As a matter of fact…

Mainstream memes

The word meme is getting tiresome.

It was not that long ago when the only people who used the word ‘meme’ were pretentious assholes and graduate students. And the only difference between them was the latter had an advanced education, preferred black and white movies, and smoked American Spirits because it was more socially conscientious. (The ones in the light blue pack were my favorite. I mean, hypothetically, of course).

Now ‘meme’ has gone mainstream. It describes any internet phenomenon that keeps popping up in American culture over and over despite being extremely stupid in the first place. Like Rick Rolling, planking, or Sarah Palin.

The word does fit. But, in the old days, we knew what meme meant. It meant, if you casually dropped the word ‘meme’ in passing conversation at a party, you were almost certainly going to knock boots with someone that evening. It was a sign that you read Richard Dawkins, before he was cool. You stopped liking him when he sold out and started doing critical thinking “just for the money”. I mean, or so I have read.

Memes generally come out of the oven dry. This is because they spread very quickly over the Internet, especially via Twitter. Social media in general represent the industrialisation of the meme. One of these, the Keep Calm and Carry On with the little graphic crown, appears to have instantly gone from sincere to farce in a matter of mements.

In the beginning, they were printed up and taped around the cubicles by someone who actually believes that a trite expression will motivate you through the more excruciating ordeals of one’s working life. If you are motivated by Keep Calm and Carry On you’re a psychopath. You should not be allowed near firearms, matches or puppies. Once a year, you may light a sparkler. But that’s it.

Obviously, other people felt this way. They responded by satirizing the notion of motivationalism, with ironic twists that seemed to also have been stamped from a template. Instead of Keep Calm and Carry On, we got Now Panic.

But I think people have taken this particular meme a little too far, into vulgar and strange places. See for yourself:

Now, honestly. Is there any reason for this kind of indecent material? Clearly it was the product of a crude, juvenile imagination. Sure, a lot of men probably would find this poster handy to tape up in a prominent place in their offices. In those cases, it would function as a kind of “health and safety” notice, sort of like Employees must wash hands or How to give the Heimlich Maneuver. But perhaps there is a more subtle way to say it.

Some of the posters have no excuse, though.

Not all the posters are of a sexual nature. In fact, some even have a comfortable domesticity about them. Like this one:

But the majority, as I say, are nonsensical. So please, if you’re going to propagate a meme, at least be smart about it. And try above to be as cogent as I am.

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Reconciling the ineffable

It’s a mystery to me how a person can disagree with someone without seeming like an asshole.

I’m sure theoretically it’s possible to have a pleasant conversation with someone who disagrees with you.

Social media makes it possible to filter a lot of what makes us so intolerable in person.

God damn, I have a high and broad forehead. Actually, forehead doesn’t fully describe what that is. Maybe escarpment is the more accurate term. They could get a hectare of corn out of that motherfucker. I need to put a layer of topsoil on my forehead and sit outside for a few days. Monetize that bitch. If they can do it to Chia Pets, why not to people with excess forehead surface area? That real estate is lying fallow, completely underexploited. People with really high hairlines should be able to feed themselves with rotating crops to maintain nitrogen stasis. The world has a huge population to feed. We can help, if we all do our part.

I like realism. When I put stuff out there , I want people who I will never meet in person to know just what a difficult person I am in real life.

But I don’t want to alienate anyone who I love and/or like that.

When I alienate someone, I like to take my time, to make sure everyone is having fun. If you’ve received a form letter terminating our acquaintance, you’ll know what I mean.

The pictures are intended to break up the text. I don’t have anything to say about this photo, otherwise.

But as much as I’ve tried to tone down my excitement, some things cannot pass without comment.

Presenting Exhibit A, Ken Hutcherson. This charming personality has obligingly time-traveled from the 15th Century Spanish Inquisition, to join us here in the 21st century, disguised as a self-aggrandizing media whore who just learned his political expiration date. Click the link, and you can hear him being interviewed by a christian radio host suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Oh, it’s a hoot.

Hutcherson is upset because the Republicans in his state wouldn’t let him give 90-minute sermons to potential donors about how the homosexual agenda is ruining this country. That’s why the voters of Washington didn’t overturn same-sex marriage in the recent elections, he says.

