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Friday, December 31, 2010

Rules as Sport

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The first in a series of explorations on rules, laws and other dictums

Sport is the place where rules are borne out with the most clarity, in theory anyway. We can see the patterns readily developing right before our eyes on a measured course that’s scrutinized by multifarious cameras, officials and analysts. The crimes in sports are well defined, the punishments quickly enacted (unless you’re from Ohio St.), and the guilty parties summarily chastised and called out by number. We want athletes to receive consequences for their actions, whether it be on the field or off (though if you’re from Ohio St. and there’s a big bowl game coming up, the flag is waived temporarily).

The tendency to scrutinize in-game rules is likely connected to the growing societal desire to be litigious. We can’t just let teams play games any more. We feel that we have to micromanage them in order to ensure that justice has been properly served. Watch closely what happens on the field, because sports mimics life, and as such is a microcosm of society.

The following college football rules are presented as being a detriment to the game, causing the accuracy of the outcome to be skewed. One can measure to the nth degree, but if what you’re measuring is based on rules applied in different fashions and you basically don’t know what it is you’re measuring, accurate readings don’t tell you much.

Defensive Timeouts
The defensive team shouldn’t be able to call a timeout once the ball has been placed for the play. It should be like in chess how once you touch a piece, you have to move it. If the ball is in the hands of the center, you live with it at that point. Once the referee relinquishes the ball, it should belong to the offense, and ostensibly the play has then begun, because it now has the potential to begin at any moment the quarterback and center so choose.

Pass Interference
Pass interference should be the distance of the pass play, not just 15 yards. It encourages the defenders to interfere with the pass when they’re beat, and it penalizes the offense that would have had a 30-yard pass play. When we start giving the defense incentives to commit penalties, then we know something’s wrong with the application of the rule.

Think about it… a kickoff that goes out of bounds places the ball at the 40-yard line, which is roughly a 15-yard difference from what would have been expected (although it guarantees there won’t be a return for a touchdown). But a 30-yard pass that is flagrantly broken up before the receiver has a chance to catch it isn’t given due process for the expected outcome. The expected outcome would have been a 30-yard gain or more.

What the pass interference rule shows is a lack of confidence in the official’s ability to make an accurate call, because we apparently don’t want them blowing a potential 50-yard swing, but 15 yards shouldn’t have as much of an effect, and people won’t complain as much. The NFL, on the other hand, spots the penalty at the point of infraction, which makes more sense.

24-second Injuries
If you go out for an injury that stops the clock, you should have to stay on the bench for the rest of that series. This would help curb the faking of injuries, because currently the only dissuading factor is missing one play, which isn’t a punishment at all. I like these trainers who come out on the field to help with the charade. “Where doesn’t it hurt? Do you need a stretcher? Can I get you a latte? How many fingers am I holding, rounding up to the nearest five… OK, my work here is done.”

Delay of Game
This one is silly upon silly. A team hikes the ball 1 second later than their allotted time, and so the play is cancelled, and what happens? A 60-second delay ensues to enact a delay of game penalty against the team that went 1 second over. That’s like spending ten thousand dollars on a trial to convict someone who stole a Zagnut. Can we give the referees a delay of game penalty too? They’re nothing but lawyers with stripes.

Off-setting Personal Fouls
If two opposing players engage in shenanigans, the penalties are washed out like nothing happened? I think they should make both of them do 20 pushups while the organist plays “I’m a Loser.” And personal fouls should result in the rest of that drive without playing. I like the hockey philosophy that you have to spend some time in prison to pay for your misdeeds, and then they’ll let you out into society again when you’re rehabilitated.

Ineligible Receiver Downfield
I hate it when those 350-pound behemoths go out for a corner pattern. It really messes up defenses. Who knows what chaos could result? And what makes them a receiver just because they went downfield? That never made sense to me. Ineligible Schmineligible.

Intentional Grounding
Intentionally trying to get away from the defender and not take a sack. What on earth was the quarterback thinking? Why should a pass have to be toward or near someone? Oh, if you chuck it out of bounds past the line of scrimmage, then apparently that’s different. Why is “avoiding a sack” a bad thing? If you throw the ball before you get tackled, it’s logical that would simply be an incomplete forward pass. Big deal. Maybe just make any forward pass that doesn’t cross the line of scrimmage a live ball.

Yardage on Penalties
Why is the maximum for a standard penalty set at only 15 yards? There should also be 20-yard penalties. They do have spot fouls, but they’re rarely applied. Unnecessary roughness penalties should be something like 25 yards. And the player should have to wear a red sticker on their helmet the rest of the game, indicating that they can’t be trusted.

25-second Clock Between Plays
It’s mainly used to stall in the second half. Do they really need 25 seconds to get ready for each play? No, they just don’t want to have to run more plays. They already have another 10 seconds or so before the ball is spotted. (“Oh, look! There it is…”) The game could be shortened to 40 minutes and have a 15-second clock instead. Then teams couldn’t run out the clock as easily at the end of a game. And then we’d live happily ever after.

Intentional Delay of Game Penalties
If a team purposely takes a penalty in order to better position themselves for a punt, then they should be further penalized for a frivolous use of a penalty. I say tack on another 60 yards and see what they think then.

Pushing the Ball Carrier
Offensive linemen pushing the player with the ball in a pile. This is just wrong. It’s not consistent with other rules. A player can’t hoist another player to give him added height. What is this, group sumo?

Celebrating After a Play
No saluting allowed? Kind of dumb, right? Yeah, I thought so. In our attempt to curtail ostentatious celebrations, we’re limiting basic arm movements?

Defensive Timeouts II
The defense is allowed to call a timeout before a field goal attempt just to ice the kicker. This is misuse of a timeout. A timeout is for planning upcoming plays, not for psychological warfare. If you’re using it for something other than to strategize, you’re wasting the spectator’s time. But it also does raise an interesting concept. Kickers need less time to get ready for a play, and all other players need more time to get ready for a play.

Timeouts in General
Six timeouts per game? Per team? Do the teams really have a burning need for 12 timeouts in a 60-minute contest? Which, by the way, stops on out of bounds plays and incomplete passes and penalties and when the referees need to floss. Timeouts are an excuse to dog it and for the networks to cash in on more advertising.

TV Timeouts After a Kickoff
A team has just received a kickoff and returned the ball, and is ready to go on first down. This needs a commercial break why? Oh no, we just had 7 whole seconds of action, we need to rest again. Can’t you see me panting over here?

Prevent Defense
Success is psychological. Defenses outfox themselves at the end of a half by giving more to the offense, after holding them down the entire half, then they suddenly can’t stop them. On the flipside, the offense which looked lethargic for 29 minutes now appears liberated and unstoppable. As such, I propose that the vaunted Prevent Defense should receive a 15-yard penalty anytime it’s enacted. You just gave that receiver a 15-yard buffer, so you get penalized in kind.

Running Out the Clock
This isn’t American. With 2 minutes to go, a team can run out the clock by taking a knee three times if the other team is out of timeouts. What an unceremoniously anticlimactic way to end a game. All this built-up excitement, excitement, excitement… now let’s check our watches and engage in some helpful time management exercises. Stalling… stalling… going to a knee. Boy, this is fun. At least do something a little more entertaining, like maybe cartwheels or something. Or selling your trophies. Anything would be better than the dipsy-do. I paid $60 for tickets to see the contest culminate with three successive prayers at the end? What happened to “I will fear no evil.” Run it up the gut. Where’s the violence in going to your knee?

Overtime and Out
The Kansas Plan for overtime is a vote of no confidence for the adequacy of the normal rules. Suddenly we have to be transformed to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where suddenly it’s a different game and things become curiouser and curiouser (spellcheck has no respect for Lewis Carroll, by the way). What you’ve been playing for the last sixty minutes was only a mirage, and since you ninnies couldn’t settle it that way, we’ll have to give you some help. It’s like playing half-court in basketball.

This is my most despised rule in all of sports, just ahead of penalty kicks to end a soccer game and making the coach answer three dumb questions at the start of halftime — to which there are three basic answers: we need to execute better, we’ll have to assess that during halftime, and he’s in a coma but we expect him back out there for the second half.

So the Kansas Plan is telling the teams, “We need to give you some help to score because you wouldn’t be able to do it under the normal rules. And you’re pathetic too.” First of all, the teams start on the other team’s 25-yard line, which means they start in field goal range. So the defense already is backed up, and the objective at that point is to hold them to a field goal. This is football? Knute Rockne would be rolling in his grave (which would then be called as a celebration penalty, unless you’re from Ohio St., in which case it will be applied at the start of next season).

Any supposed reasons for needing the Kansas Plan are quickly dispelled. Up front, we should be leery in general of something in football which follows after Kansas. The state rarely, if ever, has an upper tier football program. Why would we want to follow them? They’re lousy at football, and their Master Plan shows it even more. Jayhawks are only good at basketball, and we wouldn’t heed the advice of Navy’s basketball program for a basketball overtime, where they said to start at mid-court and shoot bank shots off the opposing team’s mascot.

So, do they need to start on the 25-yard line because they don’t want it to take a long time? Kicking off and waiting for the first score wouldn’t take long. In the average game, somebody scores halfway through the 1st quarter. Was that so hard? OK, the other objection is that it wouldn’t be equitable for one team to be the kicking team while the other team is the receiving team. Why not? Don’t the general rules already make it equitable? You kick it down, they return it to about the 20 or 25, if you have a good defense, you hold them to a couple first downs and they punt. Voila! But if you allow them to drive all the way down to your 25 and kick a field goal, then you deserve to lose anyway. Oh, but the Kansas Plan says let’s just put them there to begin with and see what develops. Heck, the clock isn’t even used in overtime. I think you can even grab the other player’s face mask without getting flagged. These are not the droids you’re looking for. Everything is different in Pretendville.

As far as being equitable, the artificial component of seeing what the opponent did first and then trying to match it or beat it is an advantage. Does anybody ever win the coin toss and then elect to go first? No, never. That’s probably because it’s so equitable to do either one.

The NFL uses sudden death overtime, which is much more interesting, dramatic and representative of true football skill.

