Tuesday, February 27, 2007


It occurred to me today, after babbling at someone about the hyper-education of the subordinate classes until his ears started to bleed, that the American general masses have gone from being overwhelmingly illiterate to taking literacy completely for granted in the space of about 150 years. (give or take--some middle class families may be able to claim their ancestors could read from the day they made their first cave drawings, but i'm pretty sure my grandparents' grandparents were lucky if they could scratch their names in the dust.) Throughout the backlog of human history the ability to read was a skill reserved for monks and the wealthy elite. It was a huge dividing factor between the empowered and the disenfranchised castes (other divisions being footwear, suntans, and the right to not grovel.) It has only been within the past few generations that anyone thought public education might be a fun idea, and only very recently (in terms of the history of modern homo sapiens) that women and minorities have gotten the opportunity as well.
And now, in spite of the novelty of these things called words, we've already gotten lazy with them. It started simply, with little acronyms such as "TTFN" and "RSVP" jotted at the ends of friendly letters and informal invitations. Sentence truncation remained infrequent, really, until the 1930's, when the Great Depression settled in. Roosevelt's numerous attempts at tackling industrial health and safety, agricultural production, unemployment, trade, social security, and sustainable energy sources after the 1929 financial collapse led to the mind-bending alphabet soup that dominates the pages of US history textbooks today. From the AAA, NIRA, TVA, and PWA all the way down to the WPA, CWA, and the CCC that hired shoeless farm boys to plant trees in the forest, FDR's nation-rebuilding projects initiated what would soon become a trend of commerical, industrial, and political initialism throughout the twentieth century. From the first broadcast of CBS news, the first sheet of MDF, the first use of SWF ISO SBM in a personal ad, to the swearing in of W, we just can't seem to be arsed anymore to make use of whole words.
The development of text messaging, however, has taken what was once merely a mild grammatical confusion into a whole new dictionary of conjoined consonants. what began innocently enough in replacing "that's funny" with "LOL" has spurned communicative code that would leave Sam Morse scratching his head. Entire paragraphs are now reduced to meaningless jumbles of letters, all punctuated with multiple exclamation points and parentheses-based facial expressions. Written communication as we know it has been reduced to the typing of pithy phrases using as few characters as possible. Maybe its just me, but i feel linguistic development has taken a step back in this regard. Indeed, perhaps several steps back. The text conversation "RUOK?" "SSDD." "OIC." has the same depth of meaning as the exchange "Grunt?" "Snort." "Humph." (as communicated by our pre-cave-dwelling ancestors the month before Urg really worked out fire.) There's only so many phrases you can spit out using sentence acronyms before your friend has to turn off the caps lock to ask "huh?" so perhaps it is an attempt to simplify mundane conversation topics down to nothing so as to leave space in the text block to actually type out more worthwhile, personal, or at the very least situation-specific information. But if we're using acronyms to take the place of social niceties and small talk...doesn't that defeat their purpose? Might as well omit them altogether. I've never gotten the hang of writing in text-message speak and don't think i want to. If something's not worth saying fully, its probably not worth saying at all.

...perhaps, given the average word count of my blog entries and the actual amount of substance I tend to mix into them, i should rethink this stance.

Monday, February 19, 2007

games and recreation

When I was a kid I hated gym class. From first through twelfth grades, I was the Anti-PE. And in retrospect, its no wonder.

The thing is, when it comes to physical exertion, there are several activities I dread: running, hauling, and team sports. Running and hauling hurt, and as any archive-reader will know, I'm of the opinion that pain is your body's way of saying No. I carried a 4'x8' (1.2m x 2.4m) sheet of half-inch MDF about a city block today. These sheets generally weigh about 80 lbs (36kg) and catch the wind like a sail (which, naturally, pushed me backwards). By the time I put the damn thing down my hands were blistered and raw and my arm was tingling. Hauling just isn't fun. I don't understand the appeal of the "world's strongest man" competitions because frankly, all they're doing is heavy labor that nobody in their right mind would do for fun--and only the winner gets paid!

Anyway. Team sports. I despise team sports. I just do not have the enthusiasm for any activity that involves running after or hitting or trying to gain possession of...a ball. Maybe if it involved swords or oranges or something, but certainly nothing so pointless as a ball. What always made it worse in school was the teachers' constant attempts to get you "into the game"--to get you to look like you gave a damn. Yes, i was one of those girls in softball--standing in the outfield, chatting with the other apathetic outfielders about how cute the batter looked in his little gym shorts, and occasionally glancing up as a ball sailed three inches over my head and over the fence. They always told us we were graded on participation, but as there were about 80 students in each class, we figured out pretty early on that "participation" meant "attendance."

Thing is, though, I enjoy a lot of physical activities, but I always hated gym class because they never offered us the option of doing any of them. We always had to line up with tennis rackets and whack a ball over a net or line up with basketballs and try to make a lay-up shot or simply run around in circles for an hour and a half every day. When I was in school, I was a dancer. I have the knees to prove it. I also spent about four hours a day, five days a week practicing (okay, i was in the school color guard. I didn't go to Julliard or anything.) It always struck me as funny when my gym coach would accuse me of being lazy because i couldn't be arsed to chase other children around the football field until i was winded. I always wished they would offer you the option of taking ballet or gymnastics or yoga or something. We got the choice of jock- PE or Marine Corps ROTC, and i figured the former was slightly less likely to get me shot.

