NPF: MEMORY LANE

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 31st, 2014 by Ed

Last weekend I journeyed to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY to see the induction ceremony for three first ballot players including my favorite player as a kid, Frank "Big Hurt" Thomas. Though Cooperstown is convenient to nothing – the trip involved phrases like "only 80 minutes from Binghamton" – this really is a baseball fan's version of the Hajj. Cooperstown is a surprisingly tiny town, though, and when jammed with 50,000+ visitors it can be quite chaotic. So the practical part of my brain recommends visiting sometime other than induction weekend if you dislike huge crowds.

The best part of the museum is listening to random strangers sharing their memories with anyone in earshot, since I think that is one of the primary reasons that people develop an attachment to the sport: "I was at that game with my dad in '72" or "My mom listened to Jack Buck on KMOX every game for thirty years" or "Our first date was at a Braves game and Eddie Mathews hit a home run in the 10th inning" or even more general comments like (actual quote) "Man, Willie McCovey hit the ball like it owed him money." You would not be too far off base (SWIDT?) to conclude that the experience isn't entirely about baseball for most of the visitors. Ask an American male to talk about his father and there's a good chance that stories about going to ballgames will be involved.

The worst part of the visit had nothing to do with the museum, but to our new obsession as a society with taking pictures of absolutely everything without pausing to ask why. The main attraction at the museum is the hall of plaques for each member of the Hall, which on the Saturday of induction weekend was mobbed with 1000+ people at any given moment. And almost all of them were crowded inches away from the plaques taking pictures with smartphones. This both puzzled and irritated me, since it made actually seeing anything (You know, having the experience of actually being there as opposed to taking pictures to put on Facebook) nearly impossible. Sure, everyone wants to take some pictures on vacation. But cameraphone close-ups of the plaques? Really? Two hundred of them? I don't get that at all. There are pictures of every single one on the Hall of Fame website. Or rather than crowding around Hank Aaron's plaque, for example, and making it impossible for anyone to see it or get near it, you could google image search "Hank Aaron plaque" and find dozens of pictures, some in high resolution, that are better than the crappy picture you take with your phone. I understand why people like taking pictures of themselves in famous places, but taking pictures of inanimate objects doesn't make a lot of sense. I see this constantly now at art museums too – do you think your phone is going to take a better picture of The Death of Marat than the hundreds available in books and online? Can't we just put the goddamn phones down and enjoy the experience of being there? Of actually seeing something rather than seeing a reproduction of it?

All that said, I did take this picture featuring my left hand:

phil

When your plaque includes phrases like "excellent bunter" and "enthusiastic baserunner" you probably don't belong in the Hall of Fame. Being like the fifth-best player on your own team doesn't help either. Another one of the Veterans Committee's greatest hits.

NPF: CAN'T LOSE 'EM ALL

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 24th, 2014 by Ed

I wouldn't describe myself as a lucky person. Don't misunderstand, I am extremely fortunate in the opportunities I have been given in life and things of that nature. But luck? Nope. I'm terrible at the random-events type of luck. Never win anything in games of chance. Never have random encounters that lead to wacky adventures. Never shop on the day where everything happens to be 50% off. Never find $20 lying on the ground. So be it.

For more than a decade I have been trying to concoct a reason to travel to Cloquet, Minnesota. It's a town of 12,000 people halfway between Minneapolis and Duluth, not one of the more trafficked areas in this great land. Only a few of you will recognize the name for any reason other than living in the immediate area. Cloquet is the location of the R.W. Lindholm gas station, the only extant part of Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City utopia (and, it goes almost without saying, his only gas station). I've driven unreasonable distances to see FLW structures in the past, but ten to twelve hours one-way to see a gas station seems a little excessive even for me.

Right now I'm in Erie, PA – Not because I lost a bet, which I assume is the most common reason someone goes to Erie, PA – on my way to Cooperstown to see White Sox legend Frank Thomas inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend. On Friday I will drive right past Buffalo, NY. And by random luck, the Pierce-Arrow Museum (a defunct manufacturer of early 20th Century luxury cars) in Buffalo has opened a licensed (those of you who are fans know the Gestapo-like zeal of the FLW Foundation for preventing unauthorized adaptations of The Great Man's work) full-sized construction of Wright's service station design. It hasn't been on display for very long, and I found out about it last week completely by chance. While the score remains lopsided, tally one for Ed in the battle against bad fortune.

Remember that post from a few months ago about how I don't know how to have fun? Well relax, everyone. I think you can see that I've got it all figured out.

NPF: FREE AT LAST

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 18th, 2014 by Ed

Are you sick of going into restaurants and seeing "No Praying!" signs everywhere? Do you feel unsafe at the local Olive Garden because your waitress is unarmed? Have you ever looked at a Hooters and thought, "That's just not tacky enough"? If so, your prayers have been answered. Grab all of your firearms and take a trip to Rifle, Colorado to enjoy a meal at Shooters Grill, where brandishing firearms and praying in public (which I think Jesus was against, but what did he know) are both encouraged.