The Under-Review Appeal Process
Reviewing the play and trying to get the next play off before it can get reviewed. There’s something insincere about the whole process. Hurry to see what you can get away with, so you don’t have to stand trial against the revered under-review system. See if you can dodge fate. Other team call a timeout to give the booth more time. It’s a new game within a game. Do we really need added levels of complexity in order to accomplish more cohesiveness?

In truth, the assumed precision of the instant replay review and its inconsistent application is a little unnerving, and even distracting from the natural flow of the game and its enjoyment as a dramatic spectacle. For balls touching the ground on catches or feet staying in bounds, we seem to have to know within a micron if the laws of nature were breeched. And yet on a pass interference call, the receiver can get clobbered before the ball ever arrives, and the replay booth’s reaction is always supposed to be, “Hmm. Good call, ref.” Why the disconnect here? I say every call is a judgment call.

If you’re not going to apply precision across the board, it’s inconsistent and consequently warps the application of the rules. It would be like having a law requiring seatbelts to be worn by adults and then letting everybody else ride motorcycles and go bungee jumping. Oh, they have that already. That’s what I mean.

The game happens in real time, so I believe it should be judged in real time, except possibly in the most extenuating of circumstances, such as perhaps a photo finish in the Preakness — obviously to see if the jockey on Sophie’s Cortisone Shot was using the chop block. But, please, not ten times a game. “Uh-oh, close play again… We are unable to process this play on our own and have no confidence in the ref’s ability to call it correctly, so we may want to override it.” C’mon, where’s your real technology? If the men behind the curtain in the booth are so all-knowing, why can’t they judge it as it happens? Personally, I never second-guess a referee if I couldn’t tell otherwise with the naked eye. If they make an egregious call in error, fine… then let’s reverse those. But the ones where we have to analyze at 1/1000th of a second frames and the supposed precision to measure the touchability of a ball against the ground just because it looks like maybe it did from 100 feet away, that’s a speculative enterprise. I saw a play where the receiver’s foot appeared to be barely touching the sideline. However, what wasn’t accounted for was the 3-dimensional aspect of the situation. From an overhead view, his toe appeared to cross the line, but what couldn’t be seen at that angle or from that distance was if the cleat was actually touching the line underneath, since the toe protrudes without necessarily touching the ground. Sometimes assumed precision is worse than not trying to use a great deal of precision. As humans, we like to think that we’re applying a sophisticated level of judgment, but we err in not recognizing our limitations, and in the flow of a game, getting nitpicky serves no one except maybe covering the officiating crew against liability. Liability from being criticized.

Lack of Playoffs or Lack of Overall Vision
Quit spending so much time on the nitty gritty rules, when the most blatant rule breaking is at the macro level. If properly applied, college football would have at least an 8-team tournament. Think for a second about what the BCS system fundamentally represents. It is completely counterintuitive to the whole idea behind having representative rules which are pure to the game. The BCS system rewards for and encourages scoring additional points. So then the objective becomes not to win the game, but to win the game convincingly. Now style points come into play. A win should be good enough, though. Auburn gets credit for pirouetting and landing the triple Lindy, but TCU was docked for eking out a nail-biter against Sisters of the Poor A&M, who were nursing a 142-game losing streak and had seven players on crutches — who were in the game. But BCS is using too much judging and not letting the outcome be determined by the teams.

In essence, the NCAA championship is not for the entire NCAA FBS (Div. I-A), but just six conferences: the Big Ten, Pac 10, Big East, SEC, ACC and Big 12. Out of the 120 FBS teams, 65 are in those conferences, but 55 are not. So last year, Alabama was the champion of the 65 and Boise St. was the champion of the other 55, and never the twain shall meet. Well, isn’t that special…

And finally, to put in all into perspective, there is no “should have” in sports. If “should have” had any bearing, then there’d be no need to go through the formality of playing the game. The very reason they play the games is because the “should haves” can’t be determined. When an announcer says “He should’ve caught that ball,” the announcer is using a false standard of expectation. There is no should about it. He either catches it or he doesn’t. If he truly should have, then he truly would have. What you could say is, “Normally, you’d expect him to catch a ball like that.” However, nothing in sports is absolute, so you can’t say that a player should always be able to do a certain thing. Human error must be accounted for. If there weren’t human error, then the game could be decided with X’s and O’s in a smoke-filled board room somewhere in Nantucket, while everybody else is relaxing on the beaches of Cancun. So next time a guy drops a ball, what ought to be said is, “Actually, he shouldn’t have caught that ball.”

Players will also make excuses, concluding “We should’ve won that game.” No you shouldn’t have. Because you didn’t. You had the chance and it didn’t happen. It may have been out of your control at some juncture, but that still doesn’t absolve the situation of not having imperfect conditions. Referees make errors. Players make errors. Coaches make errors. They’re supposed to happen. To say we should’ve won if X didn’t happen ignores the fact that many manifestations of X are going to happen in every game. Trying to remove X from the equation is just wishful thinking in action.

I like the ESPN analyst earlier this year who said that Virginia Tech may have lost to Boise St., but we should also consider that Virginia Tech would beat them if they played them again. That’s kind of like when Sirhan Sirhan was asking for parole, he commented to the parole board that Bobby Kennedy would’ve let him go free. Dang, just his luck the one man who would’ve let him free and he had to go and kill him…

But such is the rationale among sport pundits. “If they hadn’t lost, they would’ve won.” Alabama apologists were earlier calling for a measure of reasoning in consideration of Alabama’s rating, in that they had just had three consecutive tough conference road games to contend with, and perhaps Allstate could give them accident forgiveness and call it good. These are the people determining the poll rankings and BCS placement, and we’re not in good hands. As Ed Grimley was wont to say, “We’re doomed as doomed can be…”

Funny also that teams will often say they should’ve won, but when it happens the other way around, they’re curiously not saying “We should’ve lost.” If the should’ves ruled, every team would have a winning record. Oh great, now we’ll have 120 teams going to bowl games. Break out your Lipitor® Anti-Cholesterol Bowl between Akron and San Jose St. That one should be a riveting matchup.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What This is About

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As I recall, I didn’t post anything this month. I believe it’s the first month I’ve gone in the last two years without posting. There are a number of possible contributing factors here, but the most egregious would have to be climate change. That whole summer/fall thing always seems to throw me off. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the fall. I’d wear a t-shirt with that on it if they had one and they didn’t charge too much money and it was in a color that didn’t clash with my hue. But it’s the whole transition thing. We’d be perfectly OK if it was just climate-this or climate-that and stayed that way. But the problem starts when change comes into the equation. Bill Cosby said if it weren’t for change there’d be a lot of wet babies, and President Obama campaigned on a similar platform, though I’m not sure whether he went into as much detail. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Do I have to announce what I’m talking about? Is there some journalistic bylaw that I may violate if I don’t make a declaration? Should I register with the blogger consortium before proceeding? I’d need to know the risk vs. punishment to see if it’s worth it. But short of a handy stylebook, and not wanting to engage in online stylebook warfare, I’ll soldier on.

My post today is about elements. But it’s more than just about elements. It’s about things. It’s about stuff, for lack of a better word. It’s about that nagging feeling you have when you just know there’s something you’re missing and you can’t put your finger on it, and any attempt to ignore it becomes futile, until you’re in a fit of despondency much in the same way a raving maniac is when he knows there’s something missing and he can’t put his finger on it. I realize it’s generally lunatics who corner the market on raving, but in the interest of being non-discriminatory to the maniacal sector of society, we’ll include them too.

Which is another way of saying that the theories on population could be overwrought. Do they truly need to count us? And how do they have reports which say how many people they missed? I’m a little suspicious of anyone with ulterior motives. Call me demented and servile and neurotic and unhinged and pathological — and even daft, if you must — but that’s just the way I am.

Where was I? Oh, that’s right… you can’t talk. You’re the silent type. You just take it all in, but don’t offer anything yourself. Where’s the sport in that? What’s the matter, not that chatty today? Well, you’re no help. OK, I’ll do most of the talking then. In some circles I could be considered a textrovert, which is to say my keyboard enjoys hearing the sound of its own clicking. This is the post-modern version of mumbling to oneself. In offices all around, people have to let out the nervous energy by tapping. They don’t sound busy otherwise. A 2000s person (that’s us) can’t be properly thinking if everything’s silent. If they’re not moving and putting out mass textadelphia, that’s a clear sign something’s askew. And clicking the mouse over and over can only get you so far. After about 37 consecutive clicks, we get the impression you’re just doing it to break the silence. We’re onto you, me and Bobby McGee.

Did I miss any TV shows that might have used the premise to have the same actors play different characters in every episode? I’m still looking for it, so if you see it, I want to be notified. That would be my program of choice, as it would require a lot of ingenuity, and by default it would have to have stellar actors. It has to have an actual storyline, and they need to be in character the entire time. Kind of like Stephen Colbert, but only different. I’m wondering what that guy’s thinking right now. If he’s got any vestige of common sense, he’s got to be hoping that he gets invited back to speak at a congressional hearing, because in his 15 minutes of fame, he took the easy way out and missed a fine opportunity to elevate what he was about, for what was behind door number 2 would have been much more rewarding. His basic choices were to keep telling jokes like he always does so that he can show his audience that he can even tell jokes in front of important people, or to display a real conscience and show that it’s more than about him. Hey, Stephen, other Hollywood types have been there too, but they didn’t have to prove to anyone that they had what it takes. They let their body of work speak for itself. If a person can’t step outside of his act for a worthy cause long enough to leave a few impressions, then you start to wonder how comfortable they are with themselves. This isn’t to say that Colbert wasn’t funny. He just picked a bizarre stage. And yes, that’s what made it even funnier, because he had all the straight men lined up in costume. What a choreographer’s dream! But then how long before the laughter subsides? Now that the curtains have been drawn, it’s evident he could have made a more lasting impression if he hadn’t only gone for the laugh.

