Saturday, December 31, 2011

Safety Heroes

Nothing ruins the great experience of being a super hero more than having to think about BIKE SAFETY while you are saving lives.

I mean really....

Monday, September 19, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is being anti-smoker's rights mean that you're a bigot?

I have some friends who smoke, and some relatives who smoke. I would NEVER tell them that they can't smoke around me. I'll just go somewhere else. But when it comes to smoke entering my personal environment - like my apartment - I sing a very different tune.
So I was surprised when I put this question up on Facebook that my social circle did NOT have my back - and all these people were non-smokers. They said that smokers had the right to smoke, and they should be able to smoke in their apartment, even if it permeates into my non-smoking apartment.
Dianna made the analogy that smoking is a lifestyle, and I shouldn't be able to infringe on the lifestyles of my fellow tenants. She compared it to owning a dog. If I owned a dog, and the apartment suddenly went dog-free, would I be upset. Well, yes, of course I'd be upset. And of course the smokers are upset. Whenever someone infringes on your lifestyle you get upset.
My point is just that I don't feel I should have to smell smoke in my apartment, and other's opinions be damned. But Dianna's argument does have me thinking...

Monday, August 8, 2011

When comics get too intellectual

Cerebus the Aardvark is a comic about a "warrior Pig born" who goes from mercenary to political head to pontiff. It's one of the "smart" comics out there that requires a knowledge of history, mythology and other areas of knowledge to appreciate. It's a heady wine - not on too many people's shelves. It's extremely well made.

But as it descends into the extremely elaborate worlds of political intrigue, discussing everything from payroll to electioneering to city debt to redistricting, it eventually devolves into JUST A LOT OF DIALOGUE.

Like, around issue 60, it'll have the same picture for a page or more with just people speaking. And then numerous more pages of people speaking. Issues and issues of conversation. And then pages of people writing. Or pages from newspapers.

The magic of the art form that is comics is blending words AND pictures, preferably pictures that are describing something.
There's too much fucking dialogue in Cerebus. There, I said it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A drunken economist solves the world's problems

While waiting at a bar for some friends, I started chatting with a man next to me, who turned out to be a high-ranking economist at a Federal agency. He was sloshed, and the bartender knew him by sight and kept his drinks coming.

"The world is in a bad way," he told me. "Things are going to get worse before they get better." He said there was basically no way out of the trap created when the ever-rising cost of health care butts up against our moral revulsion around people making financial decisions about when to end medical care (i.e. "Death Panels). He was pro-Death Panels, he told me, because there simply was no other way.

Now we were both bummed. But he cheered me up by telling me two ingenious plans he had to solve major social and political problems. I told one of these to a work friend, who turned into a "Negative Nelly" and started telling me why it was a stupid idea. Whatevs. I'll write about both in upcoming posts.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

When strikes backfire

Normally, a strike can be a pretty profound way of telling someone to fuck off.
But it doesn't always work that way.
Take Canada's recent postal strike. It completely froze ALL Canadian mail (including a present I was expecting from a friend, damnit) for weeks. And while it's expected to start again tomorrow, it revealed an unexpected truth - society went on without mail. People were able to, for the most part, go to work, send their kids to school, buy things and even pay bills without the post at ALL. So some people seemed to think that they could live perfectly well without a post office at all.


Friday, June 24, 2011

I finally get the NRA

It took this article about how U.S. guns are flooding into Mexico and arming the drug cartels to make me finally understand what the NRA is all about.

It actually has nothing to do with the 2nd amendment. Or with state's rights. Or the Constitution or any of that. It just has to do with money.

One of the few manufacturing sectors left in the U.S. is guns. We make some of the finest guns in the world, and we expert our weapons to anyone with cash. We also know that guns are very attractive to criminal organizations with lots of money, so loose laws enables them to sell more guns. Using the 2nd amendment as a rallying point for right-wing revolutionaries enables them to sell more guns. The gun companies give money to the NRA, which lobbies congress for weaker gun laws, which enables them to sell more guns, make more money.... and the cycle continues.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Incomprehensible labels

I'm not the best guy at math, but I'm pretty sure this label doesn't make a lick of sense. Look at the top. If it works for 24 hours, why use it twice a day? (Props to Dianna for noticing this malarky)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Failure admitted

Switching routines is tough. Switching blogs is tough too. Familiarity, even with mediocrity - well, there's something to be said for that.
I tried to switch to Tumblr, and then to Wordpress, and I lost my mojo / rhythms. I have returned reluctantly home with my tail between my legs.
Writing blogs in 2011 is tough, because there's basically so much content out there. Compare nowadays to the 1980's and before, when seeing your name next to something you wrote was a huge accomplishment that 99% of the population never saw. Now, everyone is a publisher. The bar has been set so very low, that quality is no longer synonymous with publishing, is no longer assumed to exist on the net at all. There's a wading that's requiring - a sifting through the bad and, rarely, the good.
This post can be counted as among the more pedestrian blog posts out there. By using the word pedestrian, however, I can convince myself that it's of higher quality than it actually is.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Trying a new blog for a while...