He also condemns churches that don’t help him ‘win back’ the word ‘gay’ and the emblem of the rainbow from the evil, but stylishly-outfitted authors of the gay agenda, who all live in a giant pink human skull carved out of a mountain and painted a fabulous cornflower blue. Hutcherson sums up his raison d’être nicely here:

Don’t forget guys, when you think about pastor Hutcherson out there, think about the gayest guy you know. I am sick and tired of the homosexuals taking words that God has given us, I am sick and tired of the homosexual community taking our rainbow when god gave us that promise that he would not destroy the earth with water again. We have just become irrelevant, we are just sissified, we are evangeli-fish with no spiritual vertebrae and we need to wake up.

It sounds like Pastor Ken needs to relax, maybe take a long weekend somewhere, like in an isolated Log Cabin. It’s a lumber state, where a lot of guys make it their business to know and cherish wood. They can show you the way.

Or better yet, maybe Ken Hutcherson can shut the fuck up. He’s being a word-Nazi, and he’s trying to hog up all the rainbows.

In Hutcherson’s rainbow-gay universe, religion, specifically christianity, has the copyright on appropriate human behavior.

What makes me so angry about this is Hutcherson stakes this claim based on the literature of an emergent bronze age shepherd kingdom. And he’s not alone. A lot of people think that the bible is the primary source of moral behavior. The reality is that whatever instruction on human behavior is found in any religion, is not a cause of human behavior, primarily. It is a function of human behavior, then perhaps a cause.

The new and old testaments at best are the ethos of their times and places. The old testament gives instructions for the proper conduct of genocide and the ground rules of slavery. Its feature set-piece is very specific about worshiping god, but not about anything useful.

He couldn’t give us a commandment like ‘thou shalt not schtup your sister, lest ye bear forth cognitively impaired banjo savants. Selah.’ What, god ran out of ink, or something? Moses have to be someplace; only wanted the ‘nutshell’?

Likewise, if the old testament forbids gayness, that’s largely because it didn’t know that sexuality is socially and biologically determined, that homosexuality exists throughout the animal kingdom, that humanity’s closest relatives, the Bonobos, use sex as part of every social transaction.

Our primate cousins are nothing more than a continuous, live action version of Girls Gone Wild. Male and female, they’re all bisexual.

About seven million years ago, our ancestors started wondering if it was such a good thing to have an orgy every time the in-laws came over for dinner around the termite hill. Too much of a good thing, you know? There were termites not being eaten.

Hutcherson embodied, for me, the elevation of unfounded assertions over reality. This seems to be the M-O of the religious and the faithful.

From alien abductions to Allah to Jesus, it’s fun playing make-believe. But guess what, Hutcherson? Your invisible friend doesn’t have a say in anything real. Tell your god to catch up to the 21st century because we’re leaving without him.

See? I still can’t help being an asshole. But let me try.

On a practical, functional, level our real experience is far more influenced by what we can describe, and predict and agree upon as a kind of commons of reality, than by ancient texts. Humans are complex socio-biological creatures, easily prodded into what are loosely termed as good and evil acts, based on some aspect of our feelings and thoughts. It’s the differential between those urges and the entire complex of our being that makes religion and belief more or less of a good.

Evening in Parnell at the dawn of spring

A lot of Kiwis have been really excited lately.

“Spring is coming,” they say, with a little sparkle of something in their eyes.

By cultural tradition, September 1 is the first day of spring.

When anyone over the last week gave me the good news, I would happily correct them. That’s not true, I would say, astronomically speaking we still have  another few weeks of dark, dank, miserable winter to suffer through before we are anywhere near spring.

Coincidentally, and slightly off topic, I have felt my popular status among the local population dwindle over these last few days. My unfavorables are through the roof. Here I am trying to edify my friends and colleagues. And all they can think to do in return is get all seasonally defensive, saying to me things like, “why’d you have to bum me out like that” and “shut up, you’ll jinx it” and “I want a divorce.” Apparently, Kiwis don’t like it when you confront their little fantasy worlds with the cold, hard facts.

But allow me to be serious. New Zealanders wouldn’t know a nice spring if Julie Andrews ran to the top of Mt Eden singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music”. New Zealand just isn’t situated in the Tropic of Fuzzy Warm Bumble Bees and Rainbow, as might be idealized by a north hemispherean. So what New Zealand undergoes at this time of year, and well into October, even November, is more like Winter’s younger, more optimistic brother.

