Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Holiday Slowdown

It's a form of "mission creep" I suppose. (Mission creep is "the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes." Thank you, Mr. Wikipedia.) I'm talking about the Holiday Slowdown here. The initial success a few years back was the adoption of the day after Thanksgiving as a standard holiday, and the general agreement that the day before or the day after Christmas should also be time off work. So now most people don't work on these days. That's all good, but the mission creep began when people started saying "Oh, since I'm already off two days of that week I'll just take the rest of that week off, too." And that was followed by "Nobody else is working those days between Christmas and New Years Day so I'm taking that week off." All of a sudden we went from having a day off in November and a day off in December, to a five-week period when there aren't enough people on the the job for the rest of the people who are working to get anything done. So you find yourself looking at some project on November 15th and saying "I'll just wait until January to start on that."

Now don't get me wrong - I am a big fan of time off work. I like my job, but that doesn't mean I want to go to work. And I will contribute to the Holiday Slowdown this year by taking off all those unproductive days around Christmas and New Years. Oh boy, am I looking forward to it. Glorious free time! Crossword puzzles! Trimming of toenails! The Jerry Springer Show!

And besides, we Americans still work too much anyway. In Europe (I love it when people make comparisons to the lifestyle in Europe as if they'd really prefer to live there, when in reality we'd all go nuts from the tiny little apartments and the tiny little cars and the overpowering waves of body odor in the air) everybody has 41 weeks of vacation per year. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit. Then again, what do Europeans really have to do? Regardless of their positions of employment, their main task is to sit around cafes and mope, start new fashion trends that fat Americans can't wear, and foster a mood of general disdain. That's not easy going, and you need a lot of time off to recuperate from the stress of it all. On the other hand, in Japan they work even more than we do, and look what it's gotten them? Manga, bad haircuts, and enthusiastically bad karaoke. Wow.

I think the worst part of the big Holiday slowdown for me is how the news dries up. Since so much of what we get in the news is generated by government, and so much of the government takes part in (you could say, causes) the slowdown, you don't get a lot of news this time of year. And when there's less news there's less crazy stuff to read about, and less chance of getting a good laugh at someone else's expense. For example, the only funny thing I've heard all week is that George Bush is going to lead the conference on peace in the Middle East. As Sally from Peanuts might have replied, HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa!

So the trade off for the slowdown and the time off work is all the time you are supposed to spend writing Christmas cards and putting up lights and making peanut brittle and fashioning nativity scenes out of dryer lint. I'm making a list of all those holiday things I need to do, and I'll get started on it right after the first of the year. So if you don't get a card from me, you'll know I'm watching Jerry Springer.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, No Specific Name Tuesday


That's how many hits you get when you Google "black Friday."

I am a little agog at how this Black Friday insanity has taken root. We all know that the day after Thanksgiving has been big for shopping for many years. I remember the first Cabbage Patch doll riot, back in the early 80s - I think that happened on the Friday after Thanksgiving. But I don't think it had this name Black Friday until recently. (It refers to the idea that this the day when retailers go into the black. Imagine that, you have to go 47 weeks into the year to get to profitability? Remind me not to buy stock in a company like that.) And so once it had a name, it's become another American holidays, with ritual observances and the required pressure, tension, frustration, and exhaustion that make our holidays the treasured occasions that they are.

Let's get real here, people. You're getting up at 3am so you can stand in line to buy some crap that will still be on the shelves the next day. OK, granted you will pay a few dollars more if you wait another day, but think about it. You couldn't get that many people out of bed at 3am for the second coming of Christ, for Christ's sake! 3am is a time that people who have 2 hour commutes get out of bed, and we know these people who have 2 hour commutes are certifiably insane. It's just daffy. Mass insanity.

Lo and behold, once Black Friday got a name we needed other days to have names, so now there's Cyber Monday - the supposed big online shopping day. This is followed by Buyer's Remorse Tuesday, Over Your Credit Limit Wednesday, and We've Run Out of Names So It's Just Regular Thursday.

The inevitable result of this Black Friday madness is that eventually we will have to top it somehow. Already the game is on:
Bentonville-based Wal-Mart decided it wasn't going to settle for Black Friday alone or even wait until Cyber Monday, getting the jump with a slew of special online deals on Thanksgiving Day. Among the specially-priced items featured at on Thanksgiving were...
Won't be long before Thanksgiving itself will become a day for shopping, and people will start having their turkey dinners on Wednesday evening to get ahead of the curve. Then some smarty pants will start pushing the start of the shopping frenzy back to the weekend before Thanksgiving, then Halloween, then Labor Day, and in a few years we'll all be getting up a 3am on the Fifth of July to get half-off on "The Best of Garth Brooks" CDs and George Foreman grills.