I've grown kinda bored with Blogger, so I'm giving Tumblr a try. Check out my new blog (for the time being) here:

Check out my new blog:
Rubin on Wry - I'll Tumblr For ya

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How an iPhone can completely transform your life (whether you like it or not)

My friend Geo nailed me recently when I was talking about not being too materialistic and he said, "Dude, you have an iPhone!"

OK, fair enough. But I think it's worth discussing what having a good smartphone can do to you. It's a powerful shift in your life, like getting a car in some ways. It gives you almost unlimited freedom to information, and the Apple knife cuts both ways:

Pro: You are never alone. You can contact people in multiple ways at anytime, even from the subway or other inconvenient places.
Con: You are never alone. You are able to access your friends whenever you want, so you risk becoming that annoying person who whips out their phone while talking to you because they are bored / distracted. I've been trying real hard not to become this person.

Pro: You can entertain yourself at any time. All your games, podcasts, songs and websites are there with you at all times.
Con: You are simply given too many options to piss away time. It can be overwhelming. And this leads to my next point...

Pro: It's so freaking easy to access anything you need, like recipes, email, news, etc. etc.
Con: I've found that it's been difficult to read actual books (or comics!( since I've got my iPhone.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thoughts on Osama Bin Laden's death

So CNN is jabbering and filling airtime while they wait for President Obama to speak. And I feel very strange inside. He killed thousands of Americans in a gross and horrific act of terrorism. I wanted him to die very badly in 2001 - I prayed for it, even.
Now, so many years have past, it's tough for me to get in touch with that bloodlust again. Certainly it is justice - whether death or imprisonment, he deserved to pay for his crimes. He is a terrible and evil person without a doubt.
And yet I don't feel like celebrating. It no longer seems appropriate to be happy about this for some reason. I'm not sad - I don't really feel anything.
And the fact that I'm NOT happy is disturbing - not because I feel I should be, but because it shows what strange and emotional creatures we are, and how "justice," whatever that means, varies over time.
Wolf Blitzer and John King keep talking about what a historic moment this is. It seems weird that history can balance on the death on one man hiding in a cave in Pakistan (probably). It doesn't feel historic, even if it is. Maybe it's just too big for me right now...

What's the proper way to address a celebrity?

So you meet Bristol Palin. Or Joan Rivers (Dianna did both last night at the White House Correspondent's Dinner). How do you address someone whom you "know" through the media - whom everyone knows, really - but you've never met before?
Here are some options:

1. Hi. I don't think we've met. My name is.... (Dianna said this stinks)
2. Hi. My name is....
3. Hi. Big fan. I'm...
4. Hey Bristol. I'm....
5. Bristol, you don't know me, but my name is...
6. All these do indeed stink. Better answer, please?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Know your Muslim headcoverings!!!!

This important public service is brought to you by.... oh I don't know.... Wendy's.

And here's some more obscure ones...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Copyright infringement Friday!!

I had dinner with a friend last night who works in the patent office. I told him I didn't think much of intellectual property, although he's fine by me.

However, this seems like a pretty glaring case of what the ancient Greeks called "logos copycattus."

When I saw the logo for, I knew I had seen it somewhere before. After some sleuthing, I found it bared an incredible similarity to Reason Magazine's logo. Both have an "r" in reverse text in the bottom-right part of a colored box. Both are in Helvetica, and have the ".com" in lighter text than the name.

If there are any budding lawyers out there, go git 'em!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Racist multiculturalism?

Gotta love that Asian depiction!
As seen from a Brooklyn Pre-K building.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Scenes from a falafel restaurant

As seen from the Gyro King 1017 Foster Ave, Brooklyn. I'd love to hear theories about what this sign actually means.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Nothing attracts a line.... like a line

I don't have the fucking patience to wait in line for Black Friday shopping deals. I didn't buy a lottery ticket when I was feeling lucky because the woman in front of me was buying tickets for every Japanese person affected by the tsunami (or something).

Yet I found myself waiting 1.5 hours for a cupcake last weekend because, basically, there was a long line.
Ya'see, a long line means that there must be SOMETHING good at the end of it.