Which is fine with me, because winter really isn’t so bad. Aucklanders like to complain about the cold, and what a drag it is that it’s raining again, as if it were supposed to be different. They don’t know how mild it is here and not coming from New York City, they don’t know what pain is. So I don’t blame them. But I’ll be damned if I am going to stand by and wish someone a happy spring when it’s still another three weeks away.

I think it has gotten to the point where even strangers are wary of me. They see me from a block away and have the intuition to regard me as a disagreeable humbug.

This happened to me Thursday evening, about six. I was just hanging out in front of my house. Not unlike a cat gazing stupidly from a window on an empty parking lot.

All of a sudden I notice this young couple coming down the block, a guy and a gal. They walked in my direction, eyeing me with suspicion. They stopped talking, and would not resume again until they thought they were out of hearing. As they walked away, the woman said to the man, “There are only so many arguments you can have.” The man said something in response that I could not make out, leaving me to wonder what the woman had meant. I mean, I know it’s about me, but I just can’t figure out yet how. The only way it makes sense is if the “arguments” she mentioned refer to my insistence on telling people the truth about the first day of spring. And read that way, it is a veiled threat to have me silenced.

Then later that night, I was in front of my house again, sniffing some leaves for signs of enemy cat incursions on my territory.

This time, a guy on a moped came roaring up the street. He pulled over into the parking slot of the business next door, kicking down the stand not twenty feet from, and in full view of, where I was standing. It seemed obvious that he wanted to make a scene. And for a moment, I felt as if it would turn violent. And I was right. He got off his moped, pulled down his zipper and took a piss against the wall. So that’s how they’re going to play their vengeful little mind games.

If the lesson they want to teach me here is never tell them that Spring starts on September 23 and not September 1, then they can give me my F right now. I’m not in this to be popular. I stand for the truth and I’ll stand my ground. And if I do that by acting out behaviors I picked up from my role model, who is my cat, that’s just my business. Now please enjoy some pictures I took.

Public Service Ambiguity

New Zealand children returned to school this month, when their summer holiday came to an end.

What a bunch of idiots.

But you kind of have to feel sorry for them.

The first day of school in New Zealand is always set aside for the annual de-lousing and anti-rabies regime, a difficult, but necessary public health program.

Then it was back to the grind, to sitting in Social Studies, gazing upon the giant wall atlas, day-in and day-out, with the disappointing realization flickering to life in every child’s mind that, yes, they still live in New Zealand.

A little harsh, I’ll admit, but not nearly as grim as what I discovered last night on the way home from my local and passed a bus shelter with this sign:

I stood for minutes wondering what it was about, because I enjoy deciphering the subtexts of public signs, and because, what else was I supposed to do while I was urinating?

But the poster was so ambiguous, I had to take a picture of it with my mobile productivity device.

The poster seemed to be saying that drivers tend to speed up at school crossings, with the goal of running children over, and they shouldn’t. For whatever reason.

I soon doubted this interpretation. What if the sight of a student crossing a street recalled to a driver his or her own de-lousing experience, thus triggering a kind of post-traumatic stress road rage to the level of vehicular homicide? Auckland Transport, I reasoned, surely would view this as a value-add. After all, if drivers were encouraged to run-down children at school crossings, fewer children would make it to adulthood who otherwise would have run children over as a consequence of their own post traumatic de-lousing stress disorder. Sure, it would require patience, but I bet that after two or three generations, Auckland Transport would see a dramatic decrease in school crossing vehicular homicides.

But at the very least, that would require Auckland Transport to advise drivers to speed up recklessly at school crossings, which, I concluded, this particular poster was not doing. (Note the phrase “Slow down around schools”.)

Then I started thinking, maybe Auckland Transport wasn’t talking to drivers, but rather, to the students.

If you study the poster closely, you’ll see that the only object in need of slowing down is the dorky student himself.

And while we’re at it, why should we assume that the dork is turning to look at a speeding car? What if we assume that the dork is turning to look at an adult who is offering some helpful advice. Under this assumption, the scenario becomes very clear, with the adult (not pictured) saying:

Hey, slow down around schools, huh? Don’t you know how dorky you look, running to school? You really shouldn’t. The only thing waiting for you on the other side are two bullies who spotted you eagerly running across a busy street. For what? To stare at a wall atlas depicting New Zealand as the east coast of Australia because it was printed in America? You’re just running to your own beat-down, son. And look at your shoes? Who wears black high-tops with grey woolens? Who the hell dressed you, your dog? Why don’t you do yourself a favor. Stop before you reach the other side, turn around, go back home, shut the door, and do what your parents did when they were your age: start a meth lab.