My ultimate line of reasoning here was: If he really took the cause so seriously, then why wasn’t he taking it seriously? Can you take something lightly and then expect others not to? Laugh, and the world thinks it’s supposed to laugh with you. He still could’ve told a few jokes as an intro and then acted like a real person for the last few minutes, and then his message would have resonated more with more people. But it was all an inside joke to him. I liken it to an NFL player who gets all giddy upon scoring a touchdown. Act like you’ve been there before. Rise above it. Colbert is funny on a certain level, but he’s not that funny. Having your moments doesn’t quite rise to the level. He’s only 61st on my list of funny people, which essentially means he’s standing in line for a long time and has to bring the others water. I think Don Rickles could take him out in the 2nd round, no problem. Colbert would never know what hit him. And the fact that his right ear doesn’t stick out anywhere close to normally really gives me the willies. If you made $7 million a year, you’d think you could have plastic surgery on your ear, just so it would look a little more like the other one — or like anybody’s other ear for that matter. I’m not making fun of his looks. I don’t need to. At any rate, I’m guessing maybe the guy is bored out of his gourd with his real personality, and can’t bear to put it on display. But this post isn’t about Stephen Colbert. We have congressional hearings for that.

See, Bill Cosby knew he was funny. And he knew everybody else knew. So he didn’t have to wear a sign on his forehead anytime he was on camera that read, “Hey, I’m funny!” At that point, the joke would be on you, the jokester. But this post isn’t about Bill Cosby, though in a parallel universe it could be. And perhaps that’s what this post is about.

The whole idea of parallel universes is a curious one. It seems rather contrived in a way, I must say (as must Ed Grimley). I mean, give me a break… The word ‘parallel’ is merely a fanciful geometric term to indicate conduciveness or coherency, and mock-anything-else you want it to be, if you know what I mean. The universe(s) probably chew up geometry and spit it out for breakfast. After all, if you’re going to borrow (emphasis on the word ‘borrow’) a highly geometric term for the sake of metaphor, then it kind of renders whatever follows as metaphorical as well. I mean, let’s get real. And in the analogy, our universe is a straight line, and there’s another universe that also just so happens to be a straight line (what are the odds?), and then in a stroke of luck the two are just coincidentally equidistant from each other at all points, thereby making them magically delicious.

More compelling than parallel universes would be two universes where one intersects with the other and splits it like an infinitive, sending it mercilessly off into two directions where you’d have a branch universe. This could get exciting even. Think of the jobs that would create, and all the book deals. Otherwise, I’m not interested in another universe that never meets mine. I kind of need it to interact with me somehow eventually, or it quickly becomes irrelevant. I can already imagine uninteractive universes, no problem, so producing a supposed real one that performs the same function isn’t saying much. I need something that transcends that listless paradigm. A tiltiverse, if you will. Besides, if neither of the lines deviate at all, I can easily get that in an 9th grade pop quiz that I didn’t even study for and still got a 96 on. But this isn’t about geometry either. Because nothing is!

It probably all boils down to the stark realization that I’ve never purchased Altoids before, not even in a fit of panic. Oh, I’ve taken them when offered, for I don’t know a polite way of turning them down. But I’ve never been able to bring myself to buy them on my own. If they sold a case of them for a penny, it really wouldn’t alter my strategy. Pennies, after all, could be used for more valuable enterprises, like coin flips and keeping trains entertained. I wouldn’t even steal them if I had the chance. If a security guard came up to me at the store and said to me, “Please steal this package of Altoids, I implore you,” I would need to turn him and/or her down. It wouldn’t be worth the trouble. But then I also wonder on a much more metaphysical level, is it even proper etiquette to be offering someone a breath mint out of the blue like that? What are the implications here? Should the recipient question the giver’s motives? It’s not like you’re giving me something to snack on, or something that’s supposed to taste good. “Mm-mmm, can I have another? Keep those breath mints coming...” For we see a breath mint primarily serves but only a utility. The generous one is not always so generous. And so we can then likewise easily see that it’s all a matter of people coming back to their census, which is ostensibly the declaration of them dependents. That’s what I’ve been trying to say this whole time, and my lexicography wouldn’t permit me the luxury. But what matters is we finally got there, and we’re no worse for the wear, present company excepted and possibly accounted for.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rat's Maze, A Sonnet

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Sometimes and occasionally, backtracking analysis is useful. Nay, demanded. Nay, mandated. Nay, just optional, but still pretty astonishingly somewhat. This can transpire in the most unassuming circumstances, without warning or fanfare. We go to the prism of the automobile windshield, where a streaming video plays out in front of you as you dictate the plot and regard the cast.

Scene I
Two seemingly innocuous words on the roadside, apparently stated merely for informational purposes, but face value is precisely the only thing they want you to take them at. When entering a freeway construction zone, the deep orange warning sign intones about road work ahead, and then the clincher, “Fines Double.” I’m half-expecting Alex Trebek to come out from behind the sign and read off a question. Or an answer — that we need to question. And all on the side of the road to greet me with their applause.

They figure if Wrigley’s could be successful promoting doubling your freshness with Doublemint gum, let’s give it a whirl. Double your pressure with Double-pay Speeding. Has a nice ka-ching! to it.

A few things are at work here, as the psychological implications are vast and furious. First of all, the wording is nothing less than an intimidation technique. Because you are now trespassing into the hallowed confines of the kingdom of construction, you will now be subject to its higher laws, ye unworthy peasants behind the wheel. Bow to the construction gods. When they say to slow, you slow. And when they say to stop, you stop. It may even go back and forth. Stop. OK, slow. OK, stop again. Tsk, tsk, you didn’t say mother may I. Go to the end of the line. Now the flagger has a reasoned vendetta against you. Wake up, plebeian scum, you were just nodding off for a moment.

The sign… the sign. With two carefully chosen words said ever so briefly, “Fines Double” is code for “We’re doubly serious about this.” Ergo, they’re essentially saying, “No, we really mean it this time.” When the stakes are doubled, after all, you know they’re not messing around in the wrist-slapping blissfulness you’re generally accustomed to. This is gambling territory not meant for the faint of heart. We’re talking level orange signs now.

Scene II
So then why don’t they just charge you more without advertising it, and be done with it? No, they want to hang it over you, because they want to place a little fear into you, which also replaces the need to strictly enforce these laws. If one barks loud enough, he need not have sharp teeth.

Note as well the intentional vagueness of the sign. They could without much effort tell you with greater precision how much the fines are, but that wouldn’t sound nearly as daunting. The mysterious effect engenders fear. “Wow, double might mean a million dollars… I might have to take out a loan for that and mortgage my left ventricle. I may want to rethink this strategy.” Such thoughts start spinning in your mind. By this point, they have gained control of your delicate psyche, taking advantage of your need to focus on the road and not your scruples.

You see, they need something to make you callow. In fact, when you think about it and get right down to it, the underlying message is ostensibly that you’ll be getting a really, really bad deal on your speeding ticket. And just your luck this one probably doesn’t have a rebate. The emphasis which the optimist will immediately deduce is that those highway people will have much better rates on their non-construction speeding tickets. So remember, if you must speed, be sure to speed in a non-construction zone. They appreciate your cooperation in this matter. And please take a number.

All in all, it amounts to out-and-out spam signage. Consequently, the sign should be duly processed in your junk sign-mail folder where it belongs. It’s just a matter of time before they put three exclamation points after it and offer the dire warnings ungrammatically: “Fines, yes they doubly!!! We need for your attentions to not speeded or we transferring of your funds to offshore bank accounts.” I always wondered how those spammers got all that extra money. It’s all coming clearer now.

Scene III
Back to the specifics. If they merely said “Fines $250,” people might not feel too threatened by that. But when a nondescript comparison is made, that’s when they’re speaking strictly the consumer’s language. “Compare to Montana’s ticket value of just $175.” Montana may be nice to you, but we’re heartless wretches who are going to milk you for every single ounce of cash we can get out of you, until you’re relegated to coming back here in a homemade go-cart that you have to pedal just to go downhill over a frozen coat of molasses… or maybe it’s even on fire. You see, once the driving consumer knows he’s getting a bad deal, it makes him reconsider his leadfooted ways.

If the traffic intelligentsia were savvier or just more forthcoming marketers, in those now-mundane non-construction zones it would be “50% off all fines. Speed at your leisure.” People would be clamoring to drive there. I want a good deal when I speed, don’t you?

Not too far off, we’ll no doubt have patrolmen offering different speeding plans for our driving convenience. “Sir, you were going 20 miles over the speed limit there. We’ve got a special today where we can give you your next three tickets at 15% off, as long as you speed within the next 12 months.” It’s win-win all around. They make a profit, and you get to feel like you saved money.

It’s not all that outlandish to surmise that in the future we could even have different patrol cars competing for the driver’s business, all lined up on the freeway, with their rates displayed on the side of their vehicle. “Best ticketing rates in the tri-state area.” “Guaranteed ticketing satisfaction or your money back.” “Name brand tickets at discounted prices.” And you thought you were the speed merchant.

Scene IV
Marketers concur that having the fines in a destruction zone increase by 200% is disproportionate, and it simply shows a knee-jerk reaction. Somebody pushed the highway people too far, and now they’ve blown a collective gasket. They’re grounding everybody who dares come onto their roads while they’re trying to pave them. It’s like when you were a kid and the teacher at school lost her patience with one of the students, and so she punished the entire class. I’m guessing somewhere somebody must’ve played flinch with a flagger, and it triggered an explosive construction reaction that has yet to die down. Have you ever seen a flagger that was at peace with himself and/or herself? Not gonna happen. They’re ready to burst at any moment. Messing with a flagger is to mess with one’s fate. Do you ever wonder why there has to be warning signs saying “Flagger Ahead,” so you can protect yourself against them? Now you know why.

Flaggers give you only two lousy choices — Stop, and Slow. So when they finally let you go, it’s with the caveat that “only if you don’t go fast.” I suppose we can’t be trusted if they just said “Go.” They’re no fun at all.

For the sake of those who arrived late, realize that they’re lowering the speed limit by 10 mph while simultaneously increasing the fine. So you’re going along at about 65 mph at the normal speed limit, and you’re being Joe or Jane Good Citizen for the most part (we’ll disregard the stash in your glove box in a display of unexpected altruism). But then if you maintain that once-normal speed into the dreaded zone of mysterious construction wizardry and contortionism, all of a sudden you’re twice the road criminal someone who was previously going 10 mph faster than you were was, and you should be utterly ashamed for your dereliction of duty. Huh? What? Excuse moi? How does that make any vestige of sense? You have entered the Twilight Construction Zone, where it makes perfect sense.

