Thursday, August 30, 2007

What Facebook thinks about Mizzou (and KC)

I ended up on a cool facebook index page just now. It ranks the most-listed items in several catergories for everyone who is associated with the "Missouri" network. Contrary to the way this looks, the numbers reflect only those people affiliated with the University of Missouri-Columbia. I don't know why Facebook calls this "Missouri", but I suppose some group that's totally NOT like most of us needs to represent all of us. This is America, after all.

Of the top 10 films, I've seen one: Office Space. More than anything, this shows me one of two things (or possibly both at once): 1) I am not into popular movies and 2) people like me are underrepresented. The list seems to consist what I'll term "bus" movies. These are movies that invariably end up being displayed on long bus trips. Usually, there are several people who are ADAMANT that a particular movie is DEFINITELY the movie we should watch, no questions. Some small group may object, and the vast majority of people are wishing they weren't sitting in a bus. Alternatively, they're called AWESOME movies, because if asked whether they've seen it, the responses are either "haven't seen it", "I didn't care for it", or "it's completely awesome, how come you don't know that?"

Complete List is as follows:

1-Wedding Crashers
2-The Notebook
3-Old School
5-Fight Club
6-Boondock Saints
7-Office Space
8-Pulp Fiction
9-Garden State

The top ten books make me laugh. Number 1 is "Harry Potter", which I take to be any of the seven volumes. Number 2 is the Bible. Then (I'm sure) a big gap, and something called "Angels and Demons". Strangely enough, the books list has only 9 items, unlike the 10 found on all other lists. I hope that means that they just had a strange arbitrary cut-off, rather than it being an indication that only nine different books are mentioned on all profiles.

The most common policical affiliation is "None Listed". Setting aside the trouble of actually PICKING a choice, I think that percentage is probably true in general, as well. Next come "Liberal" and "Conservative", each with 15%. Not to be left behind, "Moderate" comes in a 14%. Then "Other" with 4%. I'm not sure what is classified as "other". Possibly people who are both Anarchist and Non-Conformist, so they don't want to fall into the "Very Liberal" catergory with the rest of their members.

Your zen problem for the day is that two percent chose "apathetic" as their affiliation. Is it true apathy if you still go to the trouble of self-identifying as a member?

The "Missouri" group has 37,959 members. Let's compare it with the "Kansas City" network for fun. "Kansas City" catches anyone who lists Kansas City as their city, as well as many of the surrounding zip codes. For instance, even though I don't live in Kansas City, Kansas or Missouri, I'm in with the KC group. Kansas City is a much larger sample of people, clocking in with 88,151 members.

The movie list is similar:

1-Wedding Crashers
2-The Notebook
4-Fight Club
5-Boondock Saints
6-Old School
7-Office Space
8-Super Troopers
9-Pulp Fiction
10-Dumb And Dumber

Once again, I've seen only "Office Space".

For politics, a whopping 61% have not chosen an option. Followed by 10% "Other". So apparently the largest group of respondants feel that the traditional political spectrum doesn't contain their views. 8% conservative, 7% moderate, 6% liberal.

The Bible achieves the most popular book slot, bumping Harry Potter to number 2. The number one music choice is "Country", and number two is "Rap". How interesting!

In case you were curious, single people are the largest group in both places.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Old Time Comedy

Here's a clip of Sid Ceaser. I like it for several reasons.

1). It shows how common it was to still run across "classical" music even in contemporary comedy shows.

2). I've often heard it said that the secret to really successful comedy is timing. Here you can see a clip of two people using something else for timing purposes (Beethoven's symphony, which was never intended to be used as theater music) but managing to tell a complete story. Not only do these actors have good timing with each other, but they both have to be extremely familiar with the music to capture the sudden mood changes without looking like they're reacting to them.

3). Because I'm so familiar with the piece, I found myself slightly predicting when the conversation would turn from violent to sweet or vice versa.



Saturday, August 25, 2007

A party is just a party...

