it's really a season. And while covering things in tinsel, the scent of pine needles, and garish reindeer sweaters may seem very odd to me, they bring other people tons of joy.

Dianna dutifully reminds me that she's also taught me quite a good deal about the nice things about Christmas. We have a tree in our apartment that has ornaments that are family heirlooms, and her mom even bought me a few Jew-ornaments, which are pleasing to the eye.

Our office recently moved into a much less wealthy neighborhood, and my boss noted the lack of Christmas decorations anyone near the metro or in the office. I can see the excitement that this transformation would bring her, and I think, "You know what, if it makes other people happy I really don't care what they put up. Go for it."

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Let's kick the cancer girl off the show"

This is a paraphrase, but it's basically true from this week's Bridalplasty.
Most of the girl's on this show are fairly good looking, and want their procedures to help their low self-esteem. But a few girls have actual problems. A few have lost tons of weight and have that disgusting "too much skin" problem. And one girl had a bunch of cysts in her breasts and basically lost both of them. I can only imagine how difficult and painful this must be to a young woman, or any woman.
So guess who got voted off the show last night by her peers? Yup, the "cysta." Why? Because she was going to be too much competition for the other girls.
I'm just speechless.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Where gay bashing is alive and well

I watched the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" congressional hearing during lunch yesterday, and really enjoyed the parts that I saw. I missed McCain, but saw Lieberman, a Midwestern former-military elected official, Def. Sec. Gates and others speak intelligently and reasonably about the issue. Based on what I saw, no one had put out any convincing counterarguments about DADT, or few opposing arguments at all.
The news the next day showed the more complete picture - apparently the Marines are really against it, and some other groups as well, although there is still apparently more in favor of pro than there con.
That's not the most interesting part, however. I was lulled by the broadcast how civil and thoughtful people were on this issue. I almost was convinced that, finally, people will stop being babies / homophobes and allow people who want to risk their lives in defending in our country to do so.
But then I read the Fox comment pages (scroll down and click "Comments") and saw all the bigots. That make my puppy sad.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"You are all that stands between me and my boob job"

"You are all that stands between me and my boob job"

That's an actual line from BridalPlasty, a show as brilliant as it is abhorrent.
The premise: A bunch of skinny bitches compete for tummy tucks, boob jobs, lipo and botox. A few plus size ladies are also there, although they are in the serious minority. After their challenges, they go to "injection parties."
They talk about how their dozen or so plastic surgery procedures will change their lives, make their spouse happy, etc. They are the most loathsome people you've ever seen, and they don't seem to be acting at all.
Like "I want to marry a millionaire" and other Fox garbage, the show is extremely watchable. One brilliant subtext of the show - while they talk 99% of the time about how the women are competing for body mods, they occasionally mention that there is another small prize for the winner - a free fucking WEDDING. Dress, reception, the whole deal. This is huge - the $50,000 unstated prize is worth a lot of humiliation, and a lot of contestants will join even the most ridiculous show for a chance to escape debt. So contestants are in constant supply, and subject to ample ridicule from Dianna and myself.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hey Fort Myer, shut the hell up!

I have lived in peace with Fort Meyer for the last two years. This small but important base plays a vital role in housing and training soldiers for Arlington National Cemetery, including the famed Honor Guards for the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.

The relationship has been a good one... until now. You see, living near Arlington Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial, I hear the sounds of military parades, 21-gun salutes at military funerals, even taps at 11 p.m. every night, the bugle notes floating softly through the trees just behind my house as I climb into bed.

But now they've gone too far with their 6 a.m. wakeup Reveille blasted over the P.A. system for the entire apartment complex to hear. Seriously, guys? They've been doing it sans amplifier for years now, and the troops seemed to be getting up on time as far as I can tell. So why now? Because of daylight savings? Because they banned Four Loco and the troops are tired?

Come on, guys - if your job is to protect civilians, then protect us from jarring military wakeups, ok?

