Thursday, October 30, 2008

The experiment is this

The cliched No-Shave November is approaching.

Cliches are no fun, so I figured I'd up the ante to No-Change November. Now, I'm not really going to wear only one pair of clothes, but I do plan on wearing the same outfit--I'll just have multiples. To mollify some people, I'm thinking of making some of the shirts in different colors so that it's at least evident that I'm maintaining hygiene. Call it a social experiment; call it ease; call it what you will.

The reasons for this blatant ploy for attention?
  1. It saves time. What would it be like to not have to pick out what you're going to wear every day? It's a foray into the world of the civillian uniform.
  2. How will people react? Will the response be negative because of our adopted social requirement for diverse dress? Why do we have that, and what's the big deal?
  3. I've always wondered what life would be like with the unvarying wardrobe of a cartoon character.
At first it seemed narcissistic to draw attention to myself in this way, but then I thought, "Isn't it more narcissistic to spend so much time picking out clothes so that you can impress people?" Besides, it was Norman Mailer who wrote, "I think we keep ourselves writing by allowing the core of our vanity never to be scratched if we can help it."

This summer I developed a slight interest in fashion and dressing with taste, and now I think it's time that I explored the opposite end of the compass. Sometimes I subject myself to seemingly meaningless experiments because it gives me something to write about.

And it turns out that I'm not the only one. A.J. Jacobs, editor at large at Esquire, makes his living doing this kind of thing. A few years ago, he read the entire Encylopaedia Britannica and chronicled the experience in his book "The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World." Another time, he was completely honest with everyone for a month, and what's more, he said whatever he was thinking--no filter. The month of honesty, I'm certain, was more detrimental than what I'm undertaking. After that, he spent a year trying to live as biblically as possible (e.g. not trimming the sides of his beard and stoning adulterers). That experience is now a book called "The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible."

Coincidentally, as if to validate my experiment, today I just heard him in a podcast from The Moth talking about the time he outsourced his personal life to India in 2005. My biggest concern is that I'll run into an unforeseen event that will create serious problems for the integrity of this experiment. But then I think, "What would A.J. do?" Then I think, "Yeah, but he's getting paid."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

United States of Disgrace

The Times reported yesterday that the United States launched an air strike on a village in Syria. The U.S. government explained it as a "warning" to the Syrian government that it needs to ratchet up the pressure on foreign extremists who are staging offensive operations into Iraq.

“You have to clean up the global threat that is in your backyard — and if you don’t do that, we are left with no choice but to take these matters into our own hands," an American official anonymously said in an interview with the Times.

Syria has said that an undisclosed number of civilians were killed in the attack, which targeted a man called Abu Ghadiyah. Ghadiyah, who was supposedly training militants for an intended attack into Iraq, was allegedly killed either during the assault or after he was in U.S. custody.

I'd like to turn the tables for a moment. Let us suppose that it was Syria who bombed a small town in our country--perhaps Columbia, Mo.--because they disagreed with policies being enacted by our government. We would be outraged.

Yet why is it that we give ourselves the right to violently tout our agenda on other countries? Come to think of it, how is it that we have military forces stationed in scores of other countries (including other superpowers) but amusedly deny foreign military bases on our soil? Why do we have weapons of mass destruction but issue frenzied ultimatums to other countries that they must put an immediate end to their nuclear programs?

I'll ask one more time: What if someone did what we did to Syria and staged an attack on our country, shrugging it off as a warning? Oh wait, someone did. I think we call it September 11, 2001.

I'm bitterly disappointed with my nation's leaders, and I find the complaceny displayed by my nation's people to be a grave concern. I am outraged.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The HBO presidential debate

Update: I had some problems getting the embedded video to show up, so here it is from a different source.

To express how excited I am that there is only one more week before we all get to take a break from the election mayhem, here's a well done video by The Onion satirizing the endless analysis following presidential debates. Its witty script and sincere delivery make it one of the funniest commentaries on the election I've seen yet. The part where John McCain answers the question about fiscal discipline by pistol whipping the stripper is just brilliant.

