Wednesday, November 24, 2010


(Post title just for BDR's benefit.)

So, a few things.

1. I thought I would have time for a substantial post today, but I don't. And no one would read it today, anyway. So it's gonna wait.

2. It's gonna wait until Monday at least. The Baronette has already departed and I tomorrow am departing for the annual ritual sacrifice with pie (don't ask me to explain the hat), so, yeah, have a nice time everybody.

3. Sorry I've been neglecting comments. Especially since they've been really good recently. What with all the good parts of the internet being blocked at work and me busily being content at home after work, my blogging time has reduced recently. I'm sure soon I'll become accustomed to contentness and will work out a new routine. For now, if I don't respond to your comments--sorry! It's very interesting! And, since it's impossible to say something sincere on the internet without sounding sarcastic, please be assured that I mean that. I haven't seen a comment I wasn't interested in in a good long while, with the exception of spam.

4. Speaking of spam. There's obviously been a lot of it lately (some of it has been hilarious enough that if I could just strip out the link without deleting the comment entirely I would have left them). Coincidentally or not, blogger just instituted automatic spam filtering. I have no idea how well it's going to work. I'm gonna be checking the filter, but I'm not always diligent about that kind of thing. So, if you leave a comment and it gets trapped as spam, email me and I'll get it out as soon as possible. Also, if you leave a comment and then later find it's gone, it's likely I marked it as spam by accident (because I'm a ditz); if that happens, likewise email me and I'll rectify the situation.

But not right now! I'm off. See y'all later. Kill an injun for me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dave Hickey, Air Guitar pages 168-169

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

The justification for this pretense to disengagement derives from our Victorian habit of marginalizing the experience of art, of treating it as if it were somehow "special"--and, lately, as if it were somehow curable. This is a preposterous assumption to make in a culture that is irrevocably saturated with pictures and music, in which every elevator serves as a combination picture gallery and concert hall. The question of whether we can enjoy, or even decipher, the world we see without the experience of images, or the world we hear without the experience of music, seems to me pretty much a no-brainer. In fact, I cannot imagine a reason for categorizing any part of our involuntary, ordinary experience as "unaesthetic," or for imagining that this quotidian aesthetic experience occludes any "real" or "natural" relationship between ourselves and the world that surrounds us. All we do by ignoring the live effects of art is suppress the fact that these experiences, in one way or another, inform our every waking hour.

In my own case, I can still remember gazing at the lovely, lifting curve of a page upon which Oscar Wilde's argument that "life imitates art" was inscribed and knowing that this was the first "big truth" I had come across in writing. I can remember, as well, standing on the corner of 52nd Street and Third Avenue on a spring afternoon, six feet from a large citizen gouging the pavement with a jackhammer, and thinking about the Ramones, amazed at the preconscious acuity with which I had translated the pneumatic slap of the hammer into eighth-notes and wondering what part, if any, of the pleasures and dangers of the ordinary world might rightly be considered "natural." So it seems to me that, living as we do in the midst of so much ordered light and noise, we must unavoidably internalize certain expectations about their optimal patternings--and that these expectations must be perpetually and involuntarily satisfied, frustrated, and subtly altered every day, all day long, in the midst of things, regardless of what those patterns of light and noise might otherwise signify.

Two creepy things

1. The Catholic church near my house that frequently plays "God Bless America" on its bells. I believe no explanation of why this is creepy is required.

2. Subway. Possibly the creepiest of all fast food restaurants. I was forced into a situation today where I had to eat some. I ate half of the smaller size of a veggie sub on wheat, with no oil or mayonnaise or dressing or anything, and my stomach felt like shit for hours afterwards. A bunch of vegetables on bread upset my stomach. Something is seriously wrong with this food. Also, what the fuck is that smell? It's like nothing else in or out of nature and it is gross. And lingering.

On another note, I should really stop saying that some upcoming post is going to be up soon, because it just guarantees that it won't be. So, news from the corporate world and other posting to continue, probably, sometime.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm pretty sure I've said this before...

...but it still confuses me, so I'll say it again.

I was just reading one of the liberal blogs I read for amusement, and they were going on and on about Bush (because he's conveniently back in the public eye, ready to distract, right when even the blandest of liberals are really pissed at Obama), and they were talking about all of the horrible things his administration was "responsible" for--wars, economic disaster, and so on.