I went to a party last night. Because most parties need some sort of theme (it's so 80's to just "have a party"), this was a "just engaged/beginning of school" party. Food included guacamole, chips, chocolates, and brownies. There were jello shots (which had the consistency of "finger jello", making it an engineering exercise to remove them) and scads of bottled beer. Closer to the end, gin and DIET tonic arrived. I didn't realize there was "diet" tonic, but I've never really looked closely. Certainly, no one says in the movies, "I'll have a gin and diet tonic".

I arrived fairly early, after circling the block looking for a parking space. It was such a pleasant evening last night (mid 70s and low humidity) that I decided that parking further away and walking wouldn't be a terrible chore.

Walking inside, I had ladies screaming my name. Always a welcoming sound, as long as it's not in anger, I suppose. Apparently I was invited, but not really expected, so when I actually appeared, it was something of a surprise. I most of the people there, so I grabbed myself a spot in the corner and sat.

After about 30 seconds, a woman came up to me, man in tow. "Hiiii....I don't think we've been introduced." {long pause}

I say, "Oh, well, my name is Andy. Pleased to meet you." {shake lady's outstretched hand}

Lady says, "Greaaaat. This is Gordon." She gestures to the guy over her shoulder. He shakes my hand. He has the look of someone far older than anyone else at a party, but desperately trying to appear young.

This woman never actually introduces herself, which I don't fail to notice right away. I mean, when I say, "I don't think we've been introduced," I immediately follow up by saying my name. It was very bizarre to meet someone who seemed to be trying to be suave and sophisticated, but unable to actually "work" an introduction, which is a pretty simple part (I assumed).

Later, a woman's breasts came into the room. The woman they belonged to (and her female friend) appeared to have come from a different Friday-night-party, and were headed to somewhere else before long. She wore a very "exciting" patterned top, which had a plunging neckline, plunging to approximately two inches below her sternum. She looked very...well ventilated. I'm sure when breezes came along, she wasn't warm.

She and her friend had a hairstyle that I've seen now and again, and it never fails to remind me of feudal Japan. Straw-straight hair brought back and affixed above the temples, but the top is rigidly pulled back to create a sort of geometric quality to the face. It's very popular, though the only reason I feel that is because when I look at such a person, I invariably feel like they must feel that's a very fashionable haircut. "Going out hair", one might say.

The unknown lady and Gordon proceeded to make out. I'm not sure if the whole reason they came to the party was to have the thrill of serious kissing in "public", but I wouldn't be surprised. They spoke to few other people all night long, and brought a lot of uncomfortable affection into the room. She had chosen to wear a short skirt, and had unwisely chosen to forget how to cross her legs when sitting on low futons (the kind where your knees are higher than your waist while sitting). Due to Gordon's age, general discomfort, and slightly indented ring finger, I began to assume that either one or the other of the couple was married (not to each other) and they were using this time to catch up on their kissing, since their affair could only be conducted this one night, while his wife (the ambassador) was resolving the issues of the blood feud with the diamond miners, and her boyfriend was wrapping up his three game series against the Giants. They had only this short while to find themselves and each other. Awww....

Of course, this is the midwest. So, he's probably a car salesman and she's a administrative assistant at a non-profit organization. And they're having an affair because he's terrified of growing old and she's into "new car" smell.

That's a funny thing about going to parties as a couple. If one person is "the in friend" who knows all the other people, then the "boy/girlfriend" usually just hovers at the elbow, not really wanting to be left behind to have to speak to people they don't know. If both people are aquainted, the couples often don't "reconnect" for the entire evening. They spend enough time together as it is, and may desire tales of new experiences that don't involve "did you put away the vacuum?" and "have I already told you how hard my day at work was?"

If neither member of the couple is well acquainted, they usually end up just sitting in the corner and talking to themselves. One always feels intensely abandoned when the other goes to the bathroom of fetches more drinks, and is rapturously happy when the other returns and they can continue not having to interact.

Luckily, all of this other party strangeness pales in comparison to the fact my friends are engaged, love each other, and really want to be happy. And that is what I learned last night.


As I mentioned last week, I started a class at the local community college. I had originally budgeted $1000, simply because I never took the time to calculate how much it was going to cost. It ended up being under well under $400 for books and class.

Strangely, when I told various friends about this relative bargain, everyone seemed to have the same response: "Shopping!"