I will continue to do my part as a rabid American consumer to keep our economy afloat, but when it comes to getting out of bed in the dark to stand in a line, you're asking too much. Unless there's a good price break on Tickle Me Elmo - then we can talk.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Appropos of nothing

This is really random, but I ran across this most amazing photo while wasting my life on the internet. Look closely.

You can get the story behind this here from Snopes. The description makes the photo even more amazing. Then you should go here to the Carl Hammer Gallery and see another 20 or so like this. Colossal. Astonishing. A real honest "wow."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dogs and pastries molested - details inside

"It's a terrible thing to waste a mind," said our President once, in an attempt to relate the line from that notable ad for the United Negro (yes, that's their word) College Fund.

(Or was it Dan Quayle who said that? Yes, it was Dan Quayle, and the exact quote was

What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.

Whatever happened to Dan Quayle? Wait, I realize I don't care.)

I was using my mind a little yesterday, happily multitasking, and out of the blue the phrase "screw the pooch" popped in. There was no context, no conversation, no reason - just a curious phrase come a'visiting. I treasure these little ADD moments when I am engaged in something "serious" but gleefully follow the mental pied piper as he passes by. So off I went, in pursuit of the origins and true meaning of "screw the pooch."

As is the case with so many of our most vigorous and useful phrases, "screw the pooch" appears to have originated with the military. Sources say the original remark was "f***ing the dog," and was related to the perpetual "hurry up and wait" of military life - a lot of people standing around, waiting for orders, so you might as well - um...have sex with an animal? OK, it's colorful and descriptive, but perhaps not grounded in reality.

Nevertheless, the original phrase got sanitized and became "screw the pooch," but it is less clear how the meaning shifted from "having nothing to do" to "doing something badly," which is the current meaning of "screw the pooch." See if you can work it into conversation today.

Meanwhile, I took a moment to ponder another crafty expression that's always a crowd pleaser - "take a flying f*** at a rolling donut." Sadly, there are not many moments in life when you can successfully whip this one from your quiver of barbs, and that's too bad, because it so thoroughly pierces the recipient while making everyone else laugh. I think Kurt Vonnegut did a lot to popularize the phrase when he used it in his book Slapstick, but I still don't hear it nearly often enough. So it goes.

So what have we learned today? Our beautiful American English is a fertile field sprouting nutritious and delicious turns of phrase. Have some, they're good for you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Flab, Schmab - We Can Still Be Number One!

By Kimi Yoshino, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 9, 2007
The annoyingly catchy song at Disneyland's "It's a Small World" attraction reminds riders that "the oceans are wide."
Whether they're deep enough is another story.

Forty-one years after the whimsical ride debuted at the Anaheim park,Disneyland plans to shutter the attraction in January to give it a much-needed face-lift -- and deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.
Heavier-than-anticipated loads have been causing the boats to come to a standstill in two different spots...
Perhaps in an effort to protect visitors' egos, the park insists that fat tourists aren't to blame.
The boats get stuck because "layers and layers" of fiberglass have built up where maintenance teams have patched and re-patched problem areas, said Disneyland Resort spokesman Bob Tucker. (Whole story here.)

Oh yeah. that's why my pants are so tight, too - layers and layers of fiberglass have built up around my waist.

The truth is, it's NOT a small world after all, it's a big fat world, a rollicking, roly-poly world populated by walking tubs of lard, two hundred pounds of blubber in a hundred pound sack, a world of the "big boned" and those with a "large frame." It's a world where we sneakily widen the seats in movie theaters and apply a sort of grade inflation to clothing so a woman who used to wear a size six can still wear a size six 25 pounds later. We are simultaneously bombarded with stories about how ungodly fat we are, and actively taking measures to maintain denial. We consume Jumbo Jacks and Oreo Blizzards in between calls to Jenny Craig. We watch competitive eating on ESPN. We have a prime time TV show about obese people losing weight. No, my friends, it is not a small world after all.

So considering how hard it is to lose all this extra baggage (and trust me, I know - I tried to lose weight for several hours yesterday, between breakfast and lunch, and it doesn't seem to have worked) I offer an alternative plan.

All I read and hear these days is how China is about to break through and become the dominant super power in the world, how they have all these factories and are consuming all the resources. I think we can stave them off by out-eating them. Look, even scrawny child laborers need some kind of sustenance, right? I say if we Americans stop holding back and just consume the way we want to, we can eat the rug right out from under them. We'll be packing away all the world's calories and they won't have the energy to get up off their mats and bike to work. Sort of a colossal scorched earth policy, but maybe we call it the scrumptious earth policy instead. We eat them into submission. I don't know about you, but I'm sure that in one meal, I can eat all the calories that a 10-year old Chinese girl consumes in a week. In fact, I think I did that yesterday. Maybe three or four times.