This Hooters/James Dobson Fever Dream hybrid reflects its owner's love of the Bible and Constitution, so unlike other restaurants all over the United States you won't be stopped from praying before you eat by Union Thugs or Liberal Academics or Activist Judges or whatever. The Yelp reviews are a hoot, too. Apparently the salt & pepper shakers are shotgun shells (photo evidence helpfully provided), the whole restaurant grinds to a record-scratch halt if a non-white person enters the premises, and the food looks and sounds about as appetizing as a redneck middle school cafeteria.

A priority stop on any gastro-tour of America, to be sure.

NPF: MESMERIZING

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 11th, 2014 by Ed

This isn't strictly "No Politics," but in a moment you will forgive me for mentioning Congress on a Friday.

In 1835 a Pennsylvania Congressman of no particular renown, Joel Sutherland, attempted to get his colleagues to pony up funding for the research and development of a rather far-fetched idea. A young tinkerer, Samuel Morse, made the outlandish proposal that information could be sent via electricity over a metal wire. Though this would eventually lead, obviously, to the invention of the telegraph, revolutionizing every conceivable aspect of society in the process, the scientific establishment of the day declared that this was pure fantasy.

Tangentially, while Mr. Morse indisputably invented the simple but effective dot-and-dash alphabet that bears his name, most sources put his contributions to the actual development and invention of the telegraph ranged from negligible to nonexistent.

As is still the case, Congress was not able to identify a good idea on the one occasion per session when one is encountered. Rep. Sutherland and Morse's other supporters in Congress could only get the chamber to appropriate $30,000 (about $750,000 in today's dollars) to Morse by promising to support funding for another congressional faction's pet project. And that is how the hallowed institution came in 1835 to appropriate not only $30,000 for Mr. Samuel Morse but also an additional $30,000 for one "Mr. Fish" to further his research on "mesmerism." This Mr. Fish, it was reassuringly noted, was "an expert mesmerist" in need of funding to support his "experiments in the mesmeric arts." Mesmerism was a pseudoscience that claimed to give an individual control over other beings (practitioners were divided on whether the arts could be applied to humans, animals, or both) using various hypnotic techniques and extrasensory perception.

It says a lot about how far-fetched ideas like the telegraph, telephone, and radio seemed to people during that era if it was roughly on par with mind control. It says even more about how little Congress has changed.

NPF: AMATEUR DIAGNOSIS

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 27th, 2014 by Ed

As I get older I go on fewer rants in interactions with other humans. I figure "That's what the blog is for, Ed" and don't expose often well-meaning strangers, acquaintances, and friends to my extended ramblings on every conceivable topic of interest. One thing that still gets the full treatment, though, is when people say they have "food poisoning" and then identify the meal that caused it.

It's not an angry rant. I simply point out that A) actual Food Poisoning is a condition that puts people in the hospital where they must be pumped full of IV antibiotics and B) to the extent that food may have caused you gastric distress, you have no idea which food item or meal was responsible. People assume that whatever they ate most recently (or, failing that, whatever the last "ethnic"/foreign food they ate) was the cause. There is zero medical evidence to support that assumption.

Lots of things you eat can inspire an upset stomach or a case of what medical professionals call Thunder Shits. Perhaps something you ate was a little too spicy, a little too oily, a little too teeming with the bacteria with which all food is teeming by the time it enters your mouth. I just returned from Mexico and I haven't taken a solid dump since the first day I arrived in the country. I proceeded to eat every appetizing looking offering from street vendors and outdoor food stalls where refrigeration and food safety procedures could be described as suspect at best. I ate a lot of food prepared in local water full of microscopic landmines waiting to waylay the unconditioned tourist. All of this was done willingly; the deal is, I eat something amazing and later I will defile a bathroom. It's a trade off and it's worth it. I don't have "food poisoning."

Eating all but the worst, blandest food involves some risk. Take that bucket of oysters or mussels, for example. The odds that at least one of those fuckers isn't "off" or "bad" are exceptionally small. You're going to eat it, it's going to be amazing, and maybe later on you will pay the price by shitting like a mink. So be it. If someone offers you seafood that was pulled from the ocean within the previous hour, you eat it and accept the risk. Or maybe you push the envelope at the local restaurant and ask for "Thai spicy" or "Indian hot" and your stomach and intestines end up somewhat irritated at your decision. Or maybe you try unpasteurized dairy products for the first time with predictable results. Oh well. It was worth it.