Why don’t they just go all the way and fine people double on holidays too? Hotels raise their rates during the busy seasons, right? Oh, but you know what? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, so we couldn’t do that.

I saw a new 2011 model Ferrari, fire engine red (unless you’re thinking of a yellow fire engine), and all the accoutrements that go into a fine automobile. But the clincher was the words on the side mirror, saying “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear, especially in a construction zone.” It’s pervasive. Soon, they’ll put a construction zone in your driveway, and make you beholden to the flaggers. “We’re patching up some cracks in the pavement here. May take three or four months. Sorry — roadwork rules the road.”

The whole psychology of risk is in play in this scenario. By making the risk factor twice as much, the powers that fee have caused the mathematical driver to calculate the old benefit against the new drawback. Where before it was a pretty reasonable tradeoff — go real fast and pay us some money — now it had become twofold. They’re in essence saying to the driving public, “Do ya feel lucky, punk? Well… do ya?”

I almost got a ticket one time, back in 1997, and I was pulled over, naturally, in a construction zone on the highway near The Dalles, Oregon, which is probably the headquarters for all of road construction. It would just figure. And only an egotistical town would give itself an article in its name. I wonder if they have a The Home Depot there. Probably the headquarters for that too…

So, back to The Dreaded Dalles, they were purportedly fixing a 7-mile stretch on highway 84, and I’d never driven by there before. I was cited for a ticket even though I pleaded insanity, but after later challenging it on grounds that I must’ve been blocked by a semi trailer from seeing the reduced speed sign, the ticket was graciously waived, which kept my string of ticketlessness firmly intact. The scales of justice had gloriously balanced.

But the ominous story continues. Seven unassuming years later, after the statute of limitations had surely run out from my last near-ticket, I happen to be driving by The PayPal Dalles again, and lo and behold on the very same stretch of highway, there was what? I’ll let you guess. C’mon give it a try. Ah, bashful eh? Can you say ‘construction zone’, boys and girls? They were still trying to catch me in it! It hadn’t even moved. Confirming my earlier suspicions, that miserable stretch of highway had all the trappings of a no-good sting operation. Draw your own conclusions if you must. Or more accurately, it was doubling — as a speed trap. Sorry, not taking the cheese again.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Of Passwords and That's All

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The objective of a password is to keep a person from getting into their own account, I mean a hacker from getting into that account. The password generally needs to be six or eight characters, mixing in numbers, symbols, capital letters, and assorted cooking implements — in order to thwart the dastardly perpetrator (starring Hugh Beaumont). This highly intricate process keeps the good people out, I mean the bad people out, and then provides a backup means of verification should any of the good people decide to go over to the bad side.

Alas, the password keeper’s dilemma: Make a password that is memorable enough to retain within the brain while also having it be discreet enough to be unpredictable and thereby unhackable, but still not too similar to other passwords they have on other accounts, which then makes it harder to commit them all to memory, so then they have to write them down somewhere, so then if someone finds their list of passwords, they have found a goldmine.

When one enters a password, the password field cleverly hides what you’re typing by replacing the characters with black dots. ••••••• They’re kind of like Braille, but you can’t feel them. So we have our black dots displaying on screen. That way, if somebody’s watching over your shoulder as you enter your password, they won’t see what it is, although if you can’t trust a person looking over your shoulder, then who can you trust? Ah, therein lies the problem.

And yet they could just watch your keystrokes if they’re quick enough, or if you’re slow enough by typing with one finger, or if they’re videotaping it, or if they take seven pictures of it, or if you say everything you type out loud, or if your password is the same letter eight times, or if you do your password telepathically. Actually that last one hasn’t been verified by the Food & Drug Administration for any claims made. Or if you’re real dumb and accidentally type your password up in the user name field for all to see… well, then all bets are off. If you happen to be one who shares passwords across accounts, then you may have just revealed 30% of your portfolio, and now it’s a race to see if you can change the passwords in all of them before they can be logged into by the hacker’s army. Ready, go!

We wonder how identity theft works. The credit card companies tell us they’re helping protect us from the bad identity thieves, and for a minimal fee, the credit card company will gladly become the thief instead. And then when we become too complacent, they mysteriously turn a blind eye and let some inadvertently go through, and then they gallantly come to our rescue and say even though someone used your card to purchase the Taj Mahal, they’re willing to waive it and offer us a great deal on increased protection. Our heroes! They saved us from certain doom, snatching us from the jaws of a would-be IdentiTheft Protection subversive in a single bound. We should throw more money at them for giving us such a false sense of security. They let somebody get through… sure I’ll pay you more after that. Where do I sign?

But here’s the thing… Do we really need those black dots for passwords? Why have them at all? It helps you to see how many characters you’ve typed. That’s something the Atari people would’ve gotten excited about. But does that do much good in the world of non-make believe? Not really, because you still don’t know if the characters you’ve typed are correct. You might be looking at seven black dots thinking you’re golden and all you need left is a capital Z. So you type the capital Z, and then press Enter, but it comes up wrong. So you have to re-type the whole thing anyway. Or maybe you accidentally typed everything on one hand a key to the right (O jate wjem tjat ja[[ems). So you could easily waste a good 6 seconds typing along without realizing that you have already blown it. Meanwhile, the keyboard is trying to communicate with you: “You sure about that? I mean I’ll type them if you really want me to, but I don’t see the point. Hey, you! Wake up, you typing fool!”

In essence, the dots are quite often providing a false sense of hope, making you believe that you’re only 1 or 2 keystrokes away from completing the required password, only to have your hopes dashed to smithereens. If the dots really wanted to help, they’d give you a character-by-character analysis. “Good, yes, another good one, keep going, almost there, nice, good job, you’re smokin’ now, and… ehhhhhh! I’m sorry, thank you for playing… Please try again. Are you on drugs? Don’t you know what the Caps Lock is? Do you have pea soup for brains? Is it really that hard to push seven or eight buttons without getting disoriented? You’re the advanced species, right? Oh, does Mr. Typer need a little remedial typing there? Ah, so sad. Or maybe… maybe you actually did type the keys you meant to, but that memory of yours is so messed up from all the chemicals running around in your skull that you have trouble spelling your own name even when being spotted the first two letters. All right, we’ll give you maybe one more chance, and possibly two on good behavior, before we exile you to Mesopotamia, where you will undergo lab experiments on Pavlovian responses based on typing the wrong keys, you plebeian ball of ear wax. And the electrical shock adds a level of excitement to the proceedings. Then we’ll see how well you concentrate when the chips are really down, and one false move can mean the difference between success and having your adenoids put on a skewer.” Unquote. I don’t know… maybe your dots don’t talk to you. Maybe that only comes with Vista, who knows. At any rate, a little pressure never caused any damage. Being trained in keyboard espionage to type under intense scrutiny can only help you in the long run.  

The truth is we all secretly want to have progress bars associated with our personas, to monitor what we’ve supposedly accomplished, and this is what the black dots serve to do, filling an at once vital psychological albeit empty need. When we see black dots as we’re typing, it gives us a grand sense of fulfillment, like our keystrokes have not gone for naught. They’re getting validated right there on the screen in real time. n8G%1y9Q has meaning, dang it. Oh, rats. Now I’m going to have to redo all my online financial accounts. That was rather poorly planned.

And here’s the rub.* With the black dots showing up on the screen, that would seem to help hackers when they’re attempting to crack a password, giving them a greater degree of precision. We don’t want the hackers to achieve any type of fulfillment. The trade-off on benefit and downside of having the black dots seems null.

(*-Everything has a rub. They should just put the rub part at the beginning and get it over with.)

Password fields should likewise be encrypted. And when a hacking program tries to decipher the true password, it should encrypt the attempt. Randomly arrange the characters and replace two of them with crossbones just to mix things up. Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have a match there. Would you like to play a game?

Sociologically speaking, the need for passwords is a rather sad commentary on society. We can’t respect each other’s property enough, and so the idea of a reasonable level of civility within our world must be reserved to “How ya doin’?” (or in some parts of Missouri, “Whatcha doin’?”) when we run into somebody in public, but otherwise a generous portion of them would steal you blind when given the chance. Any notion of safety only comes from building bigger safeguards than the hackers and thieves can build. It’s a carnivorous world out there, and passwords provide a wondrous microcosm for this delightful phenomenon.

And that is why we must eradicate the black dots for passwords. After all, who knows what’s really inside of them? Whatever it is, they’re a tool of the hackers for aiding their cause. In the meantime, I’d recommend having passwords that are at least 28 characters long so that the hackers can’t see all of them at once, and it complicates the whole counting process.

Wait, now I’m giving away my secrets to the hackers. But I did that on purpose, knowing you hackers would think I was telling you the real techniques. However, if I did that, then I wouldn’t have needed to explain that I did it, so maybe I’m just trying to obfuscate, in which case you have no reason to believe that’s what I’m doing. Remember on Dallas when the whole season was just a dream? Me either, but the idea is that you thought this happened but it really didn’t. These were just a bunch of black dots you were reading, devoid of any meaning or content. Move along now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Siren Songs

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The only good thing about having a lack of statistics for extra-sensory qualities is that it still preserves the imagination. Curiosity breeds more curiosity, as Alice adeptly intoned.

Cue number one for the backdrop…

In the midst of listening to aural verse on the earbuds, looking around at the masses, generally quite confident that no one else in the vicinity is listening to the same song. But supposing in the rare event that they were, it would only be apropos for both of us to get up and righteously dance into the center of the auditorium. These visions keep coming, and I presume they are mine. Nevertheless, any logistical problems — a la finding ourselves at different parts within the song — are academic to the main idea. A song’s rhythm is not about one moment, is it? Each song a rhythm conglomerate, each album a rhythm de force. In speaking of rhythm, not the traditional meaning of a beat, but the underlying wave elements molding a song, as it sways in various directions. But my playlist en toto meanders in and out of obscura sans camera, to the point that a match with other passers-by would translate into only the serendipitest of occurrences. Like that would ever happen.

I set the player to stun, which is also shuffle.

Up next is mellower rock of a more classic era. Able to muse with confidence that nobody else in this city is simultaneously listening to Marillion’s erstwhile “Blind Curve” (circa 1985). The older your circa is, the less likely another is partaking from the same well.