Oh…uh, sorry. I think I got carried away recalling one of my own childhood traumas.

But, having said all that, I don’t think that’s what this poster is saying, either. In the end, I think what the subtext of this poster is getting at is bad acting.

Frankly, whatever this kid is selling, I just don’t buy it.

The Media elite gets me so mad sometimes

I haven’t really been following the Republican Presidential Primary warm-up debates. But news of Rick Perry’s clumsy performance on CNBC the other night did catch my attention.

During the debate, Perry, the Texan governor of Madame Tussauds, explained how his flat tax plan “does the things to the regulatory climate that has to happen”.

This would include the elimination of three Federal agencies, Perry said, directing his comment squarely at America’s current most hopeless romantic, Ron Paul. The Governor was clearly responding to criticism the more-of-a-libertarian Paul had made earlier in the debate.

Perry said his plan would balance the budget by 2020, partly by getting rid of the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce…and the Department…of…

Well, we don’t know what the third one would be because Perry doesn’t know. The governor struggled for a few moments to come up with a doozie that would shut his fellow Texan up for good. But poor Perry wasn’t up to the task, much to Ron Paul’s elfin delight.

Later, Fox News-persona

Greta Van Susteren

leaped to Perry’s defense in an interview with Michelle Bachmann (US Representative-the Kuiper Belt) who’s also running for her party’s nomination. The interview really pissed me off, and I’ll tell you why after you watch the video. Pay attention especially from 1:o4 to 1:26 into the clip.

Van Susteren here accidentally reveals a streak of news media elitism when she said the “news media are going to have a field day with this”.

Why is it that any time something even remotely scandalous happens, some jerk always has to chime in with “the news media are going to have a field day over this”.

I’ve worked in various aspects of the news media for 15 years now, and I’ve never once been on a field day. I can’t even imagine what the news media would do if they went on a field day. Would there be potato sack races, balloon rides and one of those inflatable jumping castles? When a scandal breaks, does something like this happen at the desk:

Reporter: A good source in Wellington says John Key took a sheep for a long weekend in Bali on the taxpayers’ dime.

Assignment Editor: That’s a great story. This being election season and all.

Reporter: But that’s not all. Key tried to cover it up by having the sheep for Sunday roast the day after they got back.

Assignment Editor: This is hot stuff. We have to move quickly. Tell Murray to go home and collect his badminton set, and we’ll meet him at the Domain.

Reporter: That sound fun. I’ll make ambrosia.

Assignment Editor: No, you do potato salad. Jane will bring paper plates, forks and cups.

Reporter: I thought you liked my ambrosia.

Assignment Editor: I hate ambrosia. It’s not dinner. It’s not dessert. Only toothless morons like ambrosia.

I’ll admit I’m making a big assumption here. A field day doesn’t necessarily have to be a day in the park or a picnic. Maybe when the news media go on a field day, they all get together and rent a yellow school bus, drive for two hours singing 99,000 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, and go on all the rides at Great Adventure before vomiting up all the cotton candy they ate while riding one of those things where you sit and spin around and around and around.

Maybe that’s what the news media does when they have a field day. But I don’t know. And it makes me angry. And confused. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve ever actually worked in the news media at all.

I mean, the New York Post, yeah, I can understand the confusion there. But, what, the New York State Society of CPAs newsletter doesn’t count all of a sudden? I’ll have you know, I’ve also worked for the Harlem Valley Times (R.I.P.), The Meriden-Record Journal and the Poughkeepsie Journal. Surely, one of these publications qualifies as news media.

Assuming that is true, you’d think that at some point over a 15-year time-span, you would have at least heard of someone going on a field day. Probably in the same way you hear about how the reporter sitting nearest you just won a whole bunch of Associated Press awards for a three-part series about cats stuck in trees. But you never won bupkes, and this explains your serious problem with alcohol abuse. I mean, some reporter gets invited on a field day? In most newsrooms, you couldn’t keep something like that under a bushel for very long.

But no. I have never heard mention of anyone going on a field day. My only conclusion is that field days are reserved for an exclusive, secretive group cabal. They probably all met at Columbia University or something. It probably started innocent enough. A bunch of J-students, just looking to relax.