UPDATE: I got a call from a woman named MaryAnn who apologized, told me they have had numerous complaints, and that they were fixing the PA system ASAP. Success!!!! And she was nice, too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Google posts geek comics in their bathrooms

Yes, I know I've drunk the Google Kool Aid, but here's something else I like about them: In their DC offices, they have XKCD comics hanging in their men's bathrooms.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

One uncool thing about IKEA

I think almost everything about IKEA is brilliant... except for their tax status. From Wikipedia:

Despite its Swedish roots, IKEA is owned and operated by a complicated array of not-for-profit and for-profit corporations...

The IKEA corporate structure is divided into two main parts: operations and franchising. Most of IKEA's operations...are overseen by INGKA Holding, a private, for-profit Dutch company, [which is] wholly owned by the Stichting Ingka Foundation, ...a tax-exempt, not-for-profit foundation. The Ingka Foundation is controlled by a five-member executive committee that is chaired by Kamprad and includes his wife and attorney.

While most IKEA stores operate under the direct purview of Ingka Holding and the Ingka Foundation, the IKEA trademark and concept is owned by an entirely separate Dutch company, Inter IKEA Systems. Every IKEA store, including those run by Ingka Holding, pays a franchise fee of 3% of the revenue to Inter IKEA Systems. The ownership of Inter IKEA Systems is exceedingly complicated and, ultimately, uncertain. Inter IKEA Systems is owned by Inter IKEA Holding, a company registered in Luxembourg. Inter IKEA Holding, in turn, belongs to an identically named company in the former Netherlands Antilles that is run by a trust company based in Curaçao. The owners of this trust company are unknown (IKEA refuses to identify them).

If this sounds shady as hell, that's because it is.

The Economist has a great take-down article on IKEA, which it calls "an outfit that ingeniously exploits the quirks of different jurisdictions to create a charity, dedicated to a somewhat banal cause, that is not only the world's richest foundation, but is at the moment also one of its least generous. The overall set-up of IKEA minimises tax and disclosure, handsomely rewards the founding Kamprad family and makes IKEA immune to a takeover."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Quote to keep in mind

Our new office that we are moving to has a Dilbert-esque and Draconian "nothing personal at all at your desk" policy, which really sucks. I had this sign hanging in my cube for the last two years. Since I can't benefit from it any more, I thought I'd share it with y'all:

Just for today:
Do not be angry

Do not worry
Be grateful
Work with integrity

Be kind to others and to yourself

- Mikao Usio, Reiki Principles

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When recycling is just too much work

I consider recycling to be an important 21st century value, just as a sensible use of resources has been for millennia.
However, there is a certain point where the effort exceeds the benefits. Yes, I might carry a can of soda for a while looking for a recycling bin, but at a certain point I realize it's just ridiculous and, reluctantly, I'll throw it away.
It makes sense mathematically - recycling (in theory, anyway) saves energy. But what if you expend more energy trying to recycle something than you gain by actually recycling it? Remember, food is energy, as are the calories you burn searching, walking, driving or even Googling for the right place to recycle something.
So, after 4 month of on-again-off-again searching for a nearby place to recycle these batteries above, and not finding anything closer than a Radio Shack on the SE side of DC in where I could recycle them, I threw those muthafuckas out today.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Paranormal State of Bad TV

It's fortunate when you share a passion with the person that you love. With Dianna and I, it's goofing on Paranormal State. This is a show on A+E about 20-year-old ghost chasers, who help "clients" who have ghost problems.

The cheap tricks they use are ripe for satire - instead of actually filming anything supernatural, they will rely on the most objective measurement of all of ghost activity - saying that you felt someone touch you. Or that you heard a noise, which may or may have bee made by the 6 ghost hunter traipsing through your house in total darkness.

They choose to commune with spirits at 3 a.m. for some reason, a time they dramatically call "Dead Time." Rather than try and communicate with the ghosts in a rational way, they do it sensationalistic-style for the camera. "Show us your presence by making a noise." Oooh... spooky. And, as Dianna deftly noted, for some reason they always leave the short cute girl to stand guard for ghosts in the bathroom.