Fair warning: There are two vulgar words, so those who want to preserve their aural purity may choose to steer clear. But if you don't fall into that category, it's seriously worth your two minutes. Enjoy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bacchanalian Mondays: Boston

This week, I want to party with the city of Boston. Boston's got all things that are good. It's the city where people honk at each other when they're just sitting at red lights.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are not technically from Boston, but they wrote and starred in "Good Will Hunting," which is set in Boston so they might as well be from there. How you like them apples?

The Red Sox are Boston's team, and this year most of them sported healthy beards. Facial hair is something I'm a big fan of. The only problem is that I'm having a hard time growing any. Someday. Someday.

But the biggest reason I'm into Boston is because it's the hometown of Mark Wahlberg. He produces Entourage. He also starred in "The Departed," which is set in...Boston. Wahlberg's got a pretty shifty background, but I'd definitely want him on my side. And he apparently knows how to party like mad--maybe too mad.

Say hi to your mother for me.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Beating that long dead nag

In 11 days, all this election madness might, if we're lucky, calm down a little. But until then, the pitch is only going to get more feverish. I hate to fall prey to this, but it's hard not to do that here.

Since I've had more involvement with Republicans (which, as it happens, is not a dirty word), this may focus more on the G.O.P. Don't be fooled; it doesn't mean I'm a Democrat (also not such a dirty word).

I think it may be safe to say--with the most general blanket-statement possible--that Republicans know more about Barack Obama than they do about John McCain. And the opposite is true for Democrats.

The explanation for this is simple: Team players want to find reasons to disagree with the opposition. Not surprisingly, they end up becoming more familiar with the other nominee's dangerous policies and scandalous past (read: devilry) without applying the same scrutiny to their own chosen one.

But why? Not everyone acts this way.

In a recent profile of Sarah Palin, Philip Gourevitch reported this interesting tidbit:

"While Republicans hold most of the state’s top political posts, only twenty-five per cent of Alaskan voters are registered Republicans. Fifteen per cent are Democrats, and three per cent belong to the Alaska Independence Party—the extremist states’ rights, quasi-secessionist faction to which Todd Palin once pledged his allegiance. A solid majority of Alaska’s electorate claims no party affiliation. Alaskans kept telling me that Alaskans vote for the person, not the party."
What if voters in the rest of this country relied less on allegiance and more on equally objective investigation of the candidates? What a novel idea that would be! Even if I were a straight-ticket voter, I would want to make sure that I choose a candidate with as few chinks in his or her armor as possible.

Most of the political mail I get has Republican origins and is all about the latest muck on Obama. With Obama's talk of spreading the wealth, why is it that Republicans are so willing to overlook McCain's socialist leanings? It's astounding to me.

All I really want is for people to stop subscribing to lurid partisan rubbish and start approaching the election like responsible members of society.

Those highly concerned with the American political process should take half of their research time and devote it to finding out about Barack Obama. They should take the other half and spend it investigating John McCain. Suffrage is one of the most important rights we have, and it's irresponsible to approach it in such a flippant, my-team-is-better-than-your-team manner.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bacchanalian Mondays: Ray LaMontagne

Ray LaMontagne has to be one of the most mysterious celebrities that's become famous lately. It's said that singer-songwriter was inspired to pursue a musical career when he heard a Stephen Stills song in the early morning on his way to work at a shoe factory in Lewiston, Maine. He decided to quit his job, and in 1999 he went on tour, but he still worked as a carpenter on the side.

With his wife, two children and his heavy heart, Mr. LaMontagne (we're not on a first-name basis) doesn't really strike me as someone who does a lot of partying, but my curiosity is so piqued about him.

A skittish artist, he sometimes performs his concert in the dark to separate himself from the audience. And look at that beard. So reticent and enigmatic. I want one.