The thought never occurred to me. The money I didn't spend went back into my savings account. I acknowledge that this is boring and pedestrian. I acquired no new items of clothing or electronics. I didn't buy a new instrument. I didn't buy new kitchen utensils. No new shoes or bow ties. No new DVDs.

Part of this sober and uninteresting reaction is that I do live on a fixed income. It's not a smart idea for me to go around spending money now that I might need to spend later. It was actually a surprise to me that I had never even considered shopping with it, because that does seem like a perfectly normal thing that a person might do.

It may be closing in on time to buy some new shirts, though. More and more of my shirts have small holes, and that's no way to look in public. Time to hurry up wait for Target or Kohl's to have a sale!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A previous era

I had lunch today for a dollar. Not one of those recent, fast food "dollar menu" things, either. While I was inside the grocery, a voice came over the intercom to announce that outside the front door, they were offering a local butcher's hot dogs, a bag of chips, and a drink for one dollar. I bought the package deal on my way out.

"How many would you like?" says the helpful woman.

I laughed. "Just one, thanks."

She shakes her head. "Well, you never know...."

I meditate on whether or not it was a comment on guys my height needing more than that for lunch, or a comment on lots of people buying tons to feed their baseball teams who happen to be in a van nearby.

Arriving at home after the one minute drive, I top my hot dog with yellow mustard and some BBQ sauce, and enjoy something that tastes like my sepia-toned past. I don't remember the last time I had a hot dog, but it's been at least five or six years, I think.

It was a delicious hot dog. If I'd remembered the name, I might have picked some up the next time I went shopping.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

See, that's much more reasonable.

Follow up to my entry in June.

Remember little baby 4real? His parents, upon discovering that they were actually having a baby, were inspired to name him something including a number. They said it was in recognition that the couple's baby was now "for real". I suppose the kid is lucky he didn't have a slightly more capricious or vindictive name, like Morning Sickness.

Well, the naming authority in New Zealand denied their petition. Adios, 4real. What did the parents decide to name him instead? What about "Foreal", which might actually be a real name? No, they didn't choose that, possibly because that makes a bit of sense. Instead, they have chosen "Superman".

Err...yeah. I'm starting to get the feeling that this couple may NOT really be ready for the responsibility of having a kid. When your top two names are 1) something with a number and 2) the superhero name of the most famous comic book character, you really need to buy a baby name book. Finding out you have a baby is not the time to indulge in the all the improperly-vetted names of your childhood memories, like Superman, Voltron, Ferrari, or Butthead.

I'm aware that Nicholas Cage named his son "Kal-el", the Kryptonian name of Superman. Somehow, this is slightly better, but only because it's less recognizable and could pass for a really bizarre Arabic name. But only if you never meet any actual Arabs. Plus, when the child is still young, it basically only informs on the parents. For example, I now know without a shadow of doubt that Nicholas Cage is a nerd. No matter what movies I now see him in, even if he were to wrest control of the Die Hard franchise away from Bruce Willis: he'll always be a major nerd.

Gwyneth Paltrow has two kids. Apple and Moses, which together sounds like some strange Biblical video-crossover with VeggiTales less-profitable cousin, FruityTales. Incidentally, a slight spelling change to "Fruity Tails" is probably the name of a unsuccessful gay bar somewhere.

I'm all for strange names, because there are an awful lot of us. In China, 94.8 million people are named Li, for example. 90% of the Chinese population uses one of 50 particular names. I'm not attacking China, but the population is so high, it always makes for spectacular statistics. On a more local front, I came across a bookstore attendant the other day name "Saeraeh", which is pronounced "Sarah". I asked. She probably finds ONLY herself when searching Google.

I may be interested in strange names, but I'm mostly interested in original ones. Calling your son Yukon and your daughter Pillsbury just isn't giving it enough thought, period.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Those Poor CDs...

How do you treat your CDs?

I was raised in a household with a fancy record player, which I wanted more than anything to play with. My parents wouldn't let me because records are very fragile, and the needle, while being necessary to play records, is also one of the greatest tools for RUINING records. So I always treated records with a serious protective outlook. To this day, when using records at the library for old recordings, I hold my breath when placing the needle. And I live in fear of the "record scratch" sound.