Whatever, that's not the point of this post. Here is it:

1. If you were illiterate and came back as a ghost, could you use a Ouija board? What if you didn't speak English?

2. On the show they always use Christian rituals to dispel the demons / ghosts, especially if someone claims to be possessed. If you weren't Christian, would you let someone use that ritual to dispel ghosts from your house? And if it worked, wouldn't you have to convert?

3. Also on the topic of possession, I think this is actually something that could be real, but not in the literal sense. It's well known that you can do almost anything to your body via psychosomatic response. So if you think you are possessed via an overactive imagination, or mental illness, maybe a priest is exactly the BEST thing to bust through your illusion. This sort of makes sense when you think of the incredible drama and intensity of an exorcism - that's enough to scare the fake mojo out of anyone. So maybe priests were the first psychologists.... or maybe that's a stretch.

Anyway, Paranormal State sucks. Stick to Poltergeist, the first Paranormal Activity, the Exorcist and the Real Ghostbusters for all your ghostly needs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What it's like at a Cobert Report taping - Part 1

Part 1: The wait
After my friend Carolyn secured our tickets, we got an email telling us to wait at 54th St. between 10th and 11th Ave. in Manhattan. The email said to get in line no later than 5:15, and no earlier than 4 p.m. We got there at 3, and we were third in line behind some VERY rabid fans. Besides having seen Stephen before, they regular had been doing the "talk show circuit" in NYC, including Letterman, Leno, the Daily Show, and that unfunny British guy, often on consecutive nights.

We waited outside the studio, which is a non-descript box with a Colbert Report awning. At about 4 or so, a member of the staff came and unlocked a fence and let us line up in this dingy alley. Fortunately, there was a wall full of graffiti fan art for Stephen that kept us entertained. There was wall love from many counties - Australia, Japan, Israel and the Middle East, UK, etc. etc. It was a loooong wait. And it was cold. And we had to pee. Using my snoozing skills, I sat on the cold concrete, pulled my hoodie over my head and managed to doze for 30 minutes or so while the crazy fans talked my friend's ear off.

At 5 p.m. or so some more staffers came out and asking for our confirmation emails and our IDs. They wrote our names down and told us we couldn't come back for 6 months so we didn't overcrowd the audience with repeat visitors. They took this pretty seriously - a girl in front of us had been there about five months ago and they had her name in their file and told her she couldn't get it. They bumped her out of line after 2 hours waiting, but they let her back in after she told them she had come from Oregon (which was partially true).

At around 5:30 they came around and handed out laminated tickets, which we couldn't keep (nuts). Note: People who had come very late - like 4:45 or even 5 p.m., were able to get a ticket and sat pretty much where we sat, so I'm not what we gained by arriving so early.

Part II: Security and the Waiting Room
After we got our tickets and, along with everyone else in line, had our photos taken holding them. we were led in groups into the front entrance. We handed our tickets, and an unsmiling security guy searched bags, purchases and camera cases. We then went through a metal detector, which seemed surprising at first, but not when I thought of how much money Stephen and the set + crew are worth.

The space inside was a 20' x 20' room with some bathrooms and a water cooler. The walls had funny pictures of Stephen that you could take pics with, and a fake fireplace like he has on his set. It also had a TV that ran clips of the show, including a lot of Better Know a District clips, and my favorite with Eleanor Holmes Norton.

The slowly room filled with 150 or so people. A group of announcers stood up and made some announcements:

1. Stephen, like all comedians, would feed on our energy, so really let him have it
2. There is no laughtrack or soundtrack - we are the soundtrack, so laugh as much as possible. If it's not funny, try and laugh anyway.
3. Stephen was going to try and do it all in one take, so please be quiet in-between jokes

All reasonable requests. My ticket said #4 on it, and I was stoked that I was going to be sitting in the front row. Before I was called, however, all the "VIP" people were called first, about 10 or so people. I was miffed at these "Eliteratti" but I said whatever - my seats were still going to rock. At the front of the line, creening my head, I could see the Captain America shield on the wall of the set!
When I got in I was miffed to see that VIPs had already filled the first three rows - about 25% of the whole theater. I got a seat in the 4th row with my friend.