You may have a transient stomach virus. You may have eaten something too spicy or oily for your delicate constitution. You may have plain ol' overeaten. You may have eaten something that was a little bit beyond its "Best By" date. You may have eaten something at a big stupid chain restaurant wherein one of the stoned teen kitchen workers practiced unsafe food handling procedures. But you don't have Food Poisoning and your precise identification of the meal and item that caused it makes you sound only slightly less silly than someone declaring that they know when the cold viruses entered their body.

NPF: PAID IN FULL

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 12th, 2014 by Ed

Yesterday I went to an electronics store to purchase a big, shiny new TV.

The clerk dutifully informed me that it cost $1299.00 plus tax, to which I responded, "Actually, I'd like you to give it to me for free."

He seemed unpersuaded.

"I can't pay you for the TV right now," I explained, "but if you think about it, it's better for your business if you give it to me for free." Again, he failed to grasp my logic. Carefully but forcefully I pointed out that I like inviting people over to my house to watch movies and sports, so a lot of people – potential customers, one and all – would get to see the TV. "If the TVs you sell are any good, people will be really impressed and come here to buy one of their own!"

He regretted to inform me that I must pay for it.

"I am paying for it, just not in money. I'm paying you in exposure, which is worth more than money." To sweeten the pot, I offered to throw in a couple of beers for the store clerk and promised him that I would order pizza when the TV was delivered and if there was any left over, the delivery people could have it.

Still nothing. I grew frustrated.

"Don't you see???" He did not see. "$1300 right now is only worth $1300. If you give me the TV for free you won't make anything today, but you'll make $1300 many times over once everyone sees this TV." I admitted, in the interest of full disclosure, that I do charge people a $5 cover to watch sports and movies at my house. But that's beside the point, it's unfair to say I'm "profiting" off the TV just because it does all the work and I charge people money to see it, of which I pocket 100%.

He asked me if it wouldn't be fair, hypothetically, to share that cover money with the store. But don't I have a right to make a few bucks for the overhead costs – those lights aren't free! – while the TV is getting all that really valuable exposure? "I'm doing you a favor here, man!"

Suppose my logic was valid, he asked, making sense for the first time that day. Let's say ten of my friends come into the store to buy a TV of their own after seeing the magnificent beast in action at my house. What's stopping those ten friends from also expecting the store to give them the TV for "exposure"? When in this chain of Being Exposed does the store actually start to receive money for its products?

"If you're worried about making money, dude, you're in the wrong business. You should be doing this for the love of selling TVs."

As security escorted me off the premises, I could not help but wonder why a business model that is so successful at compensating the products of creative work – writing, comedy, music, art – could not also be applied to retail. I guess I just don't understand the Free Market.

NPF: QUITE "ENTERTAINING"

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 5th, 2014 by Ed

A Facebook friend recently shared a link to this story about the supervisor at a cotton gin being recorded in an attempt to enforce some sort of Jim Crow policy in his workplace. He is heard telling black employees that certain items like the water fountain and microwave are "whites only" including the following cheerful exchange:

“Put your sign on the wall then, because I am feeling to drink it,” said Harris. “What would they do when they catch me drinking your water?”

“That`s when we hang you,” said the supervisor.

Once I recovered from the shock that a racist white man was employed in the cotton ginning industry, I noticed something odd about the headline on the original local news story:

racist

Why is "racist" in quotes? There appears to be no lack of clarity that the statements are the actual dictionary definition of racism, so the headline writer appears to be using the quotes unnecessarily. The alternative is that the quotes represent some sort of let's-hear-both-sides claim that the comments are merely alleged to be racist, which is just stupid. Then again, I find unnecessary quotes hilarious so perhaps I'm not exactly unbiased in evaluating their motives.

There is a wonderful blog devoted to Unnecessary Quotes, featuring hundreds of examples such as a sign inviting customers to ring a bell to receive "meat service":

meat

Maybe it's just me, but I find this endlessly entertaining. "Endlessly."

NPF: BRAZILIAN BEACH BLAST

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 29th, 2014 by Ed

You all are well aware that I took a vacation recently. It is always difficult to return from vacation and dive back into the not-nearly-as-nice routine of our working lives. I had a particularly good time despite subpar weather on my trip, so the shift back to reality has been unpleasant.

At least I thought I had a good time. When I find myself trying to explain what I did for eight days it doesn't seem terribly exciting. Tell people you are going to Brazil and their first reaction is likely to be, "Oh, Rio! So fun!" or something else with strong undertones of Sex, Drugs, and Party Time. Alas, those things were absent from my trip (and life, but that's another story). Instead I took a lot of pictures of buildings and waterfalls. I know, I know. I am so exciting.

I have this recurring problem where I enjoy things until I have to attempt to explain them to other people and then when I see or hear the words coming out of my brain I think, well actually this doesn't sound like fun at all. This sounds like something a very boring person would do, perhaps due to some life-threatening allergy to fun or fundamental ignorance about how the concept of fun works. In short, vacation was fun but at 35 I still can't get comfortable with how lame my definition of "fun" is.