In his Oct. 17 article in the Times, Pete Paphides explored LaMontagne's success and style. Check it out. He tells the story much better than I could ever hope to:
"The very act of singing – a tender blues rasp of exquisite world-weariness – seems to make him appear. And sure enough, when he stops singing, he is barely there at all. If the song is anything to go by – it’s a hushed paean to nature going about its business, oblivious to human eyes – perhaps the 35-year-old LaMontagne seems that way to the animals too.

...But the truth is that LaMontagne’s popularity presents a paradox that he has yet to untangle. His crippling introversion is what lends his broken-winged folk-soul its power."
LaMontagne's third album, "Gossip in the Grain," was released on Oct. 14. He's playing at the Uptown in Kansas City tomorrow evening, and I wish I were going.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The human spectrum

I like running the register at the coffee shop where I work because it means that I get to interact with people.

Poet Walt Whitman explored the idea of "urban affection:" Sharing meaningful experiences with people you've never met and will likely never meet again. I've been really intrigued by this idea because it plays out frequently at my job. Here's an example.

We sell these tasty apple dumpling desserts that feature a baked, sliced apple with cinnamon and other delectable delights inside a pastry shell with butterscotch sauce drizzled on top. The other day, two middle-aged women came up to the register, and one of them shot a wanting glance at the dessert case. Deciding not to buy one, she placed her order and left the register.

Her friend came up next and ordered a cup of coffee and a cookie. Then she added confidentially, "And put one those apple dumplings on there for my friend."

Working in the coffee shop has shown me that basic kindness can go a long way in just making people feel good about themselves. It just makes daily life more pleasant. People that come in are often stressed out or in a hurry, and going out of your way to do something simple for them can be an unexpected surprise that gets them to forget about the worries of the grind.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The trouble with politics

Surprise! The United States has agreed to withdraw from Iraq by 2011.

People have been criticizing Obama because he wants a time line to get to a point in Iraq where withdrawal is possible. Conversely, McCain is praised in some circles because he has none.

Anyone who had the opportunity to watch the vice-presidential debate two weeks ago might remember when Joe Biden called out Sarah Palin for McCain's dissenting vote on a bill that would have provided body armor, supplies and funding for troops in Iraq. (Who knows if that annecdote was actually true? NPR reported the day after the debate that some of the facts might not have been exactly, um, accurate.)

Palin's explanation was that McCain was fully justified because the bill introduced a time line for removing American troops from the conflict. At first, you want to agree: "Hey! A time line? That's not right!"

But then you stop and think. Isn't the lack of an exit strategy what got us into this mess in the first place? Let's look at personal goals. When is it ever smart to not have a desired schedule to get things done?

If I want to run a marathon, I will never succeed if I just hope the proper training happens by the day of the race. I need to have tangible goals that include a time frame: 10 miles by a certain date...15 the next week...20 the next, and so on. By the end of the time period, maybe I would be capable of running the marathon.

Perhaps what Obama wants is for certain goals to be accomplished so that it's possible for us to drastically reduce the amount of personnel we have in Iraq. No one's suggesting that we just suddenly stop fighting the war. (Can we still call it that?)

And I think that's what we should be talking about here: Having tangible goals and deadlines for Iraqis to start taking responsibility so we can get to a point where it's feasible to withdraw. Of course, this should be determined by military experts, and I think that Obama is smart enough to realize this.

McCain and Palin are sold the idea that a time line of goals in Iraq is a bad thing, and inexplicably, the American people bought it.

The bothersome thing about the presidential election is that, at best, we're electing the most middle-of-the-road candidate--the nominee that appeals most to the broadest spectrum of Americans' vastly different belief sets.

At worst, we're electing a liar: someone who will say the necessary things and hops through the necessary rings to get the vote while he or she really intends to do things their way upon election.

The worst

Still thinking about the house hierarchy, I Googled the word "worst," and stumbled across these beauties, which were apparently a part of someone's ranking of worst album covers.

And yes, the one on the right says, "Devastatin' Dave...The Turntable Slave."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

House Hierarchy '08

I'm a big fan of challenges, and today, the competition began.

I realized recently that I should probably be making more of an effort to bond with the guys in my house, so I suggested that we develop a house hierarchy to determine who is the best in the house and who is the worst.

