Jingle Balls

30 November 2008

There’s a Panera down the street from my house that’s served as my study spot this semester.  It has good lighting, power outlets, and free refills of decent coffee.  Next week is finals week, so I figured to spend plenty of time there this week preparing.  During my visit today, however, I discovered that I would have to go elsewhere.  Why?

Christmas music.  It’s not even December, and they’re already playing Christmas music.  In the name of all things sacred, why must we be subjected to this sonic diarrhea? Who wants to hear it?  Not the poor bastards who work there, that’s for sure.  I’m generally a peaceful guy, but if I worked at Panera and had to hear “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” on a continuous loop for eight hours each day I’d go Seung-Hui Cho on motherfuckers then burn that son of a bitch to the ground.

Christmas music can suck my furry green cock.

Christmas music can suck my furry green cock.

What about the customers?  There might be a few who enjoy it, but they must be a tiny minority; everyone I know can’t stand it.  Nevertheless, the douchebags at corporate somehow decide that this is what everyone wants to hear.  What cruel irony.

On a related note, whenever I hear the line “don we now our gay apparel,” I always picture the classic 1950’s nuclear family in front of the fireplace, smiling as they put on their assless chaps and nipple clamps.  Just thought you might like to know.


Thanksgiving and our “Poor Theories of Other Minds”

28 November 2008

Thanksgiving is an awesome holiday, rivalling Halloween as the best day of the year.  It lacks the major downfalls of the other main holidays: it has no overt religious or military connections; it is never on a weekend, guaranteeing a few extra days off of work or school for most folks; there is no gift-giving required, and it has built-in feasting AND drinking, unlike, for example, New Years, when people drink plenty but often don’t focus enough on food.  And, invariably, something happens on Thanksgiving causing me to walk around for days as if I see reality in a new light.

There was admittedly a lot of build-up for this year’s revelation, and to be fair it isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this strange phenomenon.  It has, however, become unusually clear.  In the past few weeks I’ve heard it said of many a person (myself included), either explicitly or implicitly, that they have a “poor theory of other minds” (coined, I believe, by Mike) or that they have a very difficult time understanding what and how others think and see things.

For some reason, the small degree of overlap between different individuals’ thought processes is always especially clear on Thanksgiving.  This may be because we (or I, anyhow) tend to sit down to eat, for a fairly long period of time, with people with whom we do not usually take meals.  I find this to be true even when eating with my extended family, and because of this fact, I’m always uncomfortable at family holiday meals and tend to avoid them whenever possible.  This year, I became fixated for some reason on trying to get inside others’ heads, and found it to be entirely impossible.  It’s always difficult, but this time I found few leads to go off of, and less mental overlap, than at other times.  I would be willing to wager that most people who attempt this exercise will either fail outright or wrongly attribute their own thought-patterns and content to other people.

We have a lot of societal infrastructure that seems to function entirely based on people’s common faith in that infrastructure.  Currency, the postal service, celebration of invented holidays (e.g. Thanksgiving), banks, airports, table etiquette … everyone seems to agree on the workings of these things and trust them unquestioningly, understanding and accepting their rules and methods of functioning.  Some such institutions are shared almost world-wide – New Years, for example, is celebrated across the globe, and we can watch the calender turn over on television in major international cities where the people speak different languages and use different toilets from ours.  So clearly, there is some commonality in what occurs in peoples’ mental spaces.

Yet the possibility of so much overlap is difficult to grasp, especially when the sharp differences between peoples’ comprehension of reality is so apparent even within our own country.  The people who presumably share our trust in so much of everyday reality include those famous musicians who do crazy, incomprehensible things, those super-religious people who do crazy, incomprehensible things, those people immersed in [insert subculture here] who do crazy, incomprehensible things, those people who have different conceptions of etiquette and social norms who do crazy, incomprehensible things, those people who grew up in a different decade or socio-economic group or population density or region with mannerisms utterly incomprehensible to others.  There are just so many differences in thought content between individuals; the sharper the difference, the more we pay attention: think of Bob Dylan’s mental content vs. Sarah Palin’s.  But these differences exist between everyone to greater or lesser extent and with respect to different parts of our mental states.

Another example of an obvious thought-content difference: Beavis and Butthead vs. the viewers who laugh at them.  There is clearly minimal overlap between the thought-content and patterns of B&B and those of the average person.  There are probably very few people whose minds are actually comparable to that of Butthead, but I’m sure there are some.  Furthermore, I’d be willing to bet that every group of people is as different from some other where some part of their mentality is concerned as Beavis and Butthead are from the average person with respect to nearly everything.  There’s a little Beavis in all of us.  How sweet.

This was amusing and only a little frightening until I thought a bit too much about the fact that a whole bunch of Beavises and Buttheads has put together governments, banks, parks, driving laws, holidays, gas lines and water pipes, jokes and traditions.  It seems a little tweaking of our minds and all of this would have been impossible.  How the hell did all of that happen?  How does it survive?  A less radical question:  How do Beavises and rappers and conservative religious folks and even those of us with less nameable differences manage to interact every day with so little difficulty?  The fringe-folk are actually pronounced crazy or imprisoned or merely ostracized, but there is a whole continuum of minds out there.