When I was really little, PE frequently involved group games that involved a lot of squealing and giggling. Back in the day we played Red Rover (i've heard it was recently banned in schools as too many children were getting broken arms and concussions from it), London Bridge is Falling Down, and one i never quite got on with, Mother May I. For anyone who's never heard of it, Mother May I is played by a medium-sized group of children who all know each other's names. One caller (the "Mother") is at the front, and the other children face him or her from a line a specific distance away. One by one, the Mother orders each child to take a specific number of steps toward or away from him/herself, frequently in a forceful or threatening voice. At which point the called-upon child must remember to ask, "Mother, may I?" and wait for a response before proceeding. The Mother may then choose to respond by saying "Yes you may" or "No you may not" and the child must behave accordingly. If the child fails to ask if he may move, or if he moves too few or many steps, he is thrown out of the game. The first child to reach the Mother wins, and becomes the Mother for the next round.
As an adult, it occurred to me that this game is based upon the notion that all mothers are, in fact, senile. Did your mother ever holler at you to clean your room, even threaten you with punishment if you didn't, then show up in your partly-cleaned room ten minutes later and ask why you weren't downstairs doing your homework? That's kinda the premise of this game. You are given a direct order, made to ask if you are permitted, and then are frequently told you may not do as you were told. Huh?! Its like the conversation, "Go do your laundry." "Do I have to?" "Not a bit. You stay right there and play your video game." I just don't get it. Is the game intended to encourage obedience or sass? If a kid ever responded to an instruction with "mother may i?" to her own mother, she'd be smacked for givin' her attitude. Yet this game has been around for probably centuries in one form or another. It resembles Simon Says in that you're supposed to wait for a specific word or phrase before complying, but i never liked that one either on account of the fact that the teacher usually played Simon or Mother and they barked orders at you like a friggin' drill sergeant. After a while I really wanted to miss a command and wait for them to say "You didn't ask 'mother may i', you're out!" just so i could look incredulous and say "So, what, you're encouraging me to question authority now? Well I'll be damned. And in public school."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Command + P

I'm convinced that color printers are a scam. Everything about them is infuriatingly designed to be as counter-productive and expensive as possible. I'm convinced its a conspiracy on the part of Kinko's and Kodak photo centers in drugstores everywhere to keep themselves in business during the heaviest battle of the D.I.Y. Revolution. These companies and others are relying on the consumer becoming so frustrated with their HP MoneyPit 3000 or their Epson Print-n-Shred that they'll actually cave and come to their stores to have their photos developed the old fashioned way--inside the belly of a giant, whirring contraption that keeps customers and employees alike baffled as to how it works.

To support this claim I provide the classic examples of printer frustration: the persistent paper-jam. the $30 ink cartridges which contain exactly enough ink to print one beautiful, automatic test-page. The refusal of full black cartridges to work until the color one has been replaced. Until now everyone merely assumed it was companies such as Hewlett-Packard keeping themselves contentedly in business, even to the extent that they started giving away printers for free provided you bought a set of inks. But this system doesn't exactly add up.

Think about it. When a product doesn't work, and consistently fails to work, people stop buying it. When a computer OS, for example, is riddled with bugs and virus loopholes and a bizarre tic that freezes your cursor in a corner but still allows you to move around and click things, consumers stop buying it and eventually the manufacturer stops making it. It is no longer a wise business decision to continue making products that people don't want. Thus, the only reason why these shitty rip-off printers keep being manufactured is because people keep buying them. Which is stupid, but somehow--either through advertising, subliminal messaging, or outright ignorance--people keep thinking that its better to put up with this piece of crap than to take their film rolls to the drugstore (which, like hybrid cars, has turned out to Not be cheaper in the long run.)

So long as we idiots keep being swindled by these obviously contrived highway robbery systems, the printer manufacturers are not going to improve their products. They don't have to, and moreover they don't want to. They're benefiting from our continued purchasing of inefficient, jammy, shoddy printers--ink sales are up, replacement printers are up, home repairs are impossible. Then Krishna Copy and print labs are there to catch the rest of the people who've gotten fed up enough to toss their personal printers in the bin. No matter what, unless you can employ a personal scribe, you have to use these people's services in order to run business and maintain personal affairs. The modern world has not yet reached a point at which we can function without the ability to put words on paper, so we are essentially these people's pawns. Me, i'm just going straight digital from here on out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

ooh me back

General inquiry directed toward any and all who may casually read this blog--my back is killing me. every morning i wake up kinked all to hell and it lingers all day. I've tried putting a sheet of plywood under the mattress to give it some back support, i've tried it with egg crates and memory foam and without, i've changed out pillows, i've even tried sleeping on the floor. i still hurt!
i exercise regularly and sleep just about 8 hours a night. i'm a theatre carpenter and spend my working hours lifting, hauling, and using high-torque power tools, but i've been doing this for years without adverse effects and i'm still young. So--question time: does anyone know a way to improve a shitty bed (note: the bed provided in my temporary housing is sized to comfortably fit a ten-year-old pygmy...but my bedroom is also appropriately sized for such a being) without caving and buying a new bed that i'll only use for the next three months?

in other news, i think i have found the evil "left wing liberal media" that the white house made such a stink about a few years ago. its called MAD magazine. they've completely given up on subtly criticizing the president and are even today warping our nation's youth with blatant statements of dissent concerning our nation's foreign and domestic policy. And to think, i was about to let my 12-year subscription lapse.