Which then makes me wonder, how far away is the closest person who is listening to this same song? Someday they’ll have a universal web site that can perform this indispensible function of sorts, but in the meantime I have to postulate with the synapses intact.

The careful thinker would posit to set Marillion’s song to 381 miles, spanning parts of Canada all the way down to mid-California. A cult band in the progressive realm with a decent following, yet the radio pooh-poohs them like a three-year-old unadvisedly shuns cheesecake placed right in front of its nose.

A handful of people might be listening to the album from which it comes (Misplaced Childhood), but perhaps only one other is on the same track at the same time. You figure in a statistically responsible way that with a 9-minute song, you have about a 4½-minute window in which you and another listener will cross before one of you goes to another song. All in all, a good song to play when you need some space, to the tune of 90,000 square miles. I’ve got a monopoly on this song, increasing its wholesale intrinsic value.

On the other end of the spectrum, when feeling too isolated, one can all too easily hit the charts and imbibe in mass appeal, a veritable feeding frenzy obsessed with “what are they listening to?” as well as “at this exact moment on the chronograph.” I can go in that direction, but only in moderation before spiraling into a Lord Vader flight path. Instead of piranhas, I’ll take anchovies, please. Ultimately, I settle in nicely with Leona Lewis’ offering “Brave” from her latest album in 2009. A smart and savvy artist who knows the wisdom in staying within one’s limits (what a concept) and (who ever thought of that), and the non-diva can spin a nice melody. No fluke she, Lewis has begun her career with two intriguing albums (yes… gasp! … albums). I like the trajectory she’s on. In the mold of Alicia Keys, not selling out to the machine but putting heart into her craft, Lewis is going to make some noise before she’s done. Mark my earbuds.

So she brings me back to a 17-mile radius of concurrent listeners, making me feel a little cozier about the process. That’s pretty close to reaching my aura under certain weather conditions.

But that was all too easy. The serious distance listener requires more of a challenge. Not that it was Leona’s fault, per se. She just has wider appeal, and she has a newer sheen on her. In another ten years, her radius will extend into the 50-mile range. But I won’t be losing her signal.

In wishing for what’s coming up, there are many variables to consider. Is my mood pensive or jilted, floating or fixated? Where will the mind’s soundtrack venture next? Only the shadow shuffler knows… Let’s go with a mixture of melancholy with a pinch of vinegar in it. Something to keep the senses off kilter enough to cause them to pay some authentic attention. Next we come across Amorphis’ thoughtful rendition of its own “Alone” from 2001. Amorphis seems a tad angry at the world here, but it comes across as a controlled and justified anger, which garners more respect. I don’t know what the song is about, but it sounds like justice is somehow occurring, so that’s what we would term cool.

The track almost threatens a wild eruption of sound, while still keeping it streamlined within something meaningful. It makes you think it wants to get hard-edged, but it’s the anticipation of it, that quality that fills in for actual blasts, not tearing up your speakers while letting you get the effect all the same. The best of both worlds — portending a total rock-out without having to jump in the water. Sunbathers know the mist is often enough.

In retrospect, I figure this one has a 78-mile radius, which is far enough away that I’m not going to meet any of these people anytime soon. They remain in their world and I remain in mine. Were there any global conflicts brewing between our worlds, we would still be safe for the time being. But Amorphis did its part to settle our differences.

After that sojourn into pseudo-ragged territory, we wind it down a notch, and we’re ready to get a little beat going, but only subtly. We’ll let the melody drive it. Time for Clearlake’s piece de resistance, “Getting Light Outside” from 2006. At least it is to me, and this is my concert I’m conducting, so I’m going to give them a Grammy nomination for this one. Play on, band. Don’t really know if it ever made the charts, so it’s hard to gauge how closely it reaches. It feels like a 52-miler. This is nearness territory while still giving a fair portion of wandering room.

You can’t very well end with a song like that, because one good tune deserves another, begging for an encore of emotions. Well, you have to end somewhere eventually, but you can wrap it up with something more on the mellow side. Cue Godley & Crème’s 1985 offering “Cry,” which draws emotion out of you even if you resist. Being 25 years old, it’s surely less commonly played than it was in its heyday, so we’ll give it 11 miles, which makes us feel comfortable about our surroundings and we can end on a good note.

No, don’t skip it just because they opened with a cut from their 10cc days. Be quiet, they said. Requesting quiet…

Now this is where you could sink into the pavement as all your muscular tissue turns to jello — probably green, but not with carrots in it. Carrots only belong in food with pictures of them on it, like carrot cake.

The shadow shuffler gave me a decent cross-section of styles, as it is wont to do. Sometimes it might be heavier, but for our current situation it wanted to be nice to the readers, because four of the five of you go for the tamer variety. On a different day, there’s a different play. Pearl Jam will have to get in line like everyone else. Nobody died and made you guys king of hard rock, Mr. Jam. Now I start conversing with the characters within my playlist, even when they’re not present. I tell some of them to stop teasing Manilow. It rankles Metallica when I point out not only was Barry more well-received than they, but he was also more accomplished. Accomplished means you had lots of good songs. I didn’t say I had anything against Metallica and their clones, but they need not get carried away into visions of grandeur. They take up only a small portion of my songfest. It’s OK to like the Carpenters and Grand Funk Railroad at the same time. It won’t upset the Time/Life Music continuum. Meanwhile, I threaten to play “Looks Like We Made It,” and it puts them all in their place. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Occasionally I stumble across inadvertent tracks that provide a hiccup to the proceedings. When are the Michael Jackson tributes going to stop? Let the guy rest. Tom Waits ebulliently crooning “Beat It” just doesn’t seem right. Note to self: Justin Bieber’s got a real future ahead of him. May he have the good judgment not to mess it up with music.

Oh wait! There’s more! The son of encore! If you act now, we’ll throw in “Shine” by Martin Ansell as a bonus, from the Better Off Dead soundtrack, also of 1985. Shadow shuffler is on a nostalgic kick, this being the 25th anniversary of some year or another. But this song acts as one of my guilty pleasures which never hit a wide audience, with the movie deservedly garnering all the notice. Yet the song somehow manages to pose as near perfect pop once it gets moving. And it’s peppy beyond le pew. If I’m not mistaken, I believe the message is probably something feel-good too. This would be an ideal workout song for moms all around to be listening to. I’ll bet there’s still one of them about 134 miles away who is.

Listening to rock, you’re on a roll, so one can’t very well stop now. I wonder what’s next, and how far away it reaches…

Ah, the things that go on inside earbuds.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Requiem For Rungs, Pt. III

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If this were written two weeks ago, this is what it would say. Things would be out of order, and yet isn't the order they were already in arbitrary anyway? We like to sort things and think of them as definitive that way, yet there's a plethora of suitable orders. If we feel married to one, it's most likely due to familiarity. We identify with the immediate. We like things that belong to us or that we're a part of. If we've been in a city for a time, it tends to become a part of our identity. We feel some pride when famous people come from our hometown or other close location, and yet why? It wasn't anything we did to bring it about. And having a luminary come from somewhere isn't necessarily a reflection on that place. Everybody has to come from somewhere.

That being said, the earlier post was believed to be standing on its own and still is, though as towers can teeter and climbers can babble, it reportedly behooves us to assume more foundation to it. In the spirit of overtly sanitized subtitles, slight explanations are in order without deconstructing the piece beyond its usefulness.

Like the outdoorsman on TV who thinks he’s really doing something incredible out in the wilderness, as he climbs over difficult terrain in the midst of various feral beasts, without a map, without sustenance or any of the comforts of life. Until we realize that the cameraman has been doing the same thing while also lugging around the camera and pointing it at our supposed hero. By writing about a writing, it can put an unnecessary camera on it. To breathe properly, an idea needs to exist in its natural habitat, which is to not be produced in multifarious perspectives. Often when watching movies, I can't separate myself from the notion that a cameraman is following all this action. It takes me out of the moment, which process isn't an improvement.

We naturally think more = more. But less is just as often more than more. Strict accumulation can't be every answer.

So when discussing meaning, it's akin to looking at a mirror in the mirror. You can't step outside of it to analyze it. What was demonstrated was that words are just dressing for meaning, but whatever the underlying meaning is can survive without much assistance from words.

The other concept alluded to was how phrases become so commonly utilized that deviations from them seem foreign to us, and we get out of our zone of comfort and thus confusion ensues. But part of learning is in learning extended ways of describing what is thought and what is felt. Thus, innovative, creative and unconventional ways of approaching a subject — one would think — ought to be encouraged. Although it's antithetical to group thought, because a group can't be unconventional. Whatever the group chooses is conventional by definition. What a conundrum for us.

Outside the box is in the box if the group embraces it.

As the trappings are torn away from communication and in this case literature, meaning can illuminate. But if we're thinking only in patterned ways, the meaning won't always be revealed to us. An open mind not only welcomes but searches for challenges to existing modes of thinking. Style can be sacrificed without losing the core. If we spent less time on stylistic concerns, we'd be so much further ahead. Look at things in different ways, and dimensions come to you that weren't there before. This is learning, unlike fact-finding.

So you can read broken down prose and still elicit the purity of it. Meaning is everywhere, even where it's not dressed up. You can't judge an idea by the words that mask it.

The aforementioned exercise was all subliminal, and you can forget it now, because it doesn't need to reside in your conscious. On three, you will be awakened and return to your normal state. 1... 2...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bespeaking Rungs

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For example, I this began to germinate three weeks hence ago. While it represents a mass of and accumulated observations-in-waiting that continue. Subjected to topical thematic as we are, thus settling into essential groove for security and such. In making of sense because we having relied on speech figures into equation to come out equivalent while weighing varied differences. Some flinch at suggested to one being cast idiomatic, less construe phraseology possessing capacities within the arena of mentality. Closer looking as we do, the objection proves itself neutrality without thought necessary of staid consciousness. Harming none, thereby fewer fouling as ergo result.

Connotations emanate weightlessly staring past hints in structural fortitude, underlying bounteous roots from context askance. Inexorably positioned amidst conforming latitudes, molded artifact and prototype alike repetitiously angled for striking targeted norms in their wake.