And there was something good - cupcakes from the suddenly famous Georgetown Cupcake (known on TLC as DC Cupcake). There was another upscale place called Crumbs about 3 blocks away with no waiting. But Georgetown Cupcake had a 1.5 hour line, and we chose THAT one. They were good, very good, but 1.5 hour good? Is any cupcake worth a 1.5 hour wait? Apparently I haven't found one that is.

What's the longest you've ever waited in line for something?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Strange things afoot in the Sephora naming department

I'm still flush with strange discoveries from my recent foray into Sephora with Dianna.
At right are some pics of fingernail polish. Where to even begin? Apparently they have moved beyond actually trying to name their products after the color they represent - they probably stopped doing that 20 years ago but I never noticed.
So you see names like "Arm Candy," "Techno Girl" and "What a Broad." But then they also start to get weirdly personal, like "Iris I was thinner," which is... I dunno... kind of sick.
Oh, and the last pic is of a $35 brush mad of goat hair. Because nothing says sexy girl like goat. That is all.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Slice, slice baby

It was a fucking kitchen utensil that did me in. One that I've used correctly many times. It's called a mandolin, which stupidly has the same name as a kind of guitar - another thing I don't know how to use properly.

At right is a picture of someone using a mandoline INCORRECTLY. This is, in fact, the way I used it on Monday, when I was slicing potatoes for an egg fritatta.

I've used it many times correctly in the past, which is to say with a tool that separates you from the one-molecule thin razor sharp blade that apparently has a thirst for fingers. I left this guard behind because.. wait for it... that's the way they used it on Top Chef. Apparently, they are professionals or something.

I sliced off the tip of one finger, and a deep nick off the other. It took 3 stitches to stabilize. My only saving grace was that the ER doctor told me they had 5 mandoline injuries in the past week. This made me feel better, whether it was true or not. Anyway, these injuries are so common that people post them to Flickr.

Here's how you did in my injury poll:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Japan invades.... Sephora

If your nerdiness quotient is high enough, you may be familiar with the Japanese word Kawaii, a word that refers to the almost unbearable cuteness that has become a staple of modern Japanese culture.

We see it in many places - young girls couture, retro couture, the Hello Kitty vibrator, and apparently high-end fashion as well. We saw the following Hello Kitty bling advertisements at an Arlington, VA Sephora.

Very weird mixture....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'm (sorta) fat

My doctor says I'm fat.

Not verbatim, but he says I need to lose weight. Specifically, I need to lose 5 pounds in order to lose weight in my FACE. The reason behind this is a very important one: I snore.

And what causes snoring?

Fatness. Specifically, the fatness around your throat, which jiggles / vibrates when you sleep and causes the snore.

So fat people - of which I am now one, apparently -snore.

Being overweight, even marginally, is a strange feeling for me, since I consistently think of myself as very thin. Most of my life I've been called "skinny", "rail-thin", "slender" and even, occasionally "emaciated." I've grown out of that phase over the past 5 years, but in my head I'm still very thin. In reality, I have probably graduated to an "average" body type, which is something I've always wanted.

But some aspects of my new body type sneak up on me. Some of my old dress shirts can't be buttoned at the top, for example. When I lie on my side, I have a little pot belly that other times seems to hide somewhere on my midsection.

Have you ever experienced weight fluctuations? How did you take them?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Moral certainty in Libya?

For a while, Libya seemed like a perfect place to bomb from afar. The setup was perfect - repressed people revolting against a tyrant, riding the jubilant waves of other successful revolutions. The despot's cabinet and head military officials defect, the rebels seize some towns, the world looks on with adoration. He's on the ropes! Then the dictator gets pissed and bulldozes, shoots, and bombs his own people to smithereens.

The brutal injustice stings, and you feel their pain and wish you could help. Yes, we know our own military is stretched too thin for a ground invasion, so why not do the next best thing? Join up some other super-powered nations and shoot missiles at the bad guys from far, far away. The bad guys get hit, we are safe and the civilians get to root for the U.S.

It seemed like that very, very rare thing - moral certainty. This was a good thing.

But then it wasn't. First the Arab nations changed their minds and started booing. Then the Republicans chastised Obama for moving too slowly. Then Democrats knocked him for moving too quickly. Finally, Jon Stewart of all people bashed the president for acting illegally without the permission of congress.

Don't know what to make anything anymore....

Saturday, March 5, 2011

One interesting thing about Wisconsin teacher's salaries

It stopped me in my tracks when I read that the average annual compensation of a Milwaukee teacher is $101,000.

Outrageous! Maybe Wisconsin is somehow an exception to the "teacher's make shitty money" rule. Maybe the Unions really have created a racket in the most unlikely of places.
But when I read the article, I discovered this: The 101k included $59,500 in salary and $41,591 in benefits.