This is the Modern Era, though. We don't use records much. In the first three months of this year, 86 million CDs were sold in the United States. Considering CDs have been a mass market format for more than 20 years, one can assume that there are an awful lot of CDs in existence.

Earlier this summer, I watched through the complete series of "Sex and the City". There are six seasons, and each season usually had four discs. Combined with all the other movies I've rented from the library, I've seen a heap of discs from my local library. Most of them are fine, but occassionally, one will have serious scratches.

I treat my CDs and DVDs fantastically. Each has a box, and it stays there when not being moved to a player. I never set the CDs on the counter or piles of boxes. I've been known to do other activities with a CD spindled on my little finger, simply because I don't have a place to put it.

I think I'm in the very controlling minority. I don't have any sort of CD burning technology, so I never broke myself of the "I paid good money for this" philosophy regarding discs. I've seen people leave discs every which way, used as coasters, and generally abused. A friend of mine made copies of all my recital CDs for adjudication, and he gave me the discs loose. I went home and the very first thing I did was make a paper envelope to put them in.

My CD OCD was appeased immediately.

Oh, right. Hot in summer.

There's a severe weather warning across the Kansas City area today. The "hottest weather of the season" is predicted. Splendid. I'm disappointed that there ever has to be hottest weather, but I suppose that it's OK that it happens NOW, instead of next week when classes begin.

I registered last week for a German class at my local community college. Maybe I've just become used to paying quite a bit for tuition (having spent six years at the post-bachelor level), but I was quite surprised to get my bill.

The in-area rate for this community college is $63 per credit hour. I'm taking a three hour course. At the university, this is a recipe for at least $250 in fees and tuition expenses, when you take into account the Computing Fee, the Gym Fee, the Student Activity Fee, the Conservatory Student Fee, the Parking on Campus Fee, and the What's a "Svrg Mxj" Fee. The community college bill was $189, which is $63 multiplied by three credit hours. I walked out of their registrar feeling like I had a bargain.

I don't know if it's a feature of this community college in particular (having been the only one I've ever enrolled in), but the student body was certainly diverse. While standing in the registration line, I'm sure the entire cast of "Fame", followed by the entire cast of "Sesame Street". Furry monsters included.

Lots of pretty girls, too. They're a fixture of college campuses (especially in the warm months) and I know a couple guys who came to college just for the scenery. I think I've been spending too much time amongst my friends who are girls, however. I'm used to spending time around girls who smile and look generally interested in life around them. Most of these ladies seem to have discovered some sort of annoying smell on their own upper lips, and determined that the best way to ameliorate the stench is by pulling down the corners of their mouths. Seldom can I recall seeing so many grimacing or pouty faces.

I've read that some men prefer a frowning and disdainful face in a women. It somehow plays into the "hard to get, I'm not worthy of her" dynamic which seems to be popular amongst rich hotel heiresses and the groups of socially-maladjusted guys who aspire to have said heiresses as relationships. I suppose it's the gender-flipped companion to the "why do nice girls fall for angry, jerky guys". Of course, these questions are merely localized version of the fundamental, underlying search for truth: why are cats and dogs most interested in the people who don't like them? At this moment, scientists are toiling away around the globe, but they've only managed to discover what cats and dogs like for breakfast. More news as it develops.

When I stepped out of my car at the parking lot, I was recovering from almost being destroyed by a giant Cadillac Escalade. Cruising along, looking for a spot, the Escalade suddenly began to back out right in front of me. I stood on the brakes, giving me the funny feeling of having my brain slosh around in my head. The giant black troop transport kept on backing up, slowly, emerging with a tiny girl behind the helm. She gave me an apologizing display of gritted teeth, shrugged shoulders, and worried eyebrows before continuing on her way. When I stepped out, in slightly nervous temper, I was immediately struck by how quiet everything was.

My car is a little noisy, I'll admit. The air conditioning makes noise. The motor mounts are old, so the entire car vibrates continuously. The radio sometimes gets loud. I'm used to all this stuff, though, as it occurs continuously. The location I parked was just quiet. The campus is huge, with lots of trees and hills to block assorted road noise. As I looked around, I realized that even though I was surrounded by cars and buildings, it was the same kind of "quiet" I get when on my grandparent's farm in rural Indiana. The kind where you step out and hear the wind. Not because it's blowing trees horizontal, but because there just AREN'T any other sounds.