It has occurred to me that although most people probably wonder what others are thinking on a semi-regular basis, bringing it to full attention might make some uncomfortable.  This girl I used to work with told her boyfriend that I was studying psychology (people constantly confuse philosophy and psychology for some reason) and he said “watch out, she’s analyzing you crazy fuckers.”  If only I could.

It has been suggested that I write with more humour.  I’ve entertained (and frightened) myself, but as for making others laugh I have better success when it’s unintentional, probably for the reasons described above.

So, [insert dick joke here] (thanks, Dan).

Let me know if anyone else is as baffled as I am by the functioning of society.

On Parsimony

26 November 2008

While we’re on the subject of my parsimony, I’d like to share with our readers my unique approach to commerce.  You see, most cheapskates look to save themselves as much money as possible.  This approach, while natural and logical, has a flaw: it allows savvy merchants to exploit the consumer’s predictable and narrow focus on minimizing cost.  Let me illustrate with an example: suppose you go into a cafe and order the cheapest sandwich on the menu.  Knowing that the cheapest item will be ordered frequently, the cafe owner may have priced it such that it yields the highest profit margin on the menu.  You leave the restaurant happy that you saved a buck, unaware of the fact that you put money in the cafe owner’s pockets and settled for what was probably an inferior sandwich.

That’s why I approach transactions not with the intention of maximizing my expected value, but of minimizing that of the merchant.  In a zero-sum game, these approaches are one and the same; capitalism, however, is not zero-sum, so they can lead to very different decisions.  Take a buffet, for example: your typical consumer will eat a substantial but reasonable portion of food and walk away feeling satisfied.  How can he be satisfied, though, knowing that it is possible and indeed probable that the restaurant turned a profit on him?  When I go to a buffet,  I skip the previous meal or two and stuff myself to the point of intestinal distress.  My goal is at least to deny the restaurant a profit, and preferably to cost it money; in my view, temporary discomfort is a small price to pay for accomplishing this.

You're not making a dime off me.

You're not making a dime off me.

Another example of my strategy in action is pizza.  Most pizza places charge a flat rate for any topping.  Why should I pay $1 for onions or peppers, which cost the restaurant mere pennies?  I order toppings not based on which ones I like best, but on which cost the pizza parlor the most.  That these tend to overlap is purely coincidental; I’m acting with a higher purpose in mind than gratification of my taste buds.

I’ve employed this approach for years, and I’m a true believer in its efficacy.  Be warned, though: it is a highly advanced strategy that can easily backfire in less experienced hands.  Those just entering the wonderful world of frugality should stick with the standard approach, but if you’re a veteran cheapskate looking to take your game to the next level, give it a try.

Bitch is you tweakin’?

25 November 2008

Dan did something a few weeks ago that requires documentation and recognition. Pointing out the strangeness of Dan’s actions at large would be absolutely pointless (it would require its own blog complete with an encyclopedia and compendium). However, I just can’t get over this particular event, so I feel compelled to share.

In the library at CMU, there’s a coffee shop on the ground floor. Every once in a while, we head over there to get re-caffeinated. On the notable occasion under discussion, Dan stood in line, scrutinizing the menu in a deep computational trance.

Stack my Gs up, because someday Ima give this street life up.

Stack my cheese up, because someday I'ma give this street life up.

I’m used to this particular stare that Dan gives. It’s the same stare when he’s trying to figure out how to bullshit you at poker. It’s the same stare when he is trying to figure out the best move in chess, and it’s the stare he assumes when he takes two-hours to move in a board game.

I wondered idly what he could be thinking about and ordered my large coffee. Then came the moment.

“I’d like to order a single shot of espresso, please; and I’d like to add an additional shot.”

“So, a double espresso?”

“No. I’d like to order a single espresso and add an additional shot.”

Apparently, it says on the menu that you can add an additional shot of espresso to any espresso drink (such as a latte or a cappuccino). Technically, espresso is an espresso drink. Under this interpretation of the menu, it creates a loophole where the discerning customer can save a whopping dime.

Every thing counts in large amounts.

Every thing counts in large amounts.

No need for comment here. I report, you decide.

…and to hear the lamentations of the women.

22 November 2008

I know most people care about today’s NC State/UNC football game about as much as they care about Harvard/Yale (congrats Harvard, it was a hard-fought victory).  However, I needed to dedicate some bytes to the absolute slaughter that occurred in Chapel Hill today.  In fact, if you go out to Kenan stadium now, I think they’re still planting grass over the fresh graves.

Im sure their boyfriends will miss them.

I'm sure their boyfriends will miss them.

Final score: 41 – 10.  Forty-one to ten. I’m going to let the magnitude of that ass-kicking set in.