And here's my thing--even if you accept the premise (which I don't, obviously) that there is some kind of huge difference between Clinton (in this example) and Bush, and their respective administrations, or similar differences between any two consecutive administrations in our political system, and you think that those differences can lead to wars that kill millions of people and economic crises that impoverish millions more, and so on and so on and so on...

...then doesn't that mean that democracy, especially in a country as hugely powerful as the U.S., is a horrible way to run things? I mean, I don't disagree, as far as that goes, but I think most liberals would at least say they did.

News from the corporate world #4 should be coming shortly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

News from the corporate world #3: Doubleplusungood

While it can often be difficult to be certain with these things, I'm pretty sure that there actually is a real, not parody, corporate "inspirational" speaker whose website is located at I'm not even kidding.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

News from the corporate world #2: Johnny the bagger

Seriously, you have to watch this. The sound isn't essential--it's just goopy music--but it does add to the ambiance, so yes, I recommend you have it on.

In short, though, the story is that a "CSP" (which I think stands for Customer Service Professional*, but the video assumes we're so far indoctrinated that we don't need to be told) gives a talk to a supermarket's workers about "building customer loyalty," as if that means anything to them other than busier, harder work days, by yoking their individuality to the needs of their employer. Or, as she puts it, "Put your personal signature on the job. Think about something you can do for your customer that will make them feel special--a memory that will make them feel special."

Guaranteed, the majority of the people listening to her fantasized about doing her great harm, but tolerated her because they were getting paid for something other than working the floor of a supermarket. The video skips over this, though, to focus on one person whose story we're supposed to find heartwarming. You'll be astounded to discover I don't find it heartwarming.

The one person is "Johnny the bagger," a poor exploited Down syndrome teenager whose entire identity the video kindly subsumes into his job description. I don't know how much experience any of you have had with Down people, but in my experience, a quality a large majority of them share is a sort of earnest eagerness, a boundless capacity to take everyone at face value and try their best to please. So this guy hears this soulless CSP giving her bullshit talk, and he takes it entirely, tragically to heart.

He's sad at first, because he doesn't know how he can live up to the CSP's expectations. "After all," he says, "I'm only a bagger" (and I know, how fucking heartbreaking is that?). But then he comes up with an idea, which is probably something the CSP has never done in her entire blighted life. Every day, after work, he's going to look up interesting quotes, print out bunches of copies of them, and then the next day put them in every customer's bag.

My main reaction to this was "Oh god, he's been tricked into performing unpaid labor," though of course we're supposed to admire his dedication. It gets worse, though: Johnny's "thoughts of the day" become wildly popular, and the lines at his register start piling up to several times the length of the other lines, all because everybody wants these quotes.

At this point my mind spins, trying to deal with seventeen kinds of horror all at once. First, this guy, in addition to working for the company when he's off the clock, has doubled or tripled his workload while he's on the clock. Second, he's unintentionally done the same for whatever innocent bystander is working the register on his line. Third, how starved for genuine human interaction must we be in our society if something as chintzy as a printed out quote on a scrap of paper can make us come back, over and over, obsessively, for more?

I haven't even begun to touch on a lot of the horrifying aspects of this story--like the store manager getting a "lump in (his) throat" (and not for the reason you or I might) on finding out that some lonely woman has taken to coming back to the store every goddamn day for Johnny's quotes. And even though I've summarized most of the action of the video, I highly recommend you click through to see the full glory of the insipid, clip art presentation.

At my job, we have quarterly rah-rah meetings (I've described them glancingly before) at which we're presented with awkwardly recorded messages from our higher-ups about how much money we've made for the company--not ourselves--over the past three months, intercut with whatever shitty song currently in the top 40 best serves the "team building" spirit, and other "inspirational" nonsense. The other day, they played us this video.

One woman I work with cried. I had to fight back tears, too, but my reasons were entirely different.

The video comes from this company called Simple Truths. A quick glance at their book list reveals such other horrors as Laughter Is an Instant Vacation, No Glass Ceiling, Just Blue Sky, Even Eagles Need a Push, and The Richest Man in Town (if you guessed his riches aren't money, you're right!). I'm intimately familiar with the QBQ (which, yes, I still do plan to get back to eventually), but there is so goddamn much of this evil crap.

It's no fucking wonder we're all insane.

PS One of the white men who makes more money than me who "presented," if you know what I mean, at this meeting closed his presentation with a Ronald Reagan quote: "Every new day begins with possibilities. It's up to us to fill it with the things that move us toward progress and peace." Which is funny for a lot of reasons, none of which I feel the need to go into, though I will mention that I wasn't even aware that he had ever opened his mouth without saying something about welfare queens.