I instantly relaxed.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I says, she ain't want no more RABIES...

A couple of weeks ago, there was big news down at Jim Bob's house. His wife had a baby. Her seventeenth. Jim Bob and Michelle, they're from Arkansas. The new baby's name is Jennifer. She joins Joshua, Janna and John David (they're twins), Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah and Jeremiah (also twins), Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, and Johannah Faith. Do not adjust your monitor: all the names do start with "J". I have a friend from high school whose family all has JJ for their initials. There's only four of them, so it's easier to take.

I read this story (HERE) because of the sensational title. I wanted to figure out why a married couple would want that many children. Are they Amish Farmers, who need all these children to work the land, knit the clothes, card the wool, churn the butter, and sell jams to the tourist traps? Is it some Wall Street banker's wife who has a ton of money to spend on nannies and "recuperation trips" to the Bahamas for mom?

Well, I wasn't good at guessing the real motivations. The family is continually having kids because they don't believe in birth control. Not just that, but they believe in "birth uncontrol", or something very like it. They're taking the Bible literally (is this a theme?) and going forth to multiply. They are self-proclaimed conservative fundamentalist Christians, and they believe in something called the "Quiverfull" movement.

If you think Quiverfull sounds like some sort of insufficiently sanitized smutty joke, then you're obviously not holy enough. It's a movement mostly centered in the U.S. that encourages couples to eagerly receive children as blessings from God. It's an off-shoot of an ideology called Providentialism, which believes that God's will is perfect and manifests itself in each and every tiny thing that happens (or doesn't happen). If I were to apply an irreverent sobriquet to this belief, it would be the "Oh well, what the hell" idea.

Basically, God has a Plan. It's all written in a big book somewhere. Everything that happens, occurs because it was intended by God. There is no free will. Even if you think you have it, God's way ahead of you with his Plan. I'm reminded of a routine by George Carlin, where he discusses the Divine Plan.

But what about the Divine Plan? Remember that? The Divine Plan. A long time ago, God made a Divine Plan. Gave it a lot of thought, decided it was a good Plan, put it into practice. And for billions and billions of years, the Divine Plan has been doing just fine. Now you come along, and pray for something. Well, suppose the thing you want isn't in God's Divine Plan? What do you want him to do: change his plan? Just for you? Doesn't that seem a little arrogant? It's the Divine Plan! What's the use of being God if every run-down schmuck with a two dollar prayer book can come along and fuck up your plan?

Of course, in Providentialism (and Quiverfull), God's plan is omnipresent and not comprehensible. Bad things happen to good people, but it is fruitless to question why, because the answer is beyond the scope of what regular people can understand. So the reason they keep having children isn't because they're irresponsible, it's that they're incredibly pious. After all, if God wanted them to stop having children, he'd do something about it. Something like causing a divorce, or killing one of them, or bringing sterility, or cancer of the ovaries. Because we're just children. Children who can't understand why things happen! And because we can't understand God, and God's will is evident in everything, then we can't understand why anything happens.

So we ARE just like children lost in the forest. We just keep doing things, because we can't really understand why we should stop. After all, God will tell us if something is out of balance. So the Arkansas couple keeps having kids, because HEY, otherwise God would stop it, right? The Quiverfull doctrine talks about specific Biblical passages that show that God acts to "open and close the womb".

Notice that they aren't adopting a bunch of kids. That's how you know they're REALLY literal. It just doesn't count to adopt babies from China who would grow up to be Communists, and raise them in a Christian house. No sir! God's not looking for that kind of evangelism. He wants women out there with serious calcium deficiencies brought on by excessive reproduction!

Actually, in this case, it's a different kind of penance. When they were first married, they used birth control and had a miscarriage. They prayed to God to allow them children, as many as he saw fit. Enter God, who smites them with a plague of diapers.