I got this idea from my brother Israel, who used to live with some people that all had similar body types. They weighed themselves from week to week, and whoever was the fattest got to make the rules. I always thought it would be fun to live in that kind of an environment.

I live in a house of overly competitive people, so I'm hoping for good things with this. Either we will be wonderfully united or horribly divided. We'll see.

My first idea was that we could take one Saturday a month and participate in pointless competitions. (The first suggestion was that we stage a 30-mile race to a nearby town. Means of transportation were undecided.) This evolved into an idea for random, spontaneous competition throughout the week.

I'm overly excited about this prospect, and I've been thinking about it all day.

One challenge per roommate per week. At least half of the roommates must be present for a competition to be considered a house challenge. Spontaneity is key. The first challenge was to see who could stand on one leg the longest. Contact was allowed. Zach was the best at this challenge, and I was the worst.

Additionally, you can challenge the person ranked directly above you or below you so that you can move up a spot or assert your dominance respectively. This duel of sorts would work just like it did between two gentlemen in the olden days. You challenge your opponent, and because you are so sure that you are better than him, you allow him to choose the weapon. Kind of a, "Look, I'm better than you, and to prove it, you can pick the activity that I am better at" sort of a thing. If one of you refuses to participate, that person forfeits.

So, to redeem myself from my rank of worst roommate, I challenged Chad to a duel. He chose finger-jousting. I won. I'm now fourth. Whew.

Chad says that I'm going to be that guy that speeds up just to beat the old man to the bus stop. Then I will turn around and inform him that he's just moved down a spot in the hierarchy of life. I think Chad's just bitter.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bacchanalian Mondays: Cajun Style!

James Carville. Whenever Carville could come on television during the Clinton years or Bush's campaign for president, I remember that my mother would cringe and change the channel. James Carville is, apparently, a bad man.

Why? Nooo idea (except for his face.) It also may have something to do with the fact that he was the lead strategist in Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. That fact is probably enough to seal his reputation's fate in conservative circles.

But the really neat thing about Carville is that in 1993 he actually married Mary Matalin, a woman who was one of George H.W. Bush's top political consultants. They have two daughters. How they manage to maintain a harmonious relationship while being active in two diametrically opposed political ideologies is beyond me. But I think that's awesome.

Not only is Carville super into politics, but he's also somehow channeled his success into the film world, appearing in such shows and movies as "Old School," "Wedding Crashers," "Family Guy," and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

So far, the last two BM installments have come from 30 Rock. Maybe next week I'll write an entry about how I should be partying with Tina Fey (in character as Sarah Palin?)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bacchanalian Mondays: Heelys

Season 2, Episode 7 of NBC's hit show 30 Rock featured the main character, Liz Lemon, dating a vastly younger man.

In some additional comic relief, one of her coworkers jumps on the wagon and begins "dating" a boy of high school (or maybe junior high?) age. In one of the their many petty arguments, the kid gets fed up with her and zooms off down the hallway by lifting his toes and shifting his weight onto the wheels in the heels of his shoes.

Frustrated, the woman cries out, "What did I tell you about wearing your Heelys in the office?"

The Heely craze was one of the latest trends in kid accessories a couple of years ago. They got so hot that at some point you probably ran into a proud owner zipping around the smooth, tiled floors of your local mall.

In a 2007 article on, doctors blame the shoe for an increase in injuries to children and strongly urge users to wear protective gear. Psh--yeah right. Like any kid is going to look dumb by walking around with a helmet and wrist guards are. The whole point of having Heelys is to remain low-profile until you're ready to glide away ostentaciously.

These kids are rebels--true badasses that say, "We're too hard for pads." Kind of like skaters but in more of a designer way. Why wouldn't I want to party with them? Of course this limits me to a pretty young crowd, but who says kids don't know how to have a good time?

Friday, October 3, 2008


Salmagundi is "a general mixture; a miscellaneous collection," and it usually involves eggs, chopped meat, seasoning and other goodies. This is what I had for breakfast today, and it was oh-so-good.