"Benefits" is a hazy word, because it includes two huge variables - health insurance and 401k / retirement funds. But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the majority of this benefits package is nothing but primarily health insurance. The problem, then, isn't with the size of the package but the fact that health insurance is really, really freaking expensive. So expensive, that to actually give someone health insurance is scandalous. This possibility is shocking...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Everyone should copy the Federal government's leave policy

About twice a year I will get an email like this, always from someone I don't know:

Janine Tyler (Note: not her real name), one of our colleagues, just gave birth to a daughter on February 22d. She has only worked for the government since September and has not accrued sufficient leave to cover the recovery period. She only plans to be out on maternity leave for six weeks. Janine has been placed in the GSA Voluntary Leave Transfer Program. We are seeking individuals willing to donate any amount of annual leave. Individuals wishing to participate can access the Voluntary Leave Transfer Program through GSA Insite. Janine sends her since appreciation and thanks you for your donation.

That's right. If you have annual leave / vacation time that you haven't used (and government employees can roll over a certain amount of unused time from year to year) you can donate it to someone needy, no questions asked. This sounds like something left over from a union deal, and I think it's pretty cool.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Robots that will freak you out

Someone famous (I couldn't find the source) once said that the strongest force in the universe is exponential growth. And, what's more, that humans aren't designed to think exponentially. We think linearly - 2x2x2, and not 2-squared, then cubed, etc. What all this means is just that when change accelerates, it can catch you off guard.

So, if you haven't been following robotics, this video will certainly catch you off guard (here's some background). And what's more more, check out this story about the Pentagon's DARPA program creating a robot cheetah that can catch human prey. Hmmm... seems seriously close to the Transformer Ravage.

So people talking about robots while playing Zork in their parent's basements are finally coming into the limelight. Expect to see much more of this in your lifetime.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friends don't let friends use 5 Hour Energy

My poor coworker Ayanna had an awful experience on Thursday night. She missed her 8 p.m. bus, and didn't feel like waiting another hour in a terrible NE DC neighborhood for another one. So she tried to walk home.... but got lost in an even WORSE neighborhood.

Like, "crack den" bad neighborhood.

She tried to call a friend and get directions... but her phone died. And, this being a bad neighborhood, there were no cabs. She finally took refuge in a church which just happened to be open late (it was Bingo night) and she got a ride home.

Needless to say, it took her 2.5 hours to get home, and she was pretty damn tired today. Coffee wasn't cutting it, so she took out her secret weapon - the "magic bullet" known as 5 hour energy.

She had never tried it before. I told her to beware - my girlfriend and I had tried it once on a 7-11 impulse by and had the shakes all night. She examined the ingredients, looking for warning signs. The ingredients listed were:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3)
  • Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
  • Energy Blend
Not so bad, right? Until you dig in further to the mysterious "Energy Blend."
  • Citicoline
  • Tyrosine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Taurine (the stuff used in Red Bull)
  • Malic Acid
  • Glucuronolactone
  • Caffeine
So rather than coffee's one stimulant, it has SEVEN. Here's what the stranger ingredients are. Anyone else used this stuff to good / bad effect?

Friday, February 25, 2011

If you don't look rich, the sommelier will give you a shitty pour

Dianna and went to a wine tasting event tonight at Dean & Deluca in DC's ritzy Georgetown neighborhood. The sales pitch was "25 wines for $25." We both came from work - Dianna has dressed up jeans and I had a shirt and tie and my pea coat. Apparently, however, we didn't look rich enough, because we received pours that were anywhere from 50% to 75% smaller than the other attendees.

I'm serious. Our pours were barely enough to cover the bottom of our glasses, while the Baron von Moneybags with their designer purses and nosejobs got glasses that were more than 1/3 full. It happened so many times that both Dianna and I noticed it more than 5 times each before mentioning to each other.

And it wasn't even a tipping event so it wasn't like we were being cheap or anything. Both sommeliers cheaped on us over the course of the eight thimblefuls we received. I'm not sure if anyone knows the way out of this predicament, but I'd love to hear it.

And we even bought a bottle of wine, like chumps.

UPDATE: They refunded our money :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities

When I heard about Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities I knew I had to read it. The Fraternity and Sorority system was a huge part of URI. While I drank their free beer (it was college after all), I hated the system and the conformity it seemed to generate. At the time, it amazed me how quickly information about Sororities spread to even people as remote and nerdy as myself. I heard that the Alpha Zetas and the Delta Zetas had the hot but stuck-up girls. I heard they hazed their pledged by circling their "problem areas" with black markers. I heard about naked streaking and bulimia. So, as a curious outsider, I wanted to find out how much of this was true.