Indeed, there is an elite media out there, and whenever something scandalous happens, they pack whatever they’re doing, and go on a field day. We just weren’t supposed to know about it. Way to let the cat out of the bag, Greta.

Let’s put an end to bad advice about underwear

There has long existed a humorous trope, already a cliché by the time I was born. It’s the one about a mother’s advice to wear clean underpants in case you get into an accident. I never received such instruction myself. In fact, clean underwear was considered optional through much of my childhood, if memory serves correctly.

Underwear was just not something you discussed at the dining room table. Such garments could only be referred to through cryptic allusions and innuendo.

Not the face of a child wearing clean underwear. The author (circled) enjoying the third grade at St Helena's in the Bronx, NY. (Photo stolen from Patrick Scully's Facebook page).

When I first heard this supposedly wise admonition in my teen years, it felt as if my parents had been denying me some vital information. I couldn’t cross a street without worrying about the state of my underpants. What if I got hit by a car? What would the EMTs think?

But as I got older, I started to question if that was even sound–let alone realistic–guidance. Its premise, at the very least, is a shaky foundation on which to base your personal habits. In the first place, it assumes that every accident that could befall you will require the removal of your pants. What, all of a sudden we’re supposed to drop trou’ every time we stub our toe? I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t live in a world like that. I could try, but I wouldn’t like it. Mostly. To some degree.

The premise also takes a dualistic view of reality. According to this conventional wisdom, one wears clean underwear or one wears dirty underwear, and those are the only choices you get. What if you’re not interested in wearing undergarments? You tell a Scotsman that he can no longer go commando when he puts on a kilt. He’ll be furious with you. For your average Scotsman, it’s either dirty underwear, or no underwear at all, end of story.

There is also a problem with timing. The adage presumes either that you will get into an accident as soon as you put on a clean pair of underpants, or it presumes that the underpants will remain clean up until the time of your accident. If I got into an accident every time I put on a fresh pair of boxers, it probably wouldn’t take me very long to start wearing a kilt in the traditional way, instead. But let’s say you take your mother’s advice and you put on clean underwear before you start your day. You hope that when you do finally get into some bloody car accident, the EMTs will be able to look down on your mangled body with a smile. How impressed and satisfied they will be with your forethought as they peel your underwear off the pavement with a king size Spackle knife, along with whatever else remains of you.

Daniel in the Lions' Den by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1614/1616, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Here Rubens depicts the moment that Daniel, realising that God has saved him from the lions, offers another prayer that his highly prized underwear has remained immaculate throughout the ordeal, in the event of being seen in soiled underwear by King Darius' men once they've finally released him.

To be fair, most of us can get through most days without having to take our pants off in public, accident or no. But suppose you were a postal worker, and you’ve just eaten some bad sushi, and some dogs chase you for most of the afternoon, but when you finally do outrun them, there’s a huge line for the bathroom at Starbuck’s. Then, as you’re running out of Starbucks to use the bathroom in the Starbucks next door, a giant anvil lands on your head, followed by a grand piano. Your underwear is probably not going to look so good, despite your best efforts to keep it clean through a long and trying day.

And here’s another problem. What if this clean underwear thing takes off and everybody starts doing it. What happens when there’s a big aviation disaster in which each and every passenger and crew is wearing a brand new pair of Fruit-of-the-Loom. Some of them still with the pins attached. Think of all the hours that could have been saved identifying disembodied torsos if each person were, instead, wearing underwear befitting their station in life.

Now it’s hard to ask air travelers to get on a flight with dirty underwear. It should be required, however, at the very least for business class passengers to wear clean underwear, while those in coach should be required to wear the same underwear on their flight as they’ve been wearing for the last week. (You’ll know you’ve worn your underwear long enough if you’ve started to develop a rash). This will ensure an expedited identification of cadavers, in case of an accident. And one word to those who fly coach, I wouldn’t worry too much about the odor in your cabin section. Chances are that if you’re flying coach, you probably smell like shit anyway.

You see? There are just too many variables to make this clean underwear work. Practically speaking, it pretty much requires one to constantly change their underwear. So the adage shouldn’t be to wear clean underwear in case of an accident, but to not forget to bring 150 changes of underwear which will you use throughout a typical day, in the event of an accident.