The mindlessness efforts ongoing to reel back in away from fictionary expressions it has conveyed during au natural state. Getting filled gaps that unfit a template sought after makes. Happens as in language of communicated becomes obviously extended degrees, however and yet, small area this microcosm among participating all involved entities.

Sentenced to de facto wordful organizations. Thus willingly prescribed did we onwardly set forth devoid of unambition. Ideas fortuitously locked in random place, assuming to belong we thinking otherwise fail.

Asking tempestuously why hard of reading? Things hard to expertly avoid. Also why ask is all converse as similar makeup? Boxes as the size of smallness for holding thoughtless space. Yet better in inquiring: where ask why? Questioning convention having ultimate in perspectives.

Someone they us I tries contemplates mix stultify around betwixt for amongst intimately delicately with fervor in unison effervescent languid entwined ribald curmudgeonlike goo involves.

Not existing, paragraphs are likable still to us.

Ah, rutted stuckage. They musing aloud at conformity of heart. Looped interference coagulation, looped interference coagulation, looped interference nondescript listless furtive curtailed habitat swelling for seconds parchment ailments robustly channeling spirals ad infinitum portions in lieu of detailed wreckage vestiges as if to say tremors xenophobic comeuppance belonging charitably lingering by a modal kiosk with an herbivore on the lurch style of ambient happenstance relegated seemingly overly maniacal preposterous anecdotal excuse for coagulation. Looped even.

Blissful comforted zoning of minds. Staying put for reasons indefatigable to known realms. Braintrust to stretched out, for allows in richly content that's more so present. Parameters meant for staying rightful course pursuant with taxonomy triumphant. Intelligentsia is as intelligentsia deliberately selfsame harmoniously does.

Rescued imaging sways all definition from colorless terms simultaneously adding to. Lexicon can lichen itself in graphical splendorous with purposeful ardor, as transforms across dimensia, never losing a morsel for the tattered wear. Lines cross to meander, jostling in incandescent rhythmic patterning. Everything it so clings in voluminous quantities, just as musically comes to merciful end and no seating left unturned we pay the vendors to spin of yarn into material article to wrap in snugly, wearing well fashionably.

Conceptual agitating into veritable textual atrophy beleaguered in and out of obscurity, frittering away seamlessly what special criteria finagles in arbitrary nestled dry the zephyr glib verity module as in outer whimsy. Meaning. Meaning. Meaning carries. Meaning as valid meaning. Meaning so into as it perpetuates it emerges it survives it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Better Simulate Than Never

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In the modernistic manifestation of warfare, gaming consumers have taken over the world. Paramount to the gamesmanship is the notion that a person can conquer entire empires in one evening if everything goes right and still be in bed by 1:00 a.m. with nary a scratch to show for the struggle. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. And perhaps it’s just that we’re so fond of dreaming.

People Wii Wii Wii all the way home, and sometimes to enact a representation they may have to bring themselves to sit up in bed when they wake up (raising eyelids optional), but it’s still worth all the extra effort. They pretend they’re walking out to the car. Then they pretend they’re driving to work. Then they pretend they’re doing their job. Then they pretend to get groceries at the store. Then they pretend to eat them for dinner. It’s the diet of the future… Kind of like gum, but we’ll continue acting like it’s a novel thought.

Modern man appears to be over-enjoying his simulated life, beings that regular life plods along agonizingly at a snail’s pace, and he doesn’t have ample time for that. Who would’ve figured that there’s not enough room in your schedule to fit in life. Sorry, too many other things to do. I’ll live when I’m dead. Or I’ll live vicariously. One of those.

Unable to help but ask why humans have such a predilection for simulating. We role-play to the nth degree. Space aliens chronicling our recent history would have a hard time deciphering what was real and what wasn’t. Is that them, or are they just playing one on TV? It’s the perfect cover-up in case of interstellar invasion. We’re nothing if not prescient beings.

Following the humanistic bent, we engage in games that simulate life — board games, video games, even self-admitted role playing games — as well as sports themselves that simulate battles, conquests, attacks, etc. One team must defeat another. In order for one to triumph, there must be another to be triumphed over. We even simulate the simulation with fantasy sports leagues. And somewhere along the way cheerleading became a competition, throwing a wrench into the whole makeup of the cosmos from which we may never recover.

We participate in and watch plays, movies, and television shows. We read stories and fictional novels that transform us into a microcosm of life apart from our real life. We follow celebrities who are said to represent the idyllic life, and often revere them as something otherworldly because of their fictional portrayals, relating more to their characters than their actual selves.

Even our food simulates things — alphabet soup noodles, various breakfast cereals in the shape of a fruit, or a star, or an interballistic missile (it could happen). Any synthetic artificial flavoring or smell meant to remind you of the real thing. And don’t forget that they’re tropical. That little pinch of benzene in your shampoo is surely a true slice of exotic paradise captured in a bottle. It’s from the mountains, the jungles, the islands. It says so right on the label. Candies are often shaped like little animals or cartoon characters. Animal crackers in my soup… And so something tends to symbolize something else. Or in other words, almost nothing is what it really is.

This infernal glut of activities can all take up possibly a third of our leisure time. For teens and those who have been able to matriculate on into their more nocturnal college years, it might even be more than two-thirds. This isn’t much cause for concern, however, as we’re assured people still have to eat and sleep to stay alive, giving them at least some incentive so that they can still be in a breathing state when the time to meet Napoleon’s army at the Alamo with their squadron of F-15’s rolls around again. And the salient point is it could alter the course of someone’s history.

Why don't we just enjoy life itself, but rather many of us feel the need to constantly simulate the real thing? Do we need simulation with a ‘t’ in it for our stimulation? Is simulation the easy and less costly way to do the things that you wish you could do in real life? Are we trying to somehow escape reality because it's either too painful or too difficult to understand? Do we have to project our lives in order to make them seem interesting to us? Are we having a hard time finding our own identities so we have to invent alter egos?

Freud cited our unconscious wish to end the everyday struggles for happiness and survival in a) our desire for peace, and b) attempts to escape reality through fiction, media, and drugs. We seem to need a certain level of unrealism to fight off the realism. But all things in moderation. Sigmund would be going berserk in retrograde if he’d been born a hundred years later.

A rather pertinent question at hand from the psychiatric realm: When was your last virtual reality check?

Children have the creativity to implement the playing of toys all day long in every event they encounter, so it's a streaming video for them. They continue playing at meals, take Spiderman to the bathroom with them, and sleep with the stuffed animal of the month propped up on their pillow. The older we get, we have a harder time hiding our toys because they’ve become bigger and more conspicuous, so we try to be more discreet about it. We leave teddy on the nightstand and telecommunicate with him through the empty darkness until morning finally arrives. Don’t tell me nobody else does that.

What does this have to do with Legos? There’s an interesting phenomenon wherein we make building blocks to simulate real-life things, and then we transfer that simulated effect to areas where the simulation isn’t necessary but we do it anyway because it adds another level of fascination. Computer animation of Lego figures need not contain round nubbies on top of everything, but somehow in our psyche we like them there because it helps us stay in the regimented pretend world of Legorama. Another manifestation for the willing suspension of disbelief, and maybe a place to dream about because we know it’s not real. The emperor wears so many clothes that he’s practically sweating, and yet is still managing to get a healthy tan. Indeed, the best of both worlds. Live in one as is convenient, checking in whenever sustenance gets low, and then hang out in the other to while away the ticks on the clock.

But then what does this all have to do with smileys? The beloved smileys of yore started out as simple round figured faces with charming grins on them, with only minor modifications. They were darling to our way of thinking because they were simplified caricatures of moods. Over time, they became more complex, to the point that they were no longer simplified and in essence lost their innocent nature, thus no longer being cute. They grew appendages and became transmogrified into something more primal, which defeated the original intent. Picture a complex simplicity, and now you see the bi-polar smiley at wit’s end. Somewhere that threshold of innocence into pretentiousness got crossed. Like any virtue, cuteness can’t be forced, but must be nurtured. Less is more. Piling more on just covers up the core elements of the pile.

Also interesting is that so-called reality TV shows are at best untainted simulation (at worst, they’re an indictment against our collective quotient for reasonableness, but we all digress…). The mere fact that the shows are simulating reality doesn’t make them all that different from any other simulation. They are actually less real because they presume a greater reality which they do not possess, carrying a large presumption tax in the whole process. If you’re gonna say you’re real, you darned well better be somewhere in the vicinity of real or you lose extra reality points. Hypocrisy, after all, is worse than claiming nothing. What these shows end up accomplishing is a self-satire, and why people are fixated on their insensibility may not be uncovered for decades by neurosurgeons.

To add another viable element to the equation, regard Erasmus’ writing 501 years ago from The Praise of Folly:
“If a person were to try stripping the disguises from actors while they play a scene upon the stage, showing to the audience their real looks and the faces they were born with, would not such a one spoil the whole play? And would not the spectators think he deserved to be driven out of the theatre with brickbats, as a drunken disturber? ... Now what else is the whole life of mortals but a sort of comedy, in which the various actors, disguised by various costumes and masks, walk on and each play their part, until the manager waves them off the stage? Moreover, this manager frequently bids the same actor to go back in a different costume, so that he who has but lately played the king in scarlet now acts the flunkey in patched clothes. Thus all things are presented by shadows.”
We could thus venture to say that our ultimate role-playing is when we think we’re being ourselves but we’re instead playing to the crowd. Games themselves can be innocent in balance, yet if we view regular life as a game where we’re playing a part, then it’s all simulated. The games might be our attempts to circumvent having to confront the real stage where true-to-life decisions play out with stark consequences. But we fool ourselves thinking we can evade decisions, because indecision is also a decision. Decisions have to be made one way or another, and either we can make them or they’ll get made for us.

What a good life it is which is embraced in genuine fashion. Only if we choose to use that which identifies us individually are we happily avoiding borrowing our essence without giving, and thus freeing ourselves from our masks. What’s most real is rising from the ashes of virtual obscurity and standing out, being your true self and not the reality show version. We’re all survivors, but if our playground is constrained to painting by the numbers, there’s not much sport in that. First and foremost, absolutely accept no imitations of who you are, for you’re the real deal.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Untold Stories

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All I could think of was flipping, over and over in slow motion. There were suddenly a dozen buzzing voices with just one blurry face.