It turns out, a lot. First, it's difficult to group all Sororities together - the multicultural and multi-gender Sororities are a different animal altogether. Still, the Sororities of legend and disrepute - who value materialism, conformity, cattiness, and unwavering loyalty above all else - are very common. Especially in the South, it turns out, where 75% of some colleges are Greek and many parents enroll their teens in "prep classes" that focus exclusively on getting into Sororities.

It was very difficult for me to separate the "good" Sororities from the bad while reading this book. The bad ones were so bad it seemed that they have tainted the word Sorority for me pretty thoroughly. The Sororities described by this uncover reporter for the New York Times expected all their girls to look alike, down to straightened hair and "the right" accessories. These images are honed and enforced by Nationals, the governing body usually led by alumni 40 or more years older than the girls they govern. These elder statesmen push for "traditional" values in their pledges, including moral uprightness and community service, much of which is just lip service. Often, the decision to exclude blacks from some Sororities and Fraternities also comes at the National level, which is one of the reasons why black and other minority Greek houses sprung into being.

At many Sororities, sisters are expected to make most or all meetings and are fined for missing them for any reason, including class or family functions. It seems that if a Sorority has a house, materialism becomes part of daily life, as sisters must seek out pledges to fill the rooms and pay bills. Often, pledges are screened for expensive clothing or rich parents, since that means they will be able to pay dues.

The book did describe some bonding experiences that made Sororities worth it for some of the girls. But for many others, sisters were expected to compete against each other for the affections of Fraternities, experience date rape at an alarming rate (more than 1/3 of Sorority sisters are sexually assaulted) and are expected to sacrifice friends, family and education for their House at all times. I highly recommend the book, even though it was extremely saddening to read.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guess what? Your tax dollars support NASCAR

I heard this on "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" and decided I had to verify it. It turns out to be true: The U.S. Army sponsors a NASCAR car, to the tune of millions of dollars a year.

Now it's a little more of a gray area than just a plain sponsorship - by sponsoring a car, you get to cover it with Army logos and basically use it as a recruitment tool.

But still... NASCAR? Apparently, the Marines, Navy and other branches have cut ties with NASCAR recently, but the Army continues to spend your tax dollars on the dumbest of all events - cars driving in a circle.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Assholes of the week: Feb 14-18, 2010

This is very competitive list, as you well know. But these folks stand above the crowd:

1. A firefighter who refused to treat the victims of the Tuscon shooting spree because he disagreed with Gabrielle Gifford's politics.


2. The uber-douchebag who made fun of reporter Laura Logan's sexual assault via Twitter, then tried to call his accusers losers, and then resigned in disgrace with limp apologies.

Congrats, all!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The secret formula to Coke (REALLY!)

The recipe:

Fluid extract of Coca: 3 drams USP
Citric acid: 3 oz
Caffeine: 1 oz
Sugar: 30 (unclear quantity)
Water: 2.5 gal
Lime juice: 2 pints, 1 quart
Vanilla: 1 oz
Caramel: 1.5 oz or more for color

The secret 7X flavor (use 2 oz of flavor to 5 gals syrup):
Alcohol: 8 oz
Orange oil: 20 drops
Lemon oil: 30 drops
Nutmeg oil: 10 drops
Coriander: 5 drops
Neroli: 10 drops
Cinnamon: 10 drops


Monday, February 14, 2011

Nordstrom would love to hear your complaint... as long as it's 250 characters or less

OK, I admit I'm going through a Nordstrom bitch session right now, but I believe it's deserved for two reasons:

1. Snooty salespeople
We were going coat shopping at the Nordstrom at the Pentagon City mall. A 6-foot-2 waif blond stepped out from behind a piece of tinsel and asked if she could help us. I didn't know what my coat size was when she asked, so I guess it would be similar to my shirt size, so I said a 32.
"That does not exist," she said with a look of disdain, followed by an almost imperceptible smile undoubtedly brought on by my embarrassment.
"What size are your trousers?" she demanded.
"Thirty-two," I replied, still mortified by her behavior. She pointed out some coats and thawed a bit, but the damage was done. We didn't want to give her the commission, so we left for Macy's.

2. Their website doesn't give a fuck about you
So I was feeling all angry and empowered, and decided to lodge a complaint on the Nordstrom sit. I have never seen a corporate website that cared less about their customers than After navigating through the maze of menus to find their contact information, I noticed there was no option for complaints. I didn't want to live chat with someone, I wanted to send an angry email and get on with my life. But there was no avenue.