Yes, I know. Save yourself the trouble of rushing to the comments to First World Problem me. I realize that my life is very easy, I do not lack for any necessities, and I can afford things like vacations to other hemispheres. It is an opportunity that many people both here in the U.S. and around the world never get. I get it. Despite that, I feel like having Actual Fun, the kind that people who understand the concept of enjoying life have, would be good for me. It might even make me less of a wet blanket all the time not to mention that I might experience strange feelings like…well, not happiness, but maybe Not Misery for a while. It is not, however, in my DNA. I know a lot of things but how to be fun is not one of them.

So, hello. My name is Ed and I'm a no-fun-a-holic. I'm here today because I went to Brazil on the itinerary of an elderly woman not unlike your grandmother. If I can't learn to be fun at this point I might settle for not talking myself out of it when I manage to do whatever embarrassing things I find enjoyable. On the plus side, it was really interesting to have nobody to talk to for a week in an entirely different country! Gotta change things up every so often, variety being the spice of life and all. So that was exciting.

It's good to be back.

NPF: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 22nd, 2014 by Ed

Fun fact: the original title of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen was First Impressions, which the publisher changed after concluding that it was insufficiently snappy.

My first impression of Brazil is that it shares an important characteristic with the American South: a tendency to consider things that make no sense charming or otherwise integral to the character of the place. Things open and close randomly, websites contain no information for the prospective traveler (and what information is posted is unlikely to be accurate or timely), and there is little expectation of logic applying to anything. For the longtime resident, the fact that Brasilia has no addresses is not relevant. For a visitor – and certainly a city of 2 million that fancies itself a Major City should expect those, right? – the lack of information is goddamn baffling.

A brief example: the city has an extensive bus system. There are literally thousands of them. They are everywhere and everyone rides them. What the bus system does not have, however, is a map. I am serious. I have asked people who have lived here their whole lives, tourists who have been here for weeks and months, police, random strangers, bus drivers…nobody has ever seen a map. I went to the main bus station and the offices of the transit department, and it appears to have never occurred to them to have a map. So, for example, the airport website can tell me that buses 102 and 102.1 go to the airport. However, I have no way of knowing what routes those two buses travel on. Which stops can I wait at to get them? What major streets do they use? Nobody knows. You just have to know.

A minor complaint from a stuck up American traveler, right? The problem is that this city is weeks away from hosting as many as half a million foreign visitors for the World Cup. Brazil seems to be confused about whether it is a major industrialized country or a developing third world one. If I went to the Sudan I would expect no information to be available about anything. However, if I went to Germany, Australia, Japan, Singapore, or Mexico I would expect at least a half-useful paper map if not information online. Obviously Brazil would prefer to think of itself like the latter group of countries and not like Sudan. But the little things (and there are a lot of little issues like this) set it apart.

That is my first impression. Brazil is an incredible place with first world wealth (and the accompanying first world inequality) and some third world habits. I am excited to see more of it.

And before you use the comments to explain to me like I am retarded how I should have found information about public transit, don´t. This was a multi-month project involving several people including a research librarian who can find every piece of information about you online in about 90 seconds. And nobody found anything because, as I discovered when I arrived, there is no information to find. You just have to know.

NPF: PROGRAMMING NOTES

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 16th, 2014 by Ed

Whenever some friend or acquaintance starts a blog and asks for advice I give them what I consider to be the only useful advice relevant to the task: you have to keep posting. Most people have short attention spans and little willingness to put a lot of effort into something that won't pay off very quickly (excluding exceptional cases) or very lavishly (few people actually make money doing this). So they start a blog and post daily for a couple weeks. Then a few times per week for another month. Then once per month. Then they realize that they haven't accumulated thousands of loyal readers in a few months so they quit.

That never works. You have to post a lot. And you have to keep doing it for an extended period of time until someone notices and cares enough to come back for more.

Several years ago I went on vacation and feared that if I went a week without posting anything I would come back and have zero readers, leaving me to start over from square one. Fortunately I found that after years of regular updates a one-week hiatus won't bother anyone. Hopefully that is still true. On Monday I'm going to Brazil for 8 days. Don't worry, I won't be doing anything fun. However I do hope that I have more interesting ways to pass the time than blogging. I might not, but if I do there will obviously be a lull in the content for a few days. I hope you'll understand and not disappear for good. The posts have been slightly less regular than usual for the past few weeks as I've had a lot of balls in the air (giggle) lately. Soon I'll be back to having nothing better to do, so stick around.

I've pre-scheduled a post or two for next week so the updates won't stop entirely. As a bonus, I'm sure that traveling to another country will leave me full of gems by the time I return. I'm only half-kidding. As always, thanks for reading.