Up next: The taping, and I wrap this long-winded shit up

Friday, November 12, 2010

What my garden has taught me about mortality

I've written before (here and here) about the unexpected joys of windowsill gardening. But I think I've made a breakthrough... into waxing philosophic.
The amount of effort I've put into these plants and herbs (especially the cilantro, at right, grown from seeds) is really unprecedented for me. I really haven't dropped this hobby for more than 6 months, I believe, which Dianna can tell you is probably a record. I have read books (including the fantastic Square Foot Garden - thanks Mel), many countless trips to home depot, spoken with old ladies for gardening tips, and this week, even done weeding for the first time in my life.
All of it is amazing - learning coupled with visible results that are, occasionally, edible too.
But as I've grown more seasoned, there was this inescapable fact sneering in the distance - winter was coming, and all my wonderful plants were going to die.
Like, all of them.
Winter isn't something that you can appeal, weasel out of, or get deferred after you get a letter from you bank. It's like a very, very large tree that is slowly falling toward that very nice shed you built. You know that no matter what you do, that shed is just toast. It's going to get leveled, and you're just going to have to pick up the pieces and start over again.
Finally, you stop struggling and looking for ways to cheat nature, and you accept it. Spring is just around the corner. Patience, please.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fluid dynamics

I'm no scientician, so I have no idea how water could possibly freeze this way (it's sticking out into the air at a 60 degree angle). There was nothing on top of the ice cube tray. I am impressed by the strange cleverness of molecules and natural forces.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My (current) beef with Marathoners

I am a simple man. And a petty one. Sometimes, I dislike people simply because they are extraordinarily better at things than me.

Like marathon runners. OK, I'm a lazy part-time runner. And perhaps, given the drive, I could do a marathon too. But I don't, and they do, and well... that's about it.

So it may be these feelings that lead into the following rant:

I was in New York yesterday for a Colbert Report taping (!). While walking around the city I couldn't help but notice people with very thick medals strolling around. I asked one person what it for and lo and behold - it had to do something with the 2010 New York City Marathon.

But as I saw more and more medals, I became confused. It became clear that there couldn't be this many winners. Aha - I told myself - maybe the race hadn't happened yet and this was a publicity stunt. Very smart. But I wrong - the race had been this previous weekend, and apparently, everyone who finishes the race receives one. Which is fine - you deserve a memento. That's not my point - read on.

Later, at the Colbert Report taping, someone in the front row was wearing his medal, and the warm up comedian asked him about it. The person, who was a VIP and was allowed to sit in the front row (despite me waiting in the cold for 4 hours) appeared shy when he talked about his medal, and his race time (4 hours, 30 minutes), but give me a fucking break - you're wearing a medal. You're not exactly humble here.

The warm-up guy asked if anyone else had run the marathon, and a Canadian man in the upper rows raised his hand. Asked what his time was, he said, "Three hours, 30 minutes." The audience clapped in approval.

"But wait a minute," the comedian said. "If you got a better time than him, why aren't you wearing a medal?"

He answered his own question. "Ah - you're Canadian. You don't need to boast like we do in the States."

And that's my rant - walking around New York City with a fucking medal around your neck from a marathon three days earlier. Yes, running the New York City marathon is probably a very big deal, but THOUSANDS of people do it every year. And it was THREE DAYS AGO.

This isn't like wearing a Yankees cap after a World Series win - it's like wearing a cap with a picture of YOU on it after your big win. I'm not a big fan of narcissism or egotism in general. You can be a runner - and even a great runner - without needing to proclaim "I am a great runner and I will communicate this loudly to strangers all day."

I really seem to hate runners a lot for some reason this week....

UPDATE: Nah, maybe it was just episode that grinded / ground my gears.