*Which has the usual hilarious advantage of rendering the word "professional" even more meaningless, which would be good if it weren't pushing its application in the wrong direction.

Friday, November 12, 2010

News from the corporate world #1: The back of a cereal box

There's a lot I could say about this text taken from the back of a box of Honey Bunches of Oats, but I feel like anything I did say would only detract from it. So, suffices to say, I think it's very weirdly honest. Here it is in its entirety. I only wish I could approximate the folksy font and presentation better, because that makes it even more super weird.
Vern had a big idea! Vernon J. Herzing started working for Post Cereals in 1951, as a summer student working in the factory. He joined Post full-time in 1960 and, in 1976, was named a facility manager in Battle Creek, Michigan. Vern wanted to create a product that combined cereals from one of Post's facilities--where, in 1986, we manufactured C.W. Post (a granola-based product), Toasties, Grape-Nuts Flakes, and Sugar Sparkle Flakes (a frosted corn flake product). He wondered if, by combining these different cereals, he could create a new product--one that would outsell all the others. One Saturday afternoon at home, Vern asked his 18-year old daughter Kimberly to help him prepare different cereal mixtures. They weighed and mixed the different components of cereal and began to sample the combinations, ultimately picking a favorite.

Battle Creek Cereal? The next step was to figure out what to call the product. First, the Post Team came up with "Battle Creek Cereal," but research showed that many consumers didn't like the name, although the product itself earned top marks. At the time, no cereal on the market offered those kinds of mixed textures. So the team presented their dilemma to Eva Page, a Post brand manager. Eva tasted the cereal and said, "The cereal is exactly what it looks like, granola and flakes." She took another bite and then asked, "To make it more exciting, can you put honey in the granola? And the granola is made with oats, right? So," said Eva, "the concept is Honey Bunches of Oats and Flakes." This time, consumers loved the name, and wanted to know where they could buy it! The project was back on track, with a product officially dubbed Honey Bunches of Oats. Later Eva asked, "How can we make it more of an all-family cereal?" The research team suggested adding Post Sugar Sparkle Flakes to the blend, a solution that provided some sweetness to the taste.

Finally, it all came together! After three years of development--most of the time spent searching for a concept--Honey Bunches of Oats cereal hit the market in 1989. During its first year, the product garnered an impressive share of the total cereal market, and was considered a runaway success. Honey Bunches of Oats cereal has grown to become one of the top-selling cereals in America today.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Good stuff from recent days

The hellhole I work in makes me fall way behind on my internettization for the first half of the week, and other aspects of life made me behind to begin with, so here's some good things ("good" referring to the posts themselves, not always their subjects) I would have responded to in the past week or so had time allowed:

what the Tee Vee taught on monogamy. An excellent and hilarious discussion of what's insane in our attitudes towards sex, and as is so often the case, wtTVt can say in a tangential aside what it would take me a thousand words to say. Here, it's this: Yes, it's pop-sci. Smart folk will hate it (assuming, since it's a book, that they — and only they — are the intended audience, adorable smart folk will write squawking reviews: "I already knew all of this!! Not groundbreaking!")

Jack on Mehserle and Grant, summing up the difference in the treatment of violence directed upwards and violence directed downwards in as few words as possible.

For Rhode Island-interested people, stupid Dave Segal posted some pretty cool proposals for a walking bridge where the old 195 bridge used to be. My favorite is the second one he posted, if you take the awful "The Creative Capital!" slogan off of the wall. Team 10's design is also pretty great, and Team 3's would be good if it didn't assume that there would always be swans and lots of fog on the Providence River, which in my experience is not a safe assumption.

I approve of this Postsecret.

Justin's unfinished Ballroom Dream is one of my favorites of his that I've seen. Very cool layering effect achieved just by painting over someone else's mostly-bland painting.

Dr. Boli misinforms us about the French. Nutella On Toast in comments reminds us that the same is unfortunately true of all foreigners.

We kill other species in lots of different creative ways. Increased UV exposure is burning whales.

Eric Garris on the FBI's detention of David House and seizure of his computer, not even for any bullshit criminal charges, only for working with the Bradley Manning Support Network.


I was going to post about Veterans Day, but then I saw that Google had covered the same ground far more sensitively and eloquently than I ever could have.