I eventually started typing my message into a "product question" site, when randomly the "complaint" link appeared on the side of my screen. Great, I thought. I clicked it and typed in my message. It was rejected because their message window only accepts a MAXIMUM of 250 CHARACTERS.

250 characters? That's less than two Tweets!!! You really expect people to be able to describe a problem in 1.5 sentences? Unbelievable. It gives me indigestion just thinking about it.....

UPDATE: I emailed Nordstrom's customer service on issue #1 and received the following response. I must admit I'm impressed that they named the offending salesperson (I didn't catch her name, so they must have researched it):
Please accept my sincerest apologies for disappointing you recently in our Men’s Clothing department when trying to purchase a coat. I’m so very sorry to hear that you had a poor service experience with XXXX, one of our salespeople in the department. This certainly is not our intention.
Please know that I have shared your comments with XXXXX, our Men’s Clothing department manager, and I have taken this opportunity to coach Agnese on the importance of servicing our customers. Thank you for affording us the opportunity to improve our level of service.
Again, our apologies for the service you encountered. We appreciate your feedback and hope that upon your next visit to our store, you will find that our level of service has improved.
Carla Carter-Brown

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Maybe it's not wrong to stare...

I was in a Starbucks today getting a coffee for Dianna and a cup of water for myself. While in line, I noticed a boy of about five staring intently at something around the corner. I took a few steps forward to see what he was looking at.

Relaxing in a corner reading a book was a large man in a wheelchair. It was an usual scene for a few reasons. For one, the wheelchair was larger and wider than most wheelchairs I've seen (the man was obese). It also was raised about 3 feet off the ground. The other interesting thing about him was that his feet were extremely swollen, a condition that I learned is called Edema and apparently sometimes happens to people in wheelchairs. His feet were approximately three times the size of normal feet, and were encased in thick black boots that I assume served some medical function.

My first thought looking at the young boy was, "Hey kid, it's rude to stare."

But the more I thought about it, how could he NOT stare? We are drawn to things that are different from what we see normally. This is also biological, and probably stems from our hunting days when determining small changes in our environment was essential to survival. So when we see something different from what we are used to, we notice. And for a five year old boy, seeing a large man in a jacked-up wheelchair with large feet is pretty darn unusual, and therefore interesting.

Now, yes, the people we stare at may be sensitive to our stares, and therefore we try not to out of kindness. But if our eyes turn towards a strange-looking person before we are even aware of it, we can avert our eyes politely, but we shouldn't beat ourselves up for the slip. It's natural, even if rude.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Look how far cable TV has come....

No, this isn't a music video, but it's the song for your reference.
In 1985 Weird Al did a song called "Cable TV" which described the life-transforming power of getting a cable hookup. I still have it on cassette and I play it in my car to much enjoyment.
But my favorite part is the anachronistic bits. Whenever he does a topical song, he will exaggerate things to make them funny. Example: In "It's All about the Pentiums" he describes having a "flat screen monitor 40 inches wide" and a computer with "100 gigabytes of RAM."
But in "Cable TV," the 1985 exaggerations have already been surpassed. He complained about his Cable costing him a ridiculous "50 bucks a month" in 1985. Using the uber-cool Inflation Calculator, I can see this equals $98 a month in 2010, something that people regularly pay.
He also exults in having "83 channels of ecstacy." I think even the most basic package has this beat.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Is it right to revere our troops?

My grandfather fought in WWII. My father served in Vietnam. Many people don't know this, but I attempted to enlist in the army when I was 17 to take advantage of the Montgomery G.I. Bill and finance my college education. I was, however, refused for medical reasons.

It makes sense to honor and respect someone who sacrifices on your behalf. We do this for police and firefighters, and it would make sense on its face to do this for our armed forces as well.

But if you look at it closer the similarity ends. We are allowed to talk about corruption in our police force, but never in our military. We can talk about immorality and financial misdeeds in our firefighters, but our military is above reproach. There is only one allowed attitude: "Support our troops." This extremely vague statement generally means we cannot criticize anyone who serves in our military unless they single themselves out by being caught by the media (see the Navy commander booted for his raunchy video, or the Army private responsible for the WikiLeaks scandal).

This exception aside, our military is, in public debate, immune from criticism. Their funerals are given special awards and pomp and circumstance. They are enshrined beneath our flag. They are one of the few occupations seen regularly as heroes in the 21st century.

And something about this mythic status bothers me. Respect and honor, OK. But I keep thinking about a scene in a movie where a barbarian clan is hunkering about a huge man who boasts that he is a "mighty warrior." We would laugh at that thought - "mighty warrior" indeed, we chuckle. Who is this ridiculous person wielding a club or an axe while people swoon at his muscles? And the we have shots of him cleaving people in half, which is OK, but then we see raping and pillaging, which are always part and parcel with war, and our adoration ends. We think, "The savages. Thank God things are better today."