So here we go, America, it's time to change the future. Go to the closet and get your fat pants and then go to the fridge and get to work. I know we can do it if we all chew together.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Don't be hating on yourself, broseph

The pigeon is one of the lowliest of creatures. I think it was the great Herb Caen who first called them "rats with wings." Rats themselves are pretty despicable. And not being much of an animal guy, I can think of lots of other critters that gross me out - frogs get no love from me, and if I never see another possum that will be fine.

No matter what I think about these beasts, it doesn't seem to bother them to be what they are. You don't notice any pigeons being annoyed by all the other freaking pigeons swarming around. You don't see rats going off about how crowded the rat den has become. They just climb all over each other and keep doing whatever rats do. So what is it with is home sapiens that makes us hate on our own species so much?

I pondered this issue at a meeting last night where people were up in arms because some more houses are going to be built in their neighborhood. If there's one thing we can generally agree on here in Northern California, it's that we definitely have way too many houses in our own neighborhoods as it is. Whether we live on a street with three houses or 300, it's way too many. We can just barely tolerate the existing neighbors we have, let alone adding any more. What's that? My subdivision was only built 10 years ago? And if the neighbors had their way then, I wouldn't be living here? Hmmm.

I've gotten used to hearing this anti-people argument but it always makes me shake my head. What is it about the presence of more people - our own kind, our own species - that we so despise? What makes us want to deny to someone else the simple joys we get from home and family? What is the root of this pervasive NIMBYism?

Somehow it comes around to self-loathing - if I don't want to have more people like me around, doesn't that mean I don't want to be around myself? After all, if they build some new homes in your neighborhood chances are the people who move in will be a lot like you, and they will have the same wants and needs you have. So what if there are a few more people around? There is always some earlier time when there were less of us, fewer cars, less noise -would we turn back the clock if we could? Turn it back to before we were all born, to make the world a better place?

If you see a bird building a nest, you might appreciate nature in action. But if you see a human building a house, it's time to get up a petition. Go figure.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Blue Collar = Genuine and other perceptions

I'm in a meeting the other day and this guy is describing a part of town as "a historically a blue-collar neighborhood." He went on to make remarks about the people who used to live in that part of town and used words like "genuine." His overall tone was that to be blue collar, which equates to working class, which equates to making less money, is somehow a more honest state of being than to be white collar. (I don't know what other kinds of collar descriptions should be accounted for in today's work world, since there is a lot of diversity these days. There must be more than just blue and white, right? Are there workers with collars of other colors? What about people who work from home in their bathrobes, are they robe collar workers? Are there people who only work in t-shirts who would be "no collar" workers? Dog collar? Shock collar? I need to do more research.)

I've run into this type of thinking before, the "people who work with their hands are the honest, dependable people, they're sincere and authentic." They essentially say that blue collar work is pure and anything else is tainted. They glorify the factory man over the salary man.

The inverse (or is it converse? Or Nike?) is that people who don't work with their hands are the opposite, i.e., white collar workers are dishonest, unreliable, phony - can't be trusted, always manipulating. It strikes me as funny that the same kind of people who show this blue collar bias would probably be offended if someone made broad generalizations about groups of people by gender, or race, or religion - but to generalize about people based on the kind of work they do is ok. Hmmm.

Maybe it comes from the assumption that if you wear a suit, you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, got it all handed to you, never had to work. Or maybe it comes from looking at the world through a lens where aspiring to something can't be trusted, "that guy who used to work down here with us, now he wants to work up there in the bosses' office, he gonna screw us over now."

However you get to it, it makes me laugh when I hear people who probably have never really lived a blue collar life talk about how wonderful it is. I guess they think it would be just glorious to roll off to the plant every morning and do ten hours with sweat dripping off you, and get up again the next day and do it again, and again, and again, for years. And work all the overtime you can get because you need to, every chance you get. I'd bet these mushy-headed people who talk about what's "genuine" don't really know much about it. They are some kind of "artisans" who make decorative geegaws for people's garden fences, or coffee tables made from old barn wood, and they think of themselves as the "workers of the world" or something. They don't know that most people who have busted their asses in real blue collar jobs, in factories and shipyards and quarries, they want something different for their kids. They want them to get an education and not have to bust their asses.

So the next time you hear somebody talking about the real authentic genuine people who do the blue collar jobs, check his fingernails and see if you think he knows what he's talking about.