Long may she wave.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Defensive boredom

Following up, in a way, on this post about behavioral conditioning.

My several regular readers are all, I'm sure, painfully aware that most people, probably many of them and certainly myself included, have a tendency to keep their personal lives pretty boring--by which I mean unfulfilling, without nearly enough self-development for anything like satisfaction--unless they exert significant, concerted effort in the other direction.

I still think that the conditioning I was talking about in the prior post plays a huge role, and that consciously working to undo that conditioning is vitally important. In addition to it, though, there's another factor that may be pretty obvious but which only just occurred to me. I have no idea if it's new to anyone else, probably not, but it's a new thought to me.

What if we keep our lives bland in part because actually having a rich fulfilling life makes work even more intolerable? What if having an interesting life makes the boredom at work impossible to take, and that's why we go home from our boring jobs to our boring families and watch boring TV and eat boring prefab food and go to sleep to have boring dreams before waking up and going back to the boredom? All the while we could be changing any or all of these facets of our lives to make them less boring, but for the most part we don't.

Not to brag, but my life recently has been becoming more and more fulfilling, more and more of a joy to live, which is pretty new for me. You should try it! But I warn you, it can be really hard--harder even than it is already--to be at work while thinking about what your life consists of elsewhere, once your life starts consisting of something.

I don't think it's something anybody does consciously. It's not so much that anybody makes their life boring so as to be better able to handle work, it's that our societal focus on the importance of work makes us eager to accept anything we're given that will make work less unpleasant, and then here's all these things offering us boring lives... and this makes them easier to accept.

Friday, November 5, 2010

This isn't scary

I'll give it hilarious, I'll give it bizarre, I'll give it potentially fascinating if you're into that kind of thing, but it is not scary.
Canadian authorities are investigating an "unbelievable" incident in which a passenger boarded an Air Canada flight disguised as an elderly man, according to a confidential alert obtained by CNN.

The incident occurred on October 29 on Air Canada flight AC018 to Vancouver originating in Hong Kong. An intelligence alert from the Canada Border Services Agency describes the incident as an "unbelievable case of concealment."
So we've already got the thrillingly terrifying buzzwords incident, intelligence alert, and concealment; the article soon cycles through impostor, subject, approached, flight originating from, under investigation, and many more.

And I'm like, OK, I'm definitely interested that this appears to have been his way of fleeing a bad situation, as the article says he tried to claim refugee status. But let's calm down, people.

If this man was interested in blowing up a plane (let's say), he could have done it equally well in his old white man disguise or while reverted back to his natural form as a glossy-lipped Asian twink, and it makes no difference in which form he boarded the plane. Identity checks on flights do nothing for so-called "security." The explosives strapped to your chest don't care if the name on your passport matches the name on your ticket or, for that matter, if the face on your passport matches the face on your face.

If this is a story, it's a story about a man in a hilarious costume and in a probably less hilarious personal situation, nothing more. It is not frickin' scary.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I'm sincerely recommending that you read a Melissa McEwan post

Or, actually, don't read it. Just look at the pictures.

It's pictures she took from a kind of Chick Tracts alternative promoting Halloween themed Christianity*. The art is kind of incredible, and actually, though I hate to pay McEwan a compliment, improved by her photography; the angles and colors and distortion and so on all add up to create a legitimately bizarre aesthetic that I respond to pretty strongly.

McEwan, of course, is too busy being a liberal to appreciate any of this, which is why I recommend that you look at the pictures and skip the text. Her need for outrage (or "contemptuousness" as she generally prefers we pretend it to be) does not allow her to say "The message is a bit silly, but the execution is beautiful." Everything, for a liberal, is goodthinkful or ungoodthinkful, with no other possibilities admissable (with the exception of occasional bouts of excruciating self-righteous ambivalence, as with the soul-wrenching experience of watching movies featuring actors who signed the Free Polanski petition, say).

The nice thing about realizing that all this "culture war" nonsense is just such a crock is that you gain some distance. Look, liberals. This booklet thing is goofy. No child who gets it in their Halloween sack is gonna be convinced by it. They won't even be interested in it except insofar as they'll be pissed off that they can't eat it. So it's in your hands. Sure, make fun of the message. But can't you just stop being terrified of the evil Christianists for long enough to realize that the thing is kind of cool?

After all, if it isn't, why did you take so many pictures of it?

*I'm behind on my internet life, so I'm only getting to Halloween now. Sometime around January I may write something about election day.