Today, our warriors receive the same adoration. War, both in our legends and our history, always seems to straddle the line between occasional necessity and excessive debauchery. Rape and violence and crime always surround it at the edges, and are unavoidable. So shouldn't we view our warriors today as tragic figures? People who do the tough work even though bad things often come of it, and who often destroy themselves in the process? I guess we need that myth and respect to continue to encourage people to fight for us. It's a lie we all believe to get the job done.

Friday, February 4, 2011

2 things you didn't know about Justin Bieber

1. His mom is a religious bigot
When virtual unknown Justin was discovered by a Jewish agent many years ago, his mom was reluctant to let him represent her son because.... he's a Jew.

"God, I gave him to you. You could send me a Christian man, a Christian label! ... you don’t want this Jewish kid to be Justin’s man, do you?”[13]

2. He's actually got musical talent
His fame may be the result of a multinational corporation and a media frenzy, but he has some natural talent to back it up - Bieber taught himself to play the piano, drums, guitar, and trumpet. I can't lay acoustic guitar despite having multiple musician friends try to teach me, the Mel Bay audio CD, and tons of tabs.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Things you (probably) didn't know about the Beat Poets

After skimming through the mostly great graphic novel The Beats: A Graphic History, I learned the following things about the Beat generation:

1. They weren't hippies
They predated them, actually. The big Beats - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs - did a lot of their major work in the 1950's, and they were ones who generated a lot of the counterculture ideas that helped create the 1960's.

2. They were all bisexual / gay
Most had sex with each other, or, in the case of Burroughs - male prostitutes, including very young ones. Some dated women and men. Many were adulterers or bigamists, and they had the reputation of being misogynists.

3. They were criminals
Burroughs, who wrote "Naked Lunch" and other narrative-bending works, robbed people, did heroin and shot his wife in the head while drunkenly playing William Tell. Most of the big Beats stole, did jailtime or skipped town to evade prosecution. And yes, they all smoked weed. A few even grew it on farms.

4. They were Ivy Leaguers
Allen Ginsburg - Columbia University. Jack Kerouac - Harvard. William S. Burroughs - Harvard.

5. They were Buddhists / Zen Monks
Yes, like all true hipsters, they liked this before it was cool. Many spent years in ashrams, or become Buddhist monks themselves.

6. They were culturally important
Besides promoting progressive agenda that caught on nationally and helping make California the place it is today, they also made poetry relevant for the first time.... ever? They took poetry out of academia and brought it into coffee houses and made it a public art form again.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fuck you, New York Times paywall / log in

Let me tell you what hell is. Hell is when you are casually surfing the news in your PJs, and click on a link and


you get hit with that smiling, smarmy hat bastard on the right telling you to log in / give them money.

Hey New York Times, I know you are in hard financial times but why throw good money after bad? Barriers to entry / paywalls will NEVER work. Ever. They just piss your readers off (whew... I almost wrote "customers" there instead of readers. I-rony!)

So get that fedora-waving moron out of my browser and either gimme the content, or keep the whole thing on a non-public server. I dunno what the solution is, but that smiling guy really ticks me off at 10:55 in the morning.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is making fun of white people racist?

I present to you exhibit A - White People Rapping Poorly. It's instantly hilarious and cringeworthy - no talent chumps trying to rap. It also makes me very happy that I'm not a high school teacher, because apparently it's very popular now to do your science / social studies / history homework in rap form.

Like most people, I usually consider making fun of my fellow whites to be fair game and decidedly non-racist. So I was surprised when this topic was listed on BoingBoing, a left-leaning geek website, and many people were offended. The rationale is that racism shouldn't make exceptions for the majority, and it doesn't just belong to minorities.

Yes, usually the only people who talk about the "white race" are neo-Nazis, but I decided to take a closer look at this issue just out of curiosity / boredom. Certainly in theory, racism isn't about majority / minority status, but about making hurtful or negative generalizations about a race of people. So under this definition, making fun of white people is certainly racist.

For myself personally, I never get offended by white slurs, but I do get offended by some Jewish slurs. I'm not sure how this can be, but it is. Maybe racism is more about the extent of which a person's self-esteem or social standing is affected by comments than the comments themselves. I can't conceive of a white person being hurt by being told they can't jump / rap / dance, but certainly telling a person of minority status that they are stupid / lazy / a criminal because of their race would be hurtful and highly insulting.