In reality, once you have seven kids or so, you just let the older kids raise the younger ones, freeing Mom up for laundry, which is three full-time jobs, I'm sure. Their 7,000 square foot house has 4 washers and dryers. All the kids are home schooled, so you wont have to worry about 17 prom dresses and tuxes.

I don't really care for the Quiverfull idea , but it's not because of the strange eugenics vibe, or because of the increased voting power in the coming years. It's more the idea that human beings are really only simple computers (previous comment). We sit idle until the command instruction is inserted and then continue to do that thing until the program stops. If we're only doing what we're told to do, is that really all that praiseworthy?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Seven Sins: Gluttony (or waste or overindulgence)

"Gluttony is the source of all our infirmities, and the fountain of all our diseases. As a lamp is choked by a superabundance of oil, a fire extinguished by excess of fuel, so is the natural health of the body destroyed by intemperate diet."
--Robert Burton (1576-1640)

Gluttony, like all of the cardinal sins, has many different finely graduated definitions, most of which seem calculated to emphasize or absolve particular elements. I'm going to define Gluttony as "an excessive desire to indulge or consume, when it is not reasonable or necessary."

Gluttony is most often connected with food in modern society. Strictly speaking, we need only a little food to survive. Having choice in diet is something that's relatively recent in our evolution. We spent the majority of our species-life eating whatever plants and animals came to hand.

Now we have a great variety of what to eat. If I wanted to, I could go to the grocery tomorrow and purchase at least 10 kinds of fish that certainly aren't found in any of greater Kansas City rivers. I can purchase spices that originated in far off countries. I can buy cheese shipped from France. In the confines of my small kitchen, I can summon the culinary flavor of any of a dozen different cultures with just the contents of a normal grocery.

I could bake 10 dishes in a day from all these different places, but that still wouldn't be gluttony. As with every sin, it's the intent that matters. If I had one specific item and consumed it with abandon, knowingly going beyond (or in defiance against) my hunger, that would be gluttony. It doesn't even need to be a single item. If I ate and ate to the exclusion of all other hobbies and activities, that would be gluttony.

Gluttony doesn't just mean placing food in your mouth, though. Waste is a card from the same deck. Almost everyone I know seems to feel some acknowledgment whenever they throw away food. If it's moldy or rancid, that's one thing. But throwing it out when it's still good usually provokes a frown or statement of regret.

Even something as basic as wasting water is a form of gluttony. How many people leave the water running while they brush their teeth? Good clean water, necessary for survival runs down the drain and into the sewers, where it needs to be cleaned and treated again.

In most cases, leaving the tap on while brushing isn't gluttony, it's simply ignorance. Ignorance, by the way, isn't a sin. Ignorance of how much water actually gets wasted, in this case. If you mention it to people, they usually take it on themselves to STOP having the water run, because they agree it's a good idea. Again, intent.

Drugs and alcohol abuse counts as gluttony. Even hunting for sport, if applied liberally enough. Most people don't hunt in anger, they're simply looking for the chase and the kill.

The first three sins (Lust, Gluttony, and Greed) are all sins of immoderate desire, in one way or another. Gluttony is the desire for consumption. It's different than Greed, which is the desire for control and acquisition. And it's different than Lust, which is the desire for gratification. These desires are all about "bringing toward" the person. They all fundamentally embody the transfer away from Other towards Self.

Being fat does not produce a diagnosis of Gluttony. There are ways to be fat without indulging in immoderation, just as there are ways of being skinny and being gluttonous. Who is the person behind the consumption? What is the reason? What is the intent?

In these days of record overeating in our society, not everyone is guilty of Gluttony. A person who comes home and eats a lemon meringue pie in a sitting is a glutton. A person who eats all three meals at the next-door McDonald's because of working a 16-hour day on a legal brief is not a glutton, even though they may end up gaining just as much weight as (if not more than) the pie-eater.

I'm sure at some level, the desire for consumption is a parody of the desire for life. Consuming food and liquids is, after all, what keeps us alive. It is necessary, in the basest sense. Animals will overeat when again given food after being exposed to starvation conditions for too long. It is a life-affirming overconsumption; our bodies attempting to make up for lost time. But when we are close to balance and willfully persist in continual consumption in spite of our own sense of satisfaction, that's Gluttony.