My last normal thought had been of a mysterious-looking woman in my psyche's rearview mirror with long, wavy hair, making her way across the lawn. My eyes must have wandered just long enough to take my focus off where I was riding.

Another female voice seemed to be attached to the face in front of me. "Are you dead or not?" she asked.

I looked at this face containing the soft but purposeful voice, and mustered a few syllables to demonstrate my consciousness, which at the moment was highly overstated. "Send a— to move... and hers," which I think was supposed to mean, "Get a physician... get me up..." followed by now omnipresent thoughts of the wavy woman. I did all I could to hold my hand up to shade the blinding sun, and for some reason this personified voice grabbed my hand and started shaking it back and forth. She mumbled something about my being an imbecile, which I thought was rather odd considering I had absorbed the brunt of the punishment. So I guess no sympathy from that corner.

And then came a masculine voice. I squinted and saw a gentleman bringing me a wheelchair, but then he wouldn't get out of it, and if I had enough energy then I would've said, "What are you doing in my wheelchair? I need it more than you." But instead, I couldn't make my mouth say what I wanted it to. There was a strange sensation that my intentions were not getting across. I tried motioning, but had little mobility and less strength. The man bringing me my wheelchair kept examining me while talking to the others, but he didn't vacate the chair. I was vacillating between being perturbed at him and managing the sharp twinges in my neck.

Would I ever see the wavy woman again? Was she getting away while I lie motionless baking in the afternoon sun? What cruel twist of fate would dance a dream in front of me one moment to but yank it away and taunt me the next? The dichotomies of life are the killers, I thought to myself. Nobody disagreed with me, locked in my cocoon. Then everyone went away. They had to go somewhere, but I couldn't go. I knew they'd be back, because the park would be closing before long.

In one version, I flip over the handle bars and the earth comes up to greet me. This is replayed often. In another version, a hairy beast grabs my bike and throws me to the ground, leaving me for dead. I can't stop the scene from unwinding. My mind races, but it can't get away. The repetition lends itself to full memorization of every detail, from every angle. I soon become a figment of my own imagination.

"You OK?" Now everybody has robes and gowns on. They must've gone away to change their clothes. "Huh?" What do they mean, am I OK? When are they gonna move me — oh, wait, I'm not at the park any more. This is a rather strange dream.

A woman with long, wavy hair is covered by a mask, and I have a mask too, but it's a bigger mask. This isn't right. I have to leave. But I'm not going anywhere. I've been strapped down and gagged. Meanwhile, a bear cub rides around the table on my bike. It looks in good shape. At least all is not lost.

“Sir, you've fallen and sustained significant injuries,” the woman relays. “Get some rest.” And then it was hazy again.

When I awoke, more people were standing around me. They looked at me like they knew me, half-smiling and half-pensive. A woman who looked sad approached me. “It's Gaston, right?” she asked.

“Uhh... I don't know what you mean...” was all I could think of.

The woman came a little closer and leaned over. “You said your name was Gaston after you fell off the bike. I’m Marcelle,” and she winked. And she waited for some validation of her suspicions.

I just stared. I looked around for anyone who was offering clues. However, it was a cadre of empty faces. They were all in this together. It was then I figured that it was me against them. I had nothing to offer them, and they had even less to offer me.

“I'm sorry,” I said. “I can't tell you what my name is.” And that was all I said. Minutes passed, but one by one they filed out, in a sorrowful march for the destitute. Heads hung low, casting long, dark shadows. I wondered where they were going. I wondered where they had just been. Everything still had a mysterious odor. Over the intercom, a soft but purposeful voice called out, “Doctor Jekyll to the critical ward.” Only later was I to realize that there was no intercom.

* * * * * * * *

“The gig is up. You heard me, the gig is most assuredly up.” No one moved for what seemed like eight seconds. Gunther, who had been staring at the ground trying to stay inconspicuous, looked up and asked sheepishly, “Just out of curiosity, what exactly can I infer from your declaration of the gig being up? And then later if there’s still time for some idle chit-chat, you could perchance enlighten us as to what all comprises a gig, in your humble lexicon, of course.” Olaf was not impressed. His eyes illuminated like a stoplight that had had one too many, and thick plumes of purple smoke began emanating from his flaring nostrils. “I absolutely hate when I get these sinus infections,” he bellowed. “OK, you — the one who thinks he’s on vaudeville — put down your walking stick and get over here.”

“The name’s P.J., sir,” he intoned.

“Is that capitalized or not?” Olaf inquired.

“No capitalization required, sir.”

“You’re lucky, because I’m a firm believer in capital punishment. It would appear that this is your lucky day.” He motioned for P.J. to stand over by the rest of them.

Meanwhile, Igor was remembering his previous breath like it was just yesterday. “Oh yeah, I forgot about you,” Olaf sarcastically confessed. And he eased up on Igor’s throat enough to let through tiny wisps of oxygen, about one molecule at a time.

“You don’t think I know the match was fixed? Gunther, you were duped.” Gunther, thereby having been duped, dropped his jaw melodramatically for effect. “No way.” “Yep. Tell ‘em, Igor. Oh, you can’t talk, can you? Hmm. That could be a problem...”

Olaf towered over the rest of them. His aura of supreme dominance resonated like a radio station on steroids. “You see, P.J. here was being fed messages via a highly integrated signal containing various Old and New Testament scripture. We at first became suspicious when his knight captured three successive pawns in classic Tiberian strategy. But the clincher when we finally intercepted the messages six moves prior to checkmate came with the striking blow of 1 Peter 2:25: ‘For ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the shepherd and bishop of your souls,’ which was curiously followed by a bishop’s advance to the left flank, limiting the king to only two possible moves. Yes, it’s true, and—”

A shot rang out from the stolid air, catching Olaf in his only Achilles heel — his Achilles heel. This sent him spinning to the floor, and Igor was released from his grasp.

Ursula sprang down from the rafters with technotronic highbeam maple-powered phaser — complete with gamma ray photon equalizer — in hand, and stood in front of Olaf, who was lying in the fetal position and chanting passages from the Apocrypha.

“So… we’re not so smart any more, are we?” She pointed her weapon at his forehead. “I’ll give you eleven seconds to reveal to me the location of your hideout,” she said.

“Only eleven seconds? I can’t possibly—”

“OK, we’ll make it fourteen seconds, but only because I’m in a good mood. You’re on the clock.” And all eyes were on Olaf.

“Ah— OK, you win. Our operation… is at a concealed location that you can only get to by—”

Bang! And in an instant, Olaf was dead.

“Who did that?” Ursula asked. “Who shot him? That was only twelve seconds by my watch. What did the rest of you have?”

“I had thirteen seconds,” said Gunther.

“I had twelve seconds,” said P.J..

“Me too,” said Igor.

“Well then,” said Ursula, “it appears someone around here has got a bad watch.” And she looked around the room. Everyone was empty-handed.

Ursula crouched down next to Olaf. “Do you have any last words, my friend?”

“He’s dead, Ursula,” reminded Igor.

“Oh, right.” Ursula examined the wound carefully. “It appears that the shot was fired from that direction,” and she pointed toward the doorway. “It came at a 28° angle at a velocity of approximately 1100 feet per second. Based on those factors and the barometric reading on the wall, I’d say there are only two people who could have fired that shot…”

* * * * * * * *

Two years later

Gaston lived out his days in the Rockies, communing with nature and trying desperately to ditch P.J., who in his spare time had started a cult of nomadic paleontologists. One day, P.J. (which stands for "P.J.") set an entire mountainside aflame with a lighter and some aerosol cans. He claimed it was an accident, however 384 aerosol cans were found strewn about within a 5-mile radius. He was to be sentenced to three years in prison, except that there were no police and no legal system, which got him off on a technicality. Gaston eventually decided to change his own name to Charlie Chaplin (no relation to Scott Joplin), citing the cane he was given by P.J. at his 80th birthday party as his inspiration.

Marcelle became a legend that was told throughout generations. Eventually, she reached the stratus of possessing magical qualities. Her modus operandi was to shrink herself so she could fit through keyholes. She was also said throughout the land to have been given wings by the gods, she was so highly regarded.

Ursula started the Church of Rigmarole, revolving around an ancient ritual of sacrifice. Ursula became prophetess and prime henchwoman. This religion splintered out into the Church of Albatross, the Church of the Righteousness in a Bottle, and the wholly unrecognized Wax Museum of Churches. The one common thread in each was the invitation of materialism into their lives in order to fully appreciate its intricacies. The church proper's objectives included the conversion of every monk in the land, and they were quite successful. This also served to deplete the membership of competing religions, thus vaulting the Rigmarole faith to Biblical proportions. Baptisms were prevalent throughout the land, with shrines erected everywhere in honor of the revered Rigmarolio.

Igor went back to his home planet of Cobol, from where he found it safer to observe his creations. Since hardly anyone believed in him, he figured there was no sense hanging planet Earth much longer. His favorite pastime became the smite, which he carried out with reckless abandon, and often with great satisfaction.

Gunther started a ring of organized crime, which he successfully combined with youth soccer leagues — that is, until the Church of Rigmarole infiltrated it and had converted all the soccer moms. But Gunther persevered, personally bussing the children to their games while simultaneously masterminding racketeering schemes.

Ursula and a certain Mr. Hesselman had gotten married years ago, and had sailed eastward never to be heard from again. Rumor had it that they had started a new colony in Antarctica. Ursula called it the new world, though Hesselman had been dubious, leery of their true navigational abilities.

Civilization’s last great hope, Lenny, was one of the few remaining believers, and he grew weary of the ills of society. He wanted to join a monastery, but even those weren't immune anymore. He spent the rest of his days in virtual exile. On his deathbed, as a final protest against the decadence of the world, he shot Gunther and then quickly repented just before taking his last breath. Igor then brought Lenny into his kingdom, where all was glorious to behold. Lenny experienced a peace he had only felt glimpses of before. Igor looked him in the eye and said, "Well, bud, looks like you and I are going to get to know each other pretty well, beings that no one else has bothered to show up, and it doesn't look like we'll have any more good candidates for a while…"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Vacuous Knowledge Gap Between Us and Us

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Mankind flatters itself that it knows a lot. By assumption, you can comfort yourself in an egocentric way that our understanding is the template for the universe. We compare ourselves to dolphins, the second-smartest living being, and we figure as smart as they are, if that’s our biggest competition then we must be pretty darn smart. By default, we crown ourselves kings of the known universe, and just cross out that nagging ‘known’ part because we should be able to round off, in the absence of other participants who failed to show up when we called roll. We’ll just say whatever we can see is all there is and call it good. It makes for a much tidier equation, and it doesn’t confuse the computer simulations.