UPDATE 2: I just saw a Subway commercial which congratulated Jared for running the New York Marathon. And even for the commercial he didn't boast his medal. Thanks, Jared, for being rational and humble (if overexposed).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Unacceptable office conditions

A common topic of discussion when you work for a government agency (at least mine, anyway) is how good a value we are providing to the American taxpayer. One of the many reasons I work where I do is that people work very, very hard, often with very little, and go without so we can stand behind our public service. We collect money for people's birthday cards. We pay for our own pizza parties, and hold potlucks instead of catered affairs.

At lunch today, the following suggestion was made:

Some person: Hey, you know what we should do to save the taxpayers some money? Why the heck are we paying all this money to have people empty our garbage? We can do that ourselves. Hell, I empty the garbage for my office suite at least once a week. Who's with me?

Me: Absolutely not.

That person (somewhat taken aback): Are you serious?

Me: You bet I am. We are professional and we deserve to work in a professional environment. We shouldn't be spending our time emptying the garbage - that's a fine job for someone else.

No one at the table agreed with me, which I found a little unfortunate.
What's next - we bring in our own pens?
Printer paper?
Yes, there are ways to cut corners, but an office - any office - has certain base expectations: Electricity. A fridge. Chairs. And basic sanitation services. If we are expected to produce, we should be treated as valued employees.
Call me spoiled, but in past jobs I *have* emptied the garbage in addition to my other duties, and I can tell you that it was demeaning and highly demoralizing.

Hell, if Wal-Mart can hire janitors, why can't we? (Plus, we have Unions.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Photos from where I've been lately

I'll just let these ones speak for themselves.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What an XBOX taught me about humanity

I tried to sell this old XBOX I had lying around on Craigslist. No takers, even for $30.

So I posted it on their Free section. If you've never checked it out, I recommend it.

I posted it, adding I wanted it to go to a non-profit, a hospital or a family in need. "No greedy people or college kids, I added. I then went to the bathroom, make breakfast and then rechecked my email box. In 20 minutes, I had 30 replies.

I was at first amazed, and then heartbroken. I didn't feel I had the strength to compare 30 stories of despair for the worst among them, so I picked one at random:


Saw your ad on cl. i can pick up. i was abandoned by my husband a few years ago (He lives in Australia so getting child support is a joke.) I clear 2000 a month and my rent is 1000 for an efficiency. I have no xmas present for my son who would love this. he is a great kid and we love each other. i am just financially challenged. your good will will be rewarded in prayers i can send out for you.

I was floored at the strength of this person to pour out their misery for me to compete for this XBOX. Even if 50% of these people were frauds, there was still a lot of pain out there. I quickly arranged for her to pick it up. She was a short woman with red hair, early fifties, driving a small red Volkswagen. I laid it in her front seat while she talked to me. She said she lost a lot when the market crashed and is trying to rebuild her life. She had applied for a government job but has been in waiting limbo over her security clearance.

She said the delay might be because her ex-husband was a foriegn national from Austrailia ("Another reason marrying him was the worst decision of my life,") she said with a strained smile. Her teenage son, she said, recently asked her how people became successful. He was interested because of their family's hard times, and he wanted to avoid it when he grew up. She told him that goals make people successful, so he immediately started researching colleges. She started to tear up at one point in her story, but held it back.

Later, after she had gone, I looked through the other replies. It was an awesome and humbling experience, connecting on such a personal level to strangers and their hardships. Here are a few more:

  • I would like to donate this to a youth center to a woman who runs it in woodbridge
  • Hey do you still have this game I would like it for my 2 out of my four kids (Jon note: I love this one)
  • can i get it for a friend that has 4 kids? BTW she is a single mother. cant afford much but to pay for rent and food
  • I’m a single Mom and I would love to get this for myself and daughter. Will totally understand if given to a much needer family. Thanks for posting :0
  • My mothers group is going to adopt a family this holiday and this would be perfect.
    here is the website for our group.
  • I am very needy can’t afford one right now for my 10 year old son. If possible would love to pick up
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington DC ( is opening a new house in Washington and may be interested
  • I am a single father looking for help with Christmas gifts for my children this year. I know you have had many responses. I would like to give this to my son for Xmas he wants one so bad but I'm a single parent.I have just found out that i have bone disease and not able to stand for long periods at my job and this has force me into not working. I do understand if you don't reply back but please consider my son who is 9yrs old this would help out for Xmas. Thank you
  • I would love to have this for a raffle for xmas...I am a vice pres. for a non profit and looking to raise money for our scholarship fund and other related activities for our kids
  • If not taken, I would love to have it for our older youth group room at Dulin United Methodist Church in Falls Church. I can even get you a donation letter to a non- profit for your income tax returns.
  • Is this for real ? We have a toy drive comin up and this would be great!
  • Hi! If this is still available I would love to come pick up from you. We are about to cut our TV service off because we can't afford the bill and this would give the kids something to do during the times they would usually watch TV. We are pretty flexible for pick up most of the weekend; would just need an address.
Ok, I need to stop.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Not defending your own turf (hooray!)

We always expect people to be evangelists for their own professions. So it was really refreshing to read this article by a University of Chicago Math professor about how, for 95% of the population, math is basically useless after 9th grade or so.

Here's an excerpt:

Those who do love math and science have been doing very well. Our graduate schools are the best in the world. This "nation at risk" has produced about 140 Nobel laureates since 1983 (about as many as before 1983).

As for the rest, there is no obligation to love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner. Why create a need to make it palatable to all and spend taxpayers' money on pointless endeavors without demonstrable results or accountability?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

When liberals hate religious people

This piece has two sources.

Part 1: A friend and coworker put this as his Facebook Status:

FRIEND: In honor of coming out day, let's start ridiculing all the kids who choose to believe in god. The brainwashed religious zealots are the ones who are psychologically defective.

ANOTHER PERSON: I'm not sure that intolerance is the right answer to intolerance...

FRIEND'S RESPONSE: Well people are born gay but chose to blindly believe in an entity that doesn't exist.

YET ANOTHER PERSON: My faith is profoundly important to me. I'd appreciate it if you'd respect my faith / beliefs just as I respect yours. I have dear friends who are gay/lesbian. I don't judge them. That's not my place. But I would expect that they would not judge me for my beliefs / faith as well. Isn't this about mutual respect?

ME: Agreed. Blanket statements and judgments are bad when anyone does them, left or right...

FRIEND: I actually don't respect religious beliefs because religion is totally lacking in veracity. Religion is by its nature not falsifiable, is a constant moving target and should therefore have no place in the public sphere. The whole premise of religion is passing judgment on one group of people by another. That is in fact the history of just about every organized religion on the planet!

This friend is like me in many ways - Jewish, educated, intellectual - but he seems to pretty much be a bigot as well. How can the "enlightened left" be as prejudiced as the right-wingers they vilify? Isn't this just base intolerance? You can't pick and choose people you hate baselessly and then call the Tea Party racist. You've gotta walk the walk.


Part 2: Someone I know from school sadly passed away. Her family kept her Facebook page active so people could post condolences on it. One friend wrote:

Dear XXXX, I am so sad to hear that you have left us in this world. I know that you are in heaven know and am thankful that you were here with us blessing us with your light while you were here. You have been in my heart for a long time, and you will be so missed by so many who love you so much. I still remember all the beautiful music you brought me to at school and knew that I enjoyed so much. Thank you for blessing us with your presence. Lord have Mercy and Grace over XXXX and her family.

In response, her mother wrote:

XXXX was a courageous atheist who held to her freedom of heart and mind through years of terrible suffering. Her grace under fire was a personal and human gift, and its memory is all that is left to me, her mother. I know you mean no harm, but my heart breaks as your bootless prayers trivialize her travail.