So, to conclude, I don't know.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ask Dr. Rubin: How to ask out your dental hygienist

The following is an actual question I received from a reader:

Dear Dr. Rubin,
I need some dating advice. I met a hot MILF and I want to ask her out. She's a dental hygienist. Can you help?


Bleeding Gums (of love)

Dear Bleeding Gums,
Good for you! In the 21st century there is absolutely nothing wrong with dating a cute single mom. (BTW, if she's
not single, you probably need to rephrase your question and send it to Ask a Ninja to take care of that problem.)
But yes, many men are attracted to dental hygienists, who promise great teeth, minty breath and above-average earning potential / 401k contributions. They also carry floss and toothpicks around whenever you go out for Korean BBQ.
There are two ways of asking her out - in the chair or out of the chair. Let's examine them both:

Out of the chair - Obviously someone looming over you shining a flashlight in your eyes will cause you to lose the power advantage, so stay the hell outta the chair to make your move. Tell her you are mounting a multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit against the plaque-causing effects of Skittles and you need some expert testimony... in bed.
Or call her from a casino, telling her you just won the jackpot and wondered if she can make a house call for $10,000. When she gets there, tell her you sacrificed your winnings to save the dental clause in Obama's health care plan, and ask if she'd care for a celebratory cocktail.
Or, find out when she's working and get your teeth cleaned by another hygienist in her office. Then hand your hygienist a folded love note and ask them to pass it to the one you want to date. When she reads your flowery prose it and looks at you in longing, flash her a great smile to the best of your ability, depending largely on how much equipment is in your mouth at that particular moment.

In the chair - This method carries MAXIMUM risk, but you can reap serious rewards if you pull it off. First off, you need to distinguish yourself from all the other guys she sees on the job - really stand out. By yourself I mean, of course, your teeth.
For example, you can schedule a dentist appointment with another dentist an hour before seeing her and then impressive her with your impossibly awesome teeth.
Or forgo all dental checkups for a few years (make sure to consult a fortune teller to make sure she'll be single by the end of your preparation) and then tell her you gave all your money to an orphanage and you had to be homeless for a bit while you saved Chinese sex slaves from inner-city brothels. Hook, line, sinker. Remember, if you are bleeding from dental work at the time of this confession, tell her she doesn't need to wear gloves because you "don't have any STDs... if she gets your drift." Then wink twice and reel in the kisses / pepper spray.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The sad truth about senior citizens and phone scams

In a story I read recently about yet another phone scam targeting senior citizens, one quote by a detective made me pause. He remarked that older people are especially vulnerable to scams because, "We’re talking about a generation of people who work on trust and have grown up that way."

Now, at first that may seem like saying that old people are suckers. Or sadly unsophisticated. That's what I often think when I read these stories.

But this time I felt sad for MYSELF rather than them. They lived in a time before global calls could be made for 2 cents a minute. Before cell phones, the internet. The vast majority of their communications came from people they knew. It was all their community, family and friends. So there was a degree of trust in EVERY communication they received.

That's something great they had that they've lost. And that we've lost too. Bummer.

Hey bicyclers, we don't understand your sign language

When we are driving 30 mph and trying not to kill you, we don't have the time or energy to decode your Navajo hand motions. Maybe we should, but we don't.

I understand that you received education to what these signals mean, but we didn't. All we know is you are making odd gestures while riding a small, engineless device trying to cross four lanes during rush hour.

So basically, when you make a motion with your arm, any motion, here is what we get out of it:

"Shit, that guy on the bike is gonna do something."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gov 2.0 and MTV's 16 and Pregnant

So as some of you know, I have a funky government job using social media.

Our term for the use of social media, along with the applied philosophy of transparency, collaboration and public participation, is "Gov 2.0." Part of my job was to create and update a cool timeline of all the significant Gov 2.0 milestones, such as the first FourSquare check-in from space, or the first government wiki. (If you click there, the timeline link right above the timeline to the left offers an easier view).

But anyway, so I love Gov 2.0 and am constantly looking for ways to help our government work better, cheaper, and faster. So when I came upon the hit show "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom," I immediately wondered if they were partnering with the great service called Text4baby, which is a collaboration between private, non-profits and gov groups.

What Text4baby does is send expectant moms text messages with tips for your pregnancy and caring for your baby, all timed to your expectant due date. All you do to sign up is text BABY (or BEBE for Spanish) to 511411 - done! So I emailed the "16 and Pregnant" producers to suggest they partner with this amazing program and help teens who get pregnant lead healthier lives. Here is their response:

Hi Jon,
Thank you for your email! MTV is actually a partner of the program. Take a look at these clips from 16 & Pregnant:


Dr. Drew also promoted text4baby during the teen mom finale special last February:

Please feel free to keep sending suggestions!