One constantly hears in every discipline of study that “we’re just beginning to understand blah-blah-blah…” Oh really? How would we know we’re just beginning to understand a particular thing if we don’t understand it yet? We don’t know how much of it is out there to understand. For all we know, we may be understanding only one one-thousandth of it, but we wouldn’t know how close we really are until there are signs that we’re close, which we might only recognize in retrospect, since we might not know that they’re signs. So to say that we’re just starting to understand a specific thing gives us no context to work with.

I could just be starting to walk over to my neighbor’s house. Or I could be starting to walk from Los Angeles to New York. The fact that a walk is being started tells us nothing about the length or content of the journey. Saying we’re starting to understand something may turn out to mean that we’re still several centuries away from understanding it, or it may mean that we’ll get to the point where we understand about one-tenth of it and then hit a dead end, so it’s a meaningless phrase strangely reminiscent of a sales pitch. And yet it’s so common, because it’s a feel-good phrase. We have this psychological need to desire progress. Whenever we recognize an achievement, it represents progress. Even if we’re moving on a treadmill, at least it feels good to be moving.

It’s curious how mankind always seems to be just on the cusp of these things. How long can you continually be on the cusp before the cusp becomes an illusion?

If we don’t recognize what our current limitations might be as a people, we may think we’ve done more than we actually have and thereby become complacent, settling for something less than we can do. So ironically we have to think less of ourselves so that we can notice that more needs to be done, otherwise we might do less after thinking we’ve done more. Capiche?

We’ve shown a lot of ingenuity, and we continue to amaze ourselves (though if we were smarter we might not be as apt to be amazed?), so it’s evident that people are trying, going in the direction of advancement. But we don’t often take thoughtful looks at the flipside. So I give you…

Things mankind has demonstrated it is lousy at:

Either we don’t understand global and national economics, or we’re too enticed to ignore what we know in order to apply it honestly. If life were the game of Monopoly, then we’ve lost every time we’ve played it. We ended up mortgaging all the railroads, even though on paper it was a decent strategy, but then where are the hotels? Way to go, people with stratospheric IQs. Economics is tied in to sociology, which is tied in with human psychology, which is where we come in, and there are no signs we’re anywhere near understanding any of these to an appreciable extent enough to where we can say with a straight face and no fingers crossed we have a handle on it.

Why is it that power corrupts? Whatever the reason, we feed the machine by letting money dictate who is in power. We bemoan the lack of rationality in politicians, but most everyone that gets into the more important positions turns into that type of puppet, so it would appear to be the process that is faulty. It seems to be the monster mankind has created. I don’t know if there’s a way to get out of it short of catastrophic occurrences forcing us to, because we don’t seem to be able to change it to any noticeable degree.

Government is a mechanism that grows in a self-serving manner. Rights and property typically aren’t given back to the people once they’re taken away. Once they have a grab, what incentive do they have to give it back if they don’t have to? Altruism? Are you kidding? Government is run like a business and politicians tend to act to keep themselves in office. To stay in business you have to look out for number 1 first and foremost.

So we’re still failing in many respects at having a representative government. Maybe a C- which was saved by the Constitution being handed in as the term paper in the nick of time.

Before you feel too high and mighty about the intellect of humans, consider how parking has continued to perplex us. Ruminate on that for a moment. Maybe we just got lucky on going to the moon. We invented cars a hundred years ago, and yet we still have nowhere to put them. Wouldn’t solving the mysteries of the universe be at least a few levels above figuring out how to allow enough room for 6x12 hunks of metal?

Of course they say we put a man on the moon and so we should apparently be able to do other things, but it could be that putting a man on the moon was an anomalous accomplishment which makes it appear like we can do most anything. For every great feat such as that, there are hundreds of deficiencies on a lesser scale. Just because you hit a home run doesn’t mean you’re capable of doing it every time you’re up to bat. Just because you had a #1 song doesn’t mean you can do that whenever you go to the recording studio. We reach peaks in all sorts of endeavors. They shouldn’t fool us into thinking that a high level applies across the board.

Social Behavior
While most people behave respectfully and in a non-criminal way, there is enough of a criminal element which is allowed by the law-abiding to greatly impact how society operates.

There’s enough dishonesty to require locks, passwords, barriers, firewalls, computer virus protection, security cameras, barbed wire fences, surveillance operators, security guards, security tags, more highly technical currency bills, receipts, contracts, signatures, attorneys, and his orchestra. We have these things to protect ourselves from ourselves! We’ve gotten to the point that we need more and more to protect us from those of us who can’t be honest. And theft also raises the cost of every item you buy. You’re paying for thieves, because they don’t pay anything for their merchandise.

In my view, the nice people are letting the mean people take advantage of them. The bullies recognize that they can get away with bullying, and so they keep it up. I don’t think punishments for crimes are severe enough, dissuading enough. People who commit major felonies or violent crimes should lose more of their rights. If they can’t be responsible enough to use their rights, then some of them should be taken away. If they can’t live in a free society without willfully sapping its energy, then they should be sent somewhere where such freedoms aren’t available, a la a prison colony, where they can reap the consequences of their acts. As it is, we’re subsidizing them. And they’re using us.

Whatever disincentives are currently in place aren’t dissuading criminals from rampant criminal behavior. As sad as it is, we have to protect ourselves from our own species, because in our existence, it isn’t safe to be out at night in many places, or to go into many neighborhoods. It’s so commonplace that we don’t think much about it. We just accept it as the way it is. We live in two worlds, and we try to forget that one of them wants to eat away at the other.

And while we can’t make people behave well, we can give them consequences to remove their influence from our free society. It’s idealistic to think we should all be able to get along. The reality is there are enough bad influences to make this impossible. Some people have no desire to get along. If we can deal with those influences first, then maybe we can talk about the rest of us getting along.

We’re using a timing system that is impractical. It might have been cutting edge when it was first created, but it’s way behind the advances of the last few centuries. The industrial and technological ages have a lot to be impressed with, but we’ve failed to integrate key elements into them. If we want technology to be successful, then it needs to effect the improvement of other areas as well.

The system of seconds, minutes and hours is cumbersome and impractical. Yet we can’t seem to improve on something that is millennia old. It’s not because we think it’s a great system, but that we don’t have the intelligence yet to improve upon it. All our machines are calibrated to 60, 60, 24, a.m., p.m., so maybe it is the that machines are ruling us already. And only a machine would keep us in the pattern of five weekdays and two weekend days.

Get in the car for 20 minutes and see how many people have no clue what they’re doing, or many of them who do just don’t have any concept of anyone else on the road. We’re the most advanced species on the planet, and yet we continue to have difficulties negotiating our transportation modules. Chalk it up to impatience and over-emoting. Regardless of the causes, there is a plethora of rotten drivers out there. If Henry Ford had foreseen this day, he might have chosen to invent something a little less self-destructive.

We’ve tanked. Desperate Housewives notwithstanding.

About 25% of all adults in the U.S. smoke cigarettes. This is an indication that their health is not of utmost concern. About 40% of all traffic fatalities are due to drunk driving, and yet we’re more keyed on whether someone is wearing a seatbelt or not. 15,000 people die a year in the U.S. in auto accidents involving alcohol. That’s about 5,000 more than the number of people who are shot by guns in homicides. We’re gung-ho about regulating weapons because they are so immediate. However, our priorities are clearly not with the health aspect.

Junk food is easier and often cheaper to prepare than nutritious food, so nutrition many times is losing out to convenience. The U.S. in recent generations has become more overweight. Maybe video games, computers and cell phones will reverse this trend. Or not.

Natural Sciences
Not to ignore the achievements of science, but if we’re to be realistically objective about it instead of clouded in a self-congratulatory view, we would also acknowledge the vastness of its deficiencies. It’s true that we know more factually than the people who went before us, but we’re still tomorrow’s fools. It’s hard to acknowledge that, because it’s more comforting to think that we’re at or near the pinnacle, that we’re on that cusp.

Science can’t even accurately forecast tomorrow’s weather. Medicine has made leaps and bounds, although doctors still have to guess a lot and conduct numerous tests.

We’re not real good at religion either, though religion seems to be the only discipline that doesn’t regard mankind as having superior and authoritative intellect, the only one that doesn’t wield a human arrogance. So in this sense, religion makes fewer presumptions in admitting the deficiencies of humans. This makes it in practice the most realistic and honest approach. Unfortunately, the social aspects of religion have left much to be desired, but doctrinally, religion takes a rather pragmatic outlook.

It’s quite refreshing to have a view which takes a step back and asks more questions without making too many presumptions.

Critics say that religion incorporates all sorts of magical scenarios in its lore, citing claims of miracles being performed, and that such things are outlandish. And yet is the planetary structure of the universe or that of systems within organisms any less ludicrous or far-fetched? Which miracle is more incredible than our immune system, or the digestive system, or the circulatory system, or eyesight?

With increased knowledge should come the recognition of the lack of knowledge present. The funny thing about knowing is that you can only know what you know, but not what you don’t know. So for whatever’s remaining, you can only guess. And we don’t know how much that is. We can paint various scenarios that in theory put us very close to solving the unknown, but there’s nothing that says those scenarios would be any more accurate than the rest.

The fact that we as humans are still collectively incompetent in several key areas would seem to offer a clue that we likely aren’t all that competent in any key area, even the ones where we pour billions of hours of human research. There’s no reason why any discipline should be magically exempt simply due to volume or extra effort. And that’s what religion is doing is making a recognition of this.

For those who would ask regarding the advancements of mankind, “Are we there yet?”, for all we know, we haven’t even gotten out of the garage. But be sure you’re strapped in for when we go over that cusp.

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