This is going to sound cold, but her mom sounds like a bitch. Or maybe just someone who casts dispersions / judgments for a living. I suppose I cannot understand what it's like to lose a child, but I also can't understand responding in anger to a person's genuine well-wishes, no matter how hurting you are.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Consistently the worst opening sequence of any TV show

I respect Gordon Ramsey. He's got the anger, and the cooking chops, to be a great reality show host. But his producers and marketing folks are so inept or drunk on themselves that they create a cringeworthy opening sequence EVERY SINGLE SEASON.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to check the social media activity on your shitty blog

If you're like me, you:

a. Have a sub-par blog
b. Have about 5 readers
c. Obsess for some reason about traffic to your sub-par blog

Maybe I am really a narcissist like Dianna says. Or maybe I just love data... especially about me. In any case, you probably know about Google Analytics and Google Trends, but you might not be aware of how to find out how many people are Tweeting or talking about your blog in their equally shitty blogs.

Well, now you can, with Backtype.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fake-sounding org of the day

It's important to respect the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, given their important role in the Federal government and financial oversight of our economy.

Except that's not what they do at all. They're actually the world's LARGEST lobby - a pro-business special interest group.

There should be a law preventing people for creating names that can be confused with ACTUAL governmental orgs.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Two music quiz questions

1. Who are the top five most commercially successful bands / musicians of all time? (Leave your answer in the comments section)

2. Which band was the first to offer their album on CD? (Same deal)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Warning: You might like Glenn Beck after watching this

Glenn Beck may be able to rally the Tea Party, but he's not really one of them. Watch this...

And read this. You can see there is actually a normal person in there.

I've always said that, while I hate Glenn Beck, I don't think he's evil or crazy. I think he's a brilliant performer and is incredibly media and propaganda savvy. I just with he used his talents for something productive....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What kind of bug is this?

I'm wondering which of my friends has the best shot of helping me here. Could it be Warren? Or Melissa? Or someone who perhaps has a hobby of bug-identification that I don't know about.

In any case, my Lantana Camara plant has been getting some brown spots recently. I live in the Washington, DC area, and purchased it at a local Home Depot. It has been doing very well for months now.

Until the visitor.

I don't know who he is. I've seen up to three of them at a time. They are a little bigger than my thumbnail, and can fly, although they usually crawl. Once I spied one nestled near some of the berries on top, perhaps sucking nectar from them.

I know just enough about gardening to know about good bugs and bad bugs. I've been flicking them away from my plant for a week now, assuming them to be of the devilish variety, but I wish to know more about my erstwhile foe. So, can you tell me what kind of bug this is?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Metro intervention

Dianna and I were taking a metro ride this weekend when we were privy to something pretty powerful. A large man entered the car and stood above a man who was seated. He then put his arms over the seas in front of him, effectively boxing the seated man in.

Then, he started shouting, bellowing at near top volume what seemed to be nonsensical words. First assumption: This man is schizophrenic.

Then, I started to notice that some of the words rhymed. Aha - it was a poem, albeit a very loud one. Second assumption: They are friends and he is just messing around.

As he continued his performance, I could start to put some of the words together, and realized, at last, that he was actually trying to stage an invention on the subway, possibly with a complete stranger, in verse. The poet had apparently recognized the symptoms of crack addiction in the seated man, and began to gave him the business. He sat down next to his audience and continued. His poem / rap was about desperation, loneliness, complete dependence and debauched selfishness. And the person he was singing to could only nod and sob. It was beautiful.

When he was done, he told the man that he wrote that poem just for him, and asked how long it had been since he had been clean. He asked how long it had been since he had prayed five times a day. He told him that he could do it, that he could break the cycle, that he could beat crack. I was seriously moved. We walked out of the station with the poet, who turned out to be a writer and distributor for Street Sense, DC's Homeless Newspaper. His name is David Harris, and he has a book. Wow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Unfortunate logos

Look at the logo at right. Does it represent:

A. The Nazi-Japanese occult badge from WWII

B. The logo for a Nazi-Ninja video game due to be released in October 2010

C. Something to do with Nazis, obviously

D. The emblem for for Falun Gong, a grassroots, non-violent form of spiritually currently under brutal suppression from the Chinese.

Hmmm.... I wonder which it could be, and why we don't see this emblem more often in the news...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tricked into wearing pantyhose

I went shoe shopping with Dianna and my friend Debbie yesterday. I wasn't wearing socks, so I asked for some trial socks. The nice saleslady handed me a pair of "booties" called "peds," which looked exactly like pantyhose for your feet.

"Ok," I said. "I'll try it, but you can't laugh at me for wearing pantyhose."

Laughter. "Those aren't pantyhose," she replied. "This is the 21st century. These are unisex."

Relieved, I then spent 30 minutes trying on various shoes with my strange nylon booties.

Enter Dianna an Debbie, who asked what the hell happened to my sexuality and why the hell was I wearing pantyhose.

Tricked! Damn you, DSW shoe outlet!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pawtucket, RI grammar

It's bad enough that the Cumberland Farms convenience store / gas station where I used to work in high school is now basically a head shop, selling bongs and glass pipes AT THE FRONT DESK.

And apparently they also take food stamps now, too.

But at least won't they please think of the poor children in their signage? Grammar is always the first thing to go....

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You're not diverse enough

Today, I attended a roundtable discussion at the Center for American Progress on this topic: Socially Diverse: Engaging and Mobilizing Communities of Color with Social Media. It was great hearing about the unique challenges that other minority groups struggle with in marketing and community organizing. It took me back to my Jewish community days, and makes me wish I spent more time exchanging ideas with other minority groups.

One thing stuck in my craw, however. The speakers represented the Black, Hispanic, and Asian / Pacific Islander communities. An Africian-American blogger was talking about the excitement of interacting with new communities online, and looking through your Twitter followers to see if you can find out their ethnicities based on their profile pics or avatars. Apparently, some black Twitterers use a Black "Twitter bird" picture, which is pretty clever.

The blogger asked how many people had friends with this "Black Bird" as their Twitter pic. Only about four people raised their hands. "See," she said. "You're not diverse enough!"

I took offense at this, even if she was only using it to make a point. I love people, as my readers know. And I love learning about different types of people and ethnic traditions. But in the same breath, I also don't think there is automatic merit in having a diverse social group. Knowing different types of people will probably make you a more well-rounded person, and probably more interesting too.

But I don't think the lack of a diverse group will automatically make you boring or dull, either. Certainly morality and ethics aren't connected to diversity at all. And while I'm generally liberal, I think it's unfairly elitist to cast dispersions on people who don't have a "rainbow posse."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Photos of friendly Muslims can totally get you in big trouble

Journalists take note: If you run pictures of Muslims in your paper on 9/11 who are happy celebrating Ramadan, or playing water polo, or doing anything at all except lobbing dynamite, people will be pissing at you.

Take this story in Maine. The Portland Press Herald ran a photo of local Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan in the 9/11 edition of their paper.

Then, apparently, people complained because they showed NICE Muslims. So the paper ran an APOLOGY for not showing "both sides of the story."

Jigga whut?

Ramadan is news. Local activity is news. Local Muslims celebrating Ramadan locally is news. So you run a photo, and people get pissed off?

This sounds like bigotry. And a former staffer at the Press Herald and an editorial by their own columnist called bullshit on this embarrassing spectacle.

But it also makes me think of another event, and wonder if this is related or not. Before I took my job at the Jewish Voice & Herald of Rhode Island, I heard a story about an editor at another Jewish paper who got in trouble for running a Muslim photo. This time, it was, in their September 11 special issue, where they ran a picture of a Palestinian girl lighting a candle in remembrance for the victims who died on the Sept. 11 attacks. This was controversial because, in trying to come to terms with what the attack meant and what the world reaction to it was more like this (at right).

So did the peaceful picture go against the narrative the paper was trying to portray? Or was it simply inaccurate - was the picture of the girl not representative of the population, and therefore misleading? What do you think? Remember where you were - and what you were thinking - on Sept. 11, 2001. Which picture would you have run?

Monday, September 13, 2010