UNC fans’ usual coping mechanism for loss is to pretend that the game didn’t really matter anyway.  Usually this works to save their fragile feelings, but today’s slaughter was too sweet to ignore.  Not only does this put UNC in jeopardy of not being selected for a bowl, but it also drops their ranking (they were ranked 25 before this game, I believe).

Oh, wait, I’m forgetting something.  Today was Senior Day at UNC.

That’s right, you pieces of shit.  Wallow in your crippling defeat on your own Senior Day.  I hope you cry and agonize over the sheer embarrassment and massive disappointment.

Saw a lot of this shit going on in the stands on camera today. If only I could fill up a kiddy pool full of their tears and bathe in it.

Saw a lot of this shit going on in the stands on camera today. If only I could fill up a kiddy pool full of their tears and bathe in it.

UNC fans are graceless winners and sore losers.  I’m glad to see them get their shit wrecked in a way they can’t play off or ignore.

Big shout out to Tom O’Brien for not calling off the beating.  You should never beat a man while he’s down; but then again, I’ve never seen a man wearing a UNC football jersey.

Get Over It

21 November 2008

This past summer, nearly every baseball game I attended was marred by what’s unfortunately becoming a standard ritual of our national pastime: during the seventh inning stretch, fans are instructed to stand while “God Bless America” is sung in honor of the lives lost on September 11, 2001.  Not surprisingly, this practice began at Yankee Stadium, where they take it rather seriously.  Oscar Wilde called patriotism the virtue of the vicious; what, then, is enforced patriotism?

Fortunately, the Pirates don’t engage in such fascism, so I always head for the toilet or just sit in protest.  Why?  Well, first of all, “God Bless America” is a terrible, terrible song.  It consists of trite and simplistic lyrics set to a tune that has all the elegance of an advertising jingle.  There are plenty of fine patriotic songs (“America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land,” to name a few); why must we be subjected to Irving Fucking Berlin?

Second, and more important, why must we always “honor” (if having a shitty song sung in your name counts as an honor) the 2,700 or so who died on 9/11?  Why not the 417,800 U.S. soldiers who died in WWII, or the 4,200 and counting who died in Iraq?  For that matter, why not the 40,000 who died on the highways this year?  It doesn’t make any sense to dwell on a single tragedy that took place over 7 years ago.

Clearly, baseball is not the only institution that dwells on 9/11; in fact, most of our foreign and domestic policy continues to be driven by the attacks.  We’re mired in two wars, torturing detainees, and suspending habeus corpus.  Our civil liberties have been stripped away, we’re subject to warrantless wiretapping, and we have to wait on line at the airport for hours so that high school dropouts can make sure we don’t have any tweezers in our carry-on bags.  All this because a small band of religious nuts armed with box cutters (box cutters!) killed a few thousand people and did some relatively minor damage to our infrastructure.  A mosquito landed on our arm, so we chopped it off…and we chopped off the wrong arm.

What I’m about to write will effectively preclude me from ever holding public office, but that ship sailed long ago, so here goes:

Get over it.

That’s right, get over it.  It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal in the first place.  The fact that we made it into one means that the terrorists won; they accomplished far more than they could have hoped for.  The appropriate response would have been 1) to strike back hard at those responsible (and only those responsible; not, say, Iraq) and 2) to shrug off the attacks.  If that’s the worst these clowns can do, they’re not much of a threat.  We took down the Nazis and the Japanese; a tiny network of primitive, loosely affiliated terrorist cells is no reason to change our way of life and abandon the principles that make this country great.

“Ground Zero” is a great metaphor for our response to the attacks.  We let an embarrassing crater sit in  Manhattan for five years while we agonized over what would constitute an appropriate monument.   Now we’re building the “Freedom Tower,” with its cheesy name, grossly excessive security features, and 60m high base that does nothing but waste prime real estate.  Instead, we should have immediately rebuilt the towers exactly as they had been, only bigger and with a slightly different form:

Kiss my American ass, you pussies.

Kiss my American ass, you pussies.

How many people know when Pearl Harbor was attacked?  I look forward to the day when September 11 is just another date.  “Never Forget?”  Fuck that.  Forget.

My Dream

17 November 2008

I love to play basketball despite my utter lack of physical gifts for the sport: I’m a short, slow white guy with a laughable vertical leap.  Given my limitations, however, I’ve managed to mold myself into a pretty decent player through hard work, hustle, and a willingness to flagrantly hack quicker players as they blow by me.

Still, It frustrates me that no matter how much I practice, the degree to which I can improve is severely constrained.  I’m particularly envious of those who can dunk; from above the rim, they have access to a perspective of the game that I never will.  I used to play ball with a guy who was a full inch shorter than I and could throw it down.  My legs are probably twice as strong as his; why can’t I even touch the rim?  I know it has to do with slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, but it’s just not fair.

God, if you exist, I have but one simple and reasonable request: just once, when I’m going up for a layup, suspend the laws of physics for an instant such that I find myself above the rim.


I believe I can fly.

Fuck it, who am I kidding?  Even if this wish were somehow granted, I’d probably be so surprised that I’d miss the dunk